It wasn’t for lack of effort or effectiveness from Denver’s best player
The Denver Nuggets have dropped to 6-7, but very little of that underwhelming record can be attributed to Nikola Jokić. The Serbian center continues to do some incredible things with the basketball to begin the 2020-21 season, but a distinct lack of consistent contributions around Jokić (and Jamal Murray to some extent) have left the Nuggets bereft of wins to begin the year.
Denver’s 109-105 loss to the Utah Jazz on Sunday night was no different. The Nuggets needed a great performance from their star, and they got one in the form of 35 points, 14 rebounds, and nine assists in 40 minutes of action. The Nuggets were a plus-6 in Jokić’s minutes, but they lost the game by four points due to spotty bench play in the eight minutes he sat.
When he was on the floor though, Jokić was cooking everyone in his path, pick and popping with Murray, creating open shots for Gary Harris, isolating against Rudy Gobert, and posting up Derrick Favors. He finished 14-of-23 from the field, 3-of-6 from three-point range, and 4-of-4 from the free throw line. Jokić has actually made his last 24 free throws in a row, showing how locked in and aggressive he has been through the beginning of the season.
It’s not on him to figure out the minutes the Nuggets play without him. It’s on the backup unit, the coaching staff, and perhaps other starters as they rotate onto the floor to play without the Serbian star. Whatever the case, the Nuggets have grown increasingly dependent on Jokić to start the year, and whenever he sits, the team generally struggles (outside of a game against the New York Knicks). However it happens, the Nuggets have to figure out those minutes without Jokić, because Denver can’t wear down their star during the first half of season and expect to go anywhere in the playoffs.