Watching the Denver Nuggets dominate the playoffs with Nikola Jokić’s brand of team basketball has been a joy for me to the extent that I almost can’t put it into words.
It’s not just that it has exposed much of the national media as being under-informed and over-confident (something many of us have known for years). It’s that the brand of egoless, team first basketball that I love so much is finally getting its time in the sun.
Watch how Jokić breaks down the defense in transition over and over, how the two-man game with Jamal Murray almost always ends with a bucket and how cutting and off-ball movement leave defenses having to adapt constantly in this breakdown by Half Court Hoops:
It’s honestly not surprising to most of us, who watch basketball outside the big markets and narratives, that the Nuggets are the best team in the league with the best player and the most depth. It’s been so evident that I predicted the outcome of the last two playoffs series correctly and pretty confidently. I’m not a genius, I just watch a lot of basketball and don’t offer takes and opinions on things I don’t know anything about.
As opposed to a lot of media people, it turns out. These Nuggets, led by this amazing player that most didn’t even bother to watch until now, have separated the sheep from the goats. The narrative pushers from the basketball lovers, the casuals from the real ones.
They have revealed who actually watches basketball and who follows the soap opera of the game. That may be fun, but it doesn’t have to do with the sport of basketball.
Lebron is not the biggest star in the NBA, he’s the biggest celebrity. He is not the best player in the NBA, though amazing at 38. You know who is? The two-time MVP, who did not win MVP this year, despite playing better than ever. The guy who led his team to the finals this year, sweeping the king of narratives in the Western Conference Finals.
A guy who can take over a game when needed, but step to the side when other players are hot, giving them space and feeding them. Just because you’re not always the stat leader, Brian Windhorst, doesn’t mean that you can’t be, if needed. It’s called leadership, the best kind, the selfless kind.
I like Jokić. Not just because he’s a delight to watch, reminding me of the team basketball I grew up watching and playing in Europe - and which I value much higher than isos and super teams.
I like him, because he laces his wedding ring in his shoe, because he praises opponents and rises above. Because his leadership is a given, strong and benevolent. Because his daughter points to her ring finger after a win.
Because he’s not daunted with any situation against any superstar. And because he’s changing the NBA right now, with his style of play, leadership and team first mentality. And most of all, because with that, he’s changing the NBA for the better.