Denver Nuggets: Three Players That get a Bad Rap

Denver Nuggets(Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
Denver Nuggets(Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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Denver Nuggets
Denver Nuggets (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images) /

A happy Jokic is a productive Jokic.

This one might seem odd, Nikola Jokic doesn’t take much criticism for his play and nobody believes he’s in any danger of losing a roster spot or his standing as the Nuggets go-to guy.

There have been a couple of grumblings, recently, some founded, some unfounded.

First, let’s talk about one that’s really unfair.  Nikola’s toughness.  The narrative goes something like “Nikola gets worked by guys that get physical with him.”.  It’s a silly assertion but one that’s making the rounds nonetheless.

Nikola Jokic is 7 feet tall and weighs 250 pounds.  He’s from Sombor, Serbia, a town about the size of Castle Rock, that sits in Northwestern Serbia, near the Hungarian and Croatian borders.  To say that his upbringing during the tumultuous times that saw the breakup of the Soviet Union and the transformation of Serbia from Yugoslavia was of a difficulty that few in Denver can relate to is an understatement. Nikola was raised in an agricultural setting and fell in love with horses and horse racing as a teenager.  It wasn’t necessarily a hard life, he was surrounded by family and was well supported but it was a different life and one that required different sensibilities.

It’s difficult to paint Nikola as soft, considering his background and his personality.  That’s the key, though, Jokic has an easygoing nature that can be misinterpreted as soft.  We don’t want the fun guy broken out of the Joker, we don’t want him to be DeMarcus Cousins, we don’t even want him to be Joel Embiid.  Part of what makes Nikola special is that bubble he lives in where he isn’t that ultra-competitive trash talking guy.  That personality doesn’t fit him and it would be detrimental to his game to try to make him different than he is.

Now, one thing that is fair and something the big man needs to get his head right on is his dealing with NBA officials.  It’s not just the outbursts that have seen him ejected from two games recently, it’s the constant palms up, head shaking complaining that’s taking a toll.  It seems that Jokic has shifted focus to the injustice of NBA officiating and slightly away from the business of winning basketball games.

Since his frustration has come to a head, the Nuggets have struggled.  It’s no coincidence that the cycle of Jokic’s focus has such an impact on the Denver Nuggets fortunes.  It’s been a while since the Joker flirted with a triple-double, longer since he actually posted one.  What’s hurting from a team perspective is that his assist numbers have dropped drastically.  As the Nuggets struggle to score, Jokic takes on a bigger scoring role which hurts his individual assist numbers but more importantly, stifles his uncanny knack for getting his teammates involved.

Jokic has always been at his best as a leader and facilitator.  When too much of the scoring burden falls to him, opponents turn to double and triple-team defense.  This leads to fouls, perceived or real that Joker believes aren’t getting called.  Rinse, repeat.  To break the cycle, Jokic needs to get out of the mindset that officiating matters and return to his strengths.  Jamal Murray and Gary Harris in particular struggle when Jokic isn’t dishing them easy, open looks.  Both men thrive on momentum and Jokic has been brilliant over the last two seasons at providing them looks to generate that momentum.

Nikola is one-of-a-kind, whether from his own internal drive or external input, he can lose sight of the things that make him unique.  We, as fans need to learn to appreciate the greatness without expecting that he model his game after anyone else.  He needs to be his own man and we need to let that happen.

We have 51 years of experience trying things the other way.