NBA: The Nuggets and the reign of Nikola Jokic | Sports

Michael Malone never got to train Tim Duncan, the iconic court leader of the longest-running dynasty in NBA history, the San Antonio Spurs. But he knows his figure and legacy very well. For this reason, he does not hesitate to compare Nikola Jokic (Sombor, Serbia, 28 years old) with him. “They are examples of superstars without an ounce of selfishness,” he pointed out.

Malone, coach of the Denver Nuggets, the best team in the Western Conference so far this season, confessed these days to reporter Adrian Wojnarowski that excessive focus even overwhelms the Serb. “He is embarrassed to receive so much attention.” Reflex action of which he conceives the amazing as something normal.

Such care is, however, unavoidable in your case. Basketball always speaks of him because of Jokic, the perfect balance between the artistic and the cerebral, between the magical and the scientific. His deployment has him walking towards a season that could be historic, almost unimaginable in modern basketball.

Chosen as NBA MVP the last two years, the Serbian could join a select list that includes Bill Russell (from 1961 to 1963), Wilt Chamberlain (from 1966 to 1968) and Larry Bird (from 1984 to 1986), until now only men capable of winning the award for best player in the competition three consecutive times.

Recognition, for Jokic, does not bring paralysis or numbness. On the contrary. “He always wants to learn new things, he allows himself to be trained like the first day, no matter how successful he has been before,” declared his technician, unable to hide his sincere admiration for the man who makes everything easy. Towards the unexpected turning point of the project, a European who came to the NBA from the second round of the draft and with obvious overweight problems. In other words: one of the most unlikely cases of dominance in league history.

Malone exposes his franchise player’s dominance from whole to nuance. Product of an absolute scope, almost unreal. “He plays chess on court. His knowledge of his game is incredible, sometimes I think that he is like a computer, he automatically reads everything around him and, in a minimum of time, makes the right decision 99 out of 100 times, ”he maintains.

The practice is, in your case, quite close to that scenario. No NBA player comes into contact with the ball as many times each game as Jokic (99), also receiving in areas of impact and decisions as diverse as the low post or the elbows in the area, areas from which he also leads the league. Regardless of whether he is facing the hoop or having it behind him, Jokic acts as the engine of the entire system.

“With him, everything is very simple, if you’re alone and in a good situation, he’ll get the ball to you,” his teammate Aaron Gordon summed up to the journalist Mike Vorkunov, who is living the season of his life by building fantastic chemistry with him. Serbian pin. Jokic, on track to become the first inside player to average a triple-double over an entire NBA season, didn’t always hold the keys to the offensive system in Denver. But now they are engraved with his name.

“There was a training session, during his first season (2015-16), in which everyone had to do a ball handling and passing exercise,” Malone recalled, about the then-unknown Nikola. “And he did much better than all our point guards,” he settled. In his second year, the Nuggets undid their experiment of pairing Jokic with Bosnian Jusuf Nurkic, another player with a lot of size and interior action. The objective was clear: to make Jokic the center of everything.

That first session in Denver in which the Serbian saw Kenneth Faried, his teammate at the time, fly over him until he left an impressive mate. It was a kind of welcome message to the new world. “This is not for me,” Jokic thought then, a paradigm of a basketball where the main muscle, and light years from the rest, is always the brain.

full center

Reality, however, dismantled that first frustration. First, managing to create, in sports and around him, a culture of passing and movement without the ball in a team where everyone knows that with Jokic by their side it is always Christmas. Second, from a planning perspective, establishing a calm base, with calm leadership, on which to build a powerful and sustainable team. And third, establishing his axis as one of the most dominant and fascinating players in the world.

Jokic’s impact on the Nuggets is something not only verifiable from the performance without him (3-5 balance), as opposed to the one obtained when he is available (38-13), but above all something that passes the visual test with flying colours. monstrous, perceiving that a single man —whose figures are already historical and who receives maximum rival attention— is in charge of continually putting the rest of his teammates in the best possible situation so that they can be the best version of themselves. Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.

Thus, while analysts discuss how voter fatigue (through which insisting on the same winner, with indifference to their merit, can end up causing boredom and consequently the search for someone new to reward) can influence the decision of the MVP and fans are amazed, night after night, with the passing peak of the surely most gifted insider in that art in the history of basketball, Jokic himself thinks only of how to strengthen his block to decipher and defeat his next opponent.

It is, in the end, the routine of the extraordinary. The staging of the total pivot or the highest point guard in the world, the two sides of the same coin. The two channels of expression of his reign.

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