Nikola Jokic’s five most extraordinary assists: Breaking down Nuggets star’s preposterous passing highlights
We’ve been having the wrong conversation about Nikola Jokic.
For many years, the discussion around the Nuggets star has been whether he’s the best passing big man of all time. Not to downplay the passing chops of Wilt Chamberlain, Arvydas Sabonis or Pau Gasol, but Jokic has graduated to the point where he’s arguably the best passer in the league today and should be considered one of the best passers we’ve ever seen, regardless of position.
The numbers speak for themselves, but it’s the specific passes and reads Jokic makes that separate him from, well, nearly every other player in NBA history.
With that in mind, I watched every single one of the assists the big fella has dished out so far this season to pick out my five favorites.
Prepare to be mesmerized.
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5. Not today, Luke
OK, this isn’t the flashiest assist, but how many times have you seen someone lose a defender with a simple handoff pass?
Jokic looks like he’s a high schooler playing with a bunch of middle schoolers.
Bonus points for it coming in the clutch.
4. Right hand, left hand, it doesn’t matter
Jokic is basically as good as it gets when it comes to scoring in the post. According to NBA.com, only Joel Embiid has scored more points than him on the low block this season. Jokic is also scoring at a rate of 1.13 points per possession with his back to the basket, which ranks him in the — wait for it — 89th percentile in efficiency.
Jokic has an answer for everything a defense can throw at him. He’s strong enough to overpower most defenders, even centers. His footwork is elite. (Like, he’s earned the Hakeem Olajuwon stamp of approval elite.) He has a silky soft touch around the basket. He’s a knockdown shooter, so giving him space isn’t a good solution.
Since he is such a dominant scorer in the post, Jokic sees his fair share of double teams. The problem, of course, is that opens the door for him to do stuff like this:
That’s a no-look, left-handed, crosscourt pass that fools every single defender on the Thunder — just watch Josh Giddey at the free throw line — to set up Monte Morris, a career 39.1 percent 3-point shooter. (Shoutout to Aaron Gordon for setting a well-timed screen on Luguentz Dort, which prevented him from even thinking of contesting Morris’ shot.)
Jokic does that a lot, by the way. The no-look, crosscourt pass out of the post or at the elbow that makes you think he has 360-degree vision is kind of his specialty.
It feels like he does it once every few games, and it never gets old.
3. One step ahead
Who do you think this pass is going to?
Out to Will Barton on the wing, right? Wrong.
The answer: Aaron Gordon parked underneath the basket.
Jokic has a way of throwing the one pass the defense isn’t expecting — and making it look good.
He sure did fool Ja Morant.
2. Now you see it, now you don’t
Jokic is also a quick decision-maker. Sure, he’ll back his defender down in the post and solve problems as the defense scrambles and rotates, but he doesn’t need a whole lot of time to do his thing.
There are times when he treats the ball like a hot potato, giving it up almost as soon as it touches his hands.
That’s what they call threading the needle. He couldn’t have given it up any sooner. Hold the ball just a split-second longer, and Jrue Holiday might have come away with the steal.
1. He called game
What else were you expecting?
I mean, a crosscourt pass over not one, but two defenders while falling backwards to deliver the game-winning assist?
The patience to let all of the options unfold, the vision to spot Gordon in the corner, the strength to pull off the pass and the touch to put it right on the money … yeah, it doesn’t get better than that.