Pregame Post-Ups: What Makes Jokic So ‘Unique’ in Stevens’ Eyes

Sunday, April 11 - Celtics at Nuggets

Pregame – What Makes Jokic So ‘Unique’ in Stevens’ Eyes

Brad Stevens has coached against numerous superstars with comparable skill sets throughout his NBA coaching tenure, but not one of them can equate to the inimitable playing style of Denver’s Nikola Jokic.

Over the last six years, the gargantuan point center has evolved into one of the most unguardable and unpredictable players in the league. And slowing him and red-hot Nuggets down Sunday afternoon will be the first task for Stevens’ Celtics team as they begin a three-game trip out West.

“I would say that he is one of the most unique players I’ve ever coached against,” Stevens said of the 6-foot-11, 284-pound positionless Jokic. “His size, his passing, his vision – he basically doubles as their center and point guard depending on what they want to do. The uniqueness of their actions is that a lot of their actions are inverted; you’ve got Jokic with the ball and you’ve got (point guard Jamal) Murray setting screens. You’ve got Jokic coming off a pin-down, you’ve got Murray setting the down screen. They’re doing some of that stuff with (newcomer Aaron) Gordon as well with Murray setting back screens for Gordon and then him picking on the opponent if they switch it, Murray slipping it if they don’t with Jokic as a ball handler. It’s such a weapon to have Jokic and his decision-making at the 5, and they utilize it terrifically. Like they really have a good way about them and he’s the hub of it all.”

Denver has won 17 of its last 20 games and, as Stevens pointed out, Jokic has been the director of such success. He's having an MVP-caliber season, posting career highs of 26.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game, while shooting 57.0 percent from the field, 42.9 percent from 3-point range, and 86.2 percent from the free-throw line. Even more impressive is the fact that he has not missed a single game during this condensed, injury/illness-plagued NBA season.

“I think to me, the step that he’s made toward being an MVP candidate is that he punishes you by scoring the ball,” Stevens said. “He didn’t always do that, at least in the couple of times that we see him in a year. I felt like he desired to pass so much more than to score. And now he just takes whatever the defense gives him, and he just scores it at will on guys.”

Jokic scored at will during a Feb. 16 matchup of the season against Boston, as he erupted for 43 points, six rebounds, five assists, and two steals. But the Celtics still managed to win that game convincingly, 112-99, proving that this Denver team is still beatable even if their superstar goes off.

However, as previously mentioned this Denver team has also won 17 of its last 20 games, including eight straight heading into this matchup. And that’s largely due to the way that Jokic is playing both from an individual standpoint and as a teammate, getting others involved. Slowing him and the Nuggets down will be one heck of a challenge for the Celtics, as they begin their road trip.

- Taylor Snow

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