Nikola Jokic accepts role as Denver Nuggets’ leader, but team-mates must do better to avoid reigning MVP becoming gassed | NBA News

There’s not been a great deal of hype about Nikola Jokic so far this season, but he’s quietly started the new campaign in fairly spectacular fashion.

The problem for him and the Denver Nuggets, though, is that when he goes to the bench, the team haemorrhages points on both ends of the floor.

With Jamal Murray still recovering from a torn ACL and Michael Porter Jr. enduring a slow start to the season, the onus has been almost entirely on Jokic to make magic happen for Denver – and the difference in the team from when he’s on the floor to when he is not is truly remarkable.

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, left, looks to pass the ball as Dallas Mavericks center Dwight Powell defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Oct. 29, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Nuggets center Jokic, left, looks to pass the ball as Dallas Mavericks center Dwight Powell defends

It’s so stark in fact, that head coach Mike Malone admitted that the team tends to collapse as soon as the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player sits.

He’s also worried about the toll carrying such a heavy load this early in the season is taking on his star man.

“I told our guys just now, Nikola’s not a good player, (he’s) a great player,” Malone told reporters after the Nuggets lost to Memphis in midweek. “But every time he comes out, everything just falls apart. It’s every night. I went to him in the fourth quarter, I called his name, and he looked at me, kind of like, ‘Already?’ And I feel for him.

“Nikola’s gonna be worn down by Christmas at this rate.”

Jokic finished with 34 points and 11 rebounds against the Grizzlies, although he did miss a shot at the buzzer to tie the game, and his numbers for the season so far are also very impressive.

He’s averaging 25.1 points, 13.4 rebounds and 5.6 assists on 59 per cent shooting (40 per cent from beyond the arc). The Serb is also averaging a new career-high of 1.9 shots from 3-point range made per night. He’s playing more efficiently and hitting the glass even harder than his MVP campaign last year and although his assists have dropped from his career-high of 8.3 last season, he is still leading the league in assists amongst centers.

The 26-year-old just makes the rest of the Nuggets team tick, and he accepts that it’s his responsibility to set the tone on a nightly basis.

Following the defeat in Memphis, he said: “They look to me as a leader. I need to be much better. It’s not them to blame. It’s me, then everybody else.

“It’s not one guy. You cannot say bench. You cannot say starters. You cannot say coach. It’s all collectively. It’s me first then the rest of the group.”

The Nuggets are 4-4, but when Jokic has been on the court, they’ve outscored opponents by 14.2 points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning The Glass, which filters out garbage time and half-court heaves.

However, Denver’s net rating craters to -25.4 when he is off the floor, meaning that the Nuggets are essentially more than 25 points worse off as a team any time Jokic comes off the floor.

Mike Malone is concerned about the heft of the load currently being shouldered by Nikola Jokic
Mike Malone is concerned about the heft of the load currently being shouldered by Jokic

Malone is right to be concerned about the reliance on one man and will hope to squeeze more out of some of his other units against a Houston Rockets team that is rebuilding on Saturday night.

The Rockets are 1-7 and have yet to win on the road, so it’s a good chance for Denver to try and find a better balance to its rotations and maybe rest Jokic for longer stretches.

Regardless, if the team wishes to contend in the Western Conference, then it’s going to need to find some answers that don’t involve a 6ft 11ins center from Sombor.

Malone added: “I have to do my job to try to figure it out. Try to help that unit – mix and match, try different guys, whatever it is, but we just have to be better when Nikola Jokic is not on the floor.”

Watch the Denver Nuggets in action against the Houston Rockets live on Sky Sports Mix at 9pm.

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