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Like his offense Wednesday night in Memphis, Nikola Jokic kept mostly quiet as he relitigated his performance from the Nuggets’ latest defeat.
Jokic only shot the ball once — on the final play of regulation — in the Nuggets’ 89-87 loss to the Grizzlies on Wednesday. The last time he attempted one field goal in a game was Feb. 24, 2017. Denver’s loss in Memphis was the fourth-straight game where Jokic scored in single digits, and he didn’t have any desire to discuss his play as of late when asked how he can rediscover the offensive form that earned him NBA Player of the Week honors earlier this season.
The following is a transcript of Jokic’s comments following Nuggets shootaround.
Can you talk us through what you’ve been seeing offensively?
“Nope. We didn’t play good last night.”
What do you think you guys have to do to get the offense playing better?
How do you do that individually?
Has coach talked to you at all?
Has anybody else on the team?
“Gary a little bit.”
Excited to see Kenneth (Faried)?
“Yeah. I think it’s going to be fun.”
Is it sometimes hard to figure out whether to shoot or pass the ball in certain situations?
Do you have any comment on the fine?
“No. No comment.”
Jokic’s series of abrupt, one-sentence answers was an alarming divergence from the big man’s typical fun-loving nature that he’s carried with him throughout his three-plus years in Denver. The terse back and forth came two days after the NBA fined Jokic $25,000 for using “derogatory and offensive language” following an Oct. 31 win over the Bulls. Will Barton, who’s sidelined after undergoing surgery to repair core and hip muscle injuries and has played alongside Jokic since 2015, has seen these types of games from him before.
He’s confident that Denver’s franchise cornerstone will get back on track.
“He’s not in a slump. He’s just not shooting the ball,” Barton said. “I tell him that all the time. With Nikola right, I think we’ve been doing this the last two years when he’s had these stretches where he doesn’t shoot. I just try to tell him, and I think I told you guys before, it’s not about his shot attempts. It’s about him being a threat, looking at the rim, looking like he’s being aggressive. Because shot attempts, that doesn’t mean anything because you can shoot bad shots and still got up a lot of shot attempts.”
“He’s so versatile. He’s so much of a threat on the court. When he looks at the rim, you have to respect so much that he does and I feel like the last couple of games, he hasn’t been doing that, just dribbling to someone. He can’t play like that.”
Like Barton alluded to, Jokic has been through similar offensive struggles before, as recent as last season. Jokic had a three-game stretch in March where he scored in single digits. After that trio of games, Paul Millsap took Jokic aside, stressed to Denver’s young center that he’s “the engine” of the Nuggets’ offensive attack and that the four-time All-Star would follow his lead.
Jokic responded with a 36-point effort in Denver’s next game against Cleveland. He went on to post All-NBA caliber numbers throughout the rest of the season, averaging 24.0 points on 53.8 percent shooting from the field, 47.6 percent from three, 11.5 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game nearly leading the Nuggets to a playoff appearance.
Millsap said Friday that he didn’t feel a need to have a similar conversation with Jokic this time around.
“‘He’s a good player, so I mean whatever he feels, I’m behind him. If he feels like his shot’s not on or feels like he ain’t getting good shots, he’s not getting good shots or his shot’s not on. I think you just go off the play or the feel of that guy, especially a guy like Jokic who knows the game so well, plays off a rhythm making the right plays and I respect whatever decision he makes.”
“He’ll pull out of it,” Millsap added. “It’s basketball. Basketball’s a rhythm game. Sometimes you just don’t have a good rhythm. You don’t feel right. He’ll get it back. He’s a super talented guy. I’m not concerned about it. I’m sure the team isn’t concerned about it.”
The Nuggets don’t reach their potential unless Jokic is aggressive on offense. As Barton said, it’s not about the number of shots with Jokic, but he’s at least got to look towards the rim and be a threat.
Friday night against Brooklyn would be a timely matchup for Jokic to break out offensively. The last time these two teams faced off against one another in November 2017, Jokic tallied a career-high 41 points along with 12 rebounds and five assists.
“You want him to shoot it because he makes a lot of shots,” said Millsap. “But like I said, I’ve got his back whatever he feels.”
Nuggets Projected Starters
Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Juancho Hernangomez, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic
Nets Projected Starters
D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Jared Dudley, Jarrett Allen