Monty Williams says ‘nobody figured out’ how to stop Nuggets’ star Nikola Jokic
Nikola Jokic is nicknamed “The Joker” in the NBA community for a reason that goes beyond the first syllable of his last name.
Much like the Batman villain, the Denver Nuggets’ reigning two-time MVP center wreaks havoc on opponents, producing a triple-double almost every time he steps onto the court.
But Jokic is more like Batman’s other memorable villain, The Riddler, because his supernatural versatility leaves teams with question marks as they try to figure out how to stop him.
The Suns host the Denver Nuggets (51-24) in first-place Western Conference action on Friday. Jokic (Wade) did not play in Denver’s home loss to New Orleans on Thursday. According to TNT, he could return for the Nuggets’ second duel in Phoenix.
The Suns lost their previous two encounters in Denver, on Christmas Day and on January 11th. Jokic torched the Suns for 41 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists in their first matchup and a 21-18-9 stat line in the second.
Sun’s trainer Monty Williams tried to explain what it takes to contain Jokic during their training session on Thursday, which remains an unsolved mystery for him.
“I just think it’s a lot of things: his mindset, his skills, but how the people play around him,” Williams told The Republic. “If you’re not guarding the boys around him, he’s so selfless that he’ll let you pay with the passport. He has the ability to shoot at every level and he’s tall, he’s mobile, can use both hands, there’s nothing in his game he can’t do. …
“You’re just trying our best to limit the stuff, but no one has figured that out yet.”
Suns forward Torrey Craig praised Jokic at practice on Thursday, jokingly claiming he had the best defense against him when they were Nuggets teammates from 2017-2020.
“I used to lock Joker in practice all the time,” Craig said, semi-seriously. “Nah (laughs), Joker is an incredible talent. He’s like one of one. I’ve never seen anyone invite the doubles team just to make the right plays and break defenses.
“He has unique skills and it’s difficult to plan for him because he doesn’t really have a weakness. He knows how to manipulate a game at all levels. It’s going to be a challenge for us, but we’ve played it in the past and we’ve done a good job on him. I expect nothing less than tomorrow to come up with and implement a solid game plan.”
Seven-year veteran Jokic is one of the best to ever play the game. He is one of the favorites to win the league MVP again.
Denver’s win in Memphis on March 3 marked the end of his longest-ever triple-double streak (29), five more than Magic Johnson. Jokic is fourth in the league this season with 9.9 assists per game, the only major in the top five in that category, and his 11.9 rebounds per game is second to Sacramento’s Domantas Sabonis. Also, Jokic averages 24.9 points on an eighth-best shooting of 63.4%.
Jokic isn’t the fastest or flashiest player, isn’t the stat padding type, and doesn’t have the marketability like Steph Curry or Devin Booker.
But the Joker is ferocious with these attributes that make him difficult to defend: he snatches the ball off the other team’s glass and throws laser-cross court passes like an elite quarterback; removing defenders from dribbling and scoring in transition; impeccable timing in his low post moves and quick roll off of the defender’s shoulders with angles to score or pass; expands his team’s possessions well by tapping misses to his teammates, always finds his open teammates cutting to the hole or looking for jumpshots.
This season’s MVP race with Jokic, Joel Embiid from Philadelphia and Giannis Antetokounmpo from Milwaukee is thin. But Jokic could care less about winning the prize.
“I don’t think about it anymore. It’s over,” Jokic said after recording 31 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in Denver’s win over Washington on March 24.
He’s more concerned about the team’s defense and finishing games better as the Nuggets head into Friday’s five-game sled.
Williams credits Jokic’s teammates with his individual success and how they’ve been at the top of the West for most of the season.
“The guys around him are all guys who can tire,” Williams said. “(Aaron) Gordon should have been an All-Star this year. (Jamal) Murray is an all-star in my opinion, and then you add (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) and (Bruce) Brown doesn’t get enough credit for his growth and development as a player. You have the young fellow from Kansas (Christian Braun) who doesn’t look like a rookie and Jeff Green. I think Jeff Green, when God parted the Red Sea, he went across with everyone, he’s been there for so long. They just have a lot of good players and Mike (Malone) is one of the best coaches in the league. …
“They put it all together with Jokic, that’s why they were the best team in the West.”
Do you have any tips for us? You can reach the reporter at d[email protected] or at 480-486-4721. Follow his Twitter @iam_DanaScott.
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