Denver Nuggets: The real reason Nikola Jokic is off to a ‘slow start’

NBA Denver Nuggets Nikola Jokic (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
NBA Denver Nuggets Nikola Jokic (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images) /

Denver Nuggets star Nikola Joki is off to a slow start because he made a minor change to his offensive repertoire essentially decreasing post-ups and increasing 3’s

There has been a significant amount of conversation around the league about the slow start of Nikola Jokic this season. CBSSports wrote an article last week stating that Jokic was struggling with his shot because he was shooting under 50 percent from the field in the previous four games.

However, one can argue that a minor change to his offensive repertoire has been the catalyst behind Nikola Jokic’s slow start this season. Jokic spent most of his offensive possessions below the 3-point line last season because he was predominantly used in the low post and as a screener.

Denver Nuggets head coach Mike Malone would often Nikola to bring the basketball up to the three-point line. Once this happened, Jokic got close to one of his teammates standing on the perimeter to initiate a dribble handoff.

If the dribble handoff was successful, he stood in place, giving the teammate a chance to use his body as a screen. Assuming that the teammate used his body as a screener, he would start to roll towards the basket. On the other hand, if the handoff failed, Jokic would hold the basketball until a teammate cut to the basket, or he attempted a mid-range jumper.

A prime example of this was found midway through the second quarter of a home game against the Charlotte Hornets when Nikola Jokic dribbled the ball to the left-wing to initiate a handoff with Gary Harris. In the process of completing the dribble handoff, Gary’s defender Miles Bridges bumped into Jokic, giving Harris an uncontested 3, which he converted.

The screener role allowed Nikola Jokic to produce 10.1 points per game for the team last season. Nikola created 2.9 points per game on 2.5 field-goal attempts as the roll man in the pick and roll.

The other 8.2 points came from the 3.7 screen assists he had per game. According to, screen assists is “the number of times an offensive player or team sets a screen for a teammate that directly leads to a made field goal by that teammate.

When Nikola wasn’t being utilized as a screener, he would establish post position in the mid to low block. Once this happened, he would get the ball and analyze the defense to determine the next course of action.

If a defender comes over to provide help defense on him, he will pass the ball to the open teammate. On the other hand, if Jokic is facing single coverage, he holds the ball for a couple of seconds, waiting to see if a teammate cuts to the basket. Assuming that the teammate cuts to the basket, Nikola will pass him the ball as he approaches the rim.

However, if a teammate isn’t in motion, he will attempt to back down the defender to score the ball. A prime example of how Denver used Nikola Jokic in the low post last season was found midway through the second quarter of a road game against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Upon receiving the ball on the right low block, Seth Curry came over to provide help defense. Consequently, he immediately passed the ball to Curry’s defensive assignment, Malik Beasley for a 3-pointer.

Jokic produced 3.9 points and 0.9 assists in 7.7 post-ups per game last season. Unfortunately, he has significantly decreased his low post presence this season as he is currently averaging 4.4 per game. The 4.4 post-ups have created 1.6 points and 0.4 assists for the team.

Nikola has replaced those post up possessions by becoming more of a screener as his pick and roll possessions have gone from 2.8 to 4.1 per game. The 4.1 pick and roll possessions have created 3.3 points for the team.

Nikola’s screen assists have increased as well as he is currently averaging 4.3 per game. The 4.3 screen assists have produced 9.4 points for the team through 12 games this season. Jokic’s increased presence as a screener hasn’t only accentuated those areas of his game; it has also played a role in him shooting more 3’s per game.

Nikola is starting to pop more often after he sets a screen for a teammate. A prime example of this was found late in the first quarter of a home game against the Brooklyn Nets. Nikola set a screen for Monte Morris, who went over it. Shortly after going over the screen, Morris realized that Jokic was standing behind the arc wide open, which led him to pass the ball to Nikola for a 3-pointer.

Popping has played a vital role in Nikola getting more catch and shoot opportunities this season as he is currently averaging 3.8 catch and shoot 3’s per game. This is an increase of 0.9 catch and shoot 3’s from last season.

The 3.8 catch and shoot 3’s account for 79.2 percent of his total 3’s as he is currently averaging 4.8 per game. The 4.8 attempts is an increase of 1.4 3’s per game from the previous season. Not only is Nikola attempting more three’s, but he is also taking the shot with higher frequency as 33.1 percent of his field-goal attempts have been three’s this season

This is a 10.7 percent increase from last season. Unfortunately, he is still converting them at the same rate of 28.9 percent. The 28.9 percent has contributed to him shooting 24.6 percent from behind the arc this season.

The combination of these factors has contributed to him averaging 16.4 points with 6 assists this season, shooting 45.3 percent from the field. This is a decrease of 3.7 points, 1.3 assists, and 5.8 percentage points from the previous season.

The Denver Nuggets appear to be unhappy with the change in Nikola Jokic’s offensive repertoire. According to the Athletic (subscription required), Mike Malone told reporters that he rather see Nikola in the paint more often.

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In conclusion, if Nikola Jokic reverts to his old offensive repertoire, the statistics would start to increase.