Joker and the Nuggets: A recipe for success?

As a five time NBA All-Star, with five All-NBA selections, back-to-back MVP awards, the Western Conference Finals MVP this year, and soon to be Finals MVP, Nikola Jokić undoubtedly possesses an impressive NBA resume.

Known for his smooth and unpredictable style of play, the seven foot Serbian, better known as the Joker, has captivated the league with his simple and pragmatic approach to basketball: “I believe the only muscles you need in basketball are the ones in your brain.”

Under their lead man, who comes out game after game, unusually leading from the centre position, and making nightly triple doubles seem like an effortless feat (something previously done only by the current HOFer Oscar Robertson, and future HOFer Russell Westbrook), the Nuggets have surged in recent years.

But how does he do it? How has the unathletic, late Round two pick (inconspicuously drafted during a Taco Bell advert, mind you), with a five inch vertical become the best player in the league, inaugurated by Shaq into the exclusive “Big Man Alliance”?

‘Real basketball fans’ will tell you it is because he makes the right plays in the right situations. As every coach will scream until they lose their voice, (shoutout Coach Smith), Jokić plays what the defence gives him, doing only what they let him; always playing simple, efficient, and successful basketball. And, of course, that is why he has been so successful, surpassing the legendary Wilt and Kareem (combined!) for career triple-doubles as a centre, but more importantly, currently leading the Denver Nuggets to their first championship since the team’s inception almost 60 years ago.

The Nuggets certainly function like a well-oiled machine, and their admirable teamwork is undoubtedly what has led them to the NBA Finals.

Yet, the beauty of the Denver Nuggets is that Jokić does not do this alone. The team does not revolve around a single player like Lebron’s Lakers, or Steph’s Warriors, but each player plays their part. In a unique, but not inappropriate analogy, the team is often compared to a well-constructed roast dinner: the big and beefy Jokić complemented by the well-rounded Aaron Gordon, the silky-smooth Jamal Murray and, of course, Michael Porter Junior (healthy only in small portions). The Nuggets certainly function like a well-oiled machine, and their admirable teamwork is undoubtedly what has led them to the NBA Finals.

But through all this talk of the Nuggets as an amazing, talented, and well-meshed team, the first game of the NBA finals this year suffered a drop in viewership of a third from last year: around four million. Assuming this is not due to the resurgence of slightly less-than-legal streaming websites, this is because the Nuggets are not the typical entertaining team to watch in the modern game: they lack the time-defying flying dunks by Lebron, the dancing Steph making inconceivable long-range shots, the sleek and explosive Tatum, the mesmerising James Harden, the terrifyingly athletic Greek-Freak or even the breath-taking ‘Ja-droppers.’

It seems that there is little appeal for a talented big man who plays simple, easy basketball in a small-market team out of Colorado. A quick (though it never really is quick is it?) scroll through my For-You-page on Tiktok ratifies this statement. There are never highlight reels of Jokić’s best layups, and though he occasionally enjoys the spotlight for a flashy and gravity-defying pass, his style of play does not demand the audience of other stars in the league. Nevertheless, despite the lack of poorly synced Frank Ocean music over a compilation of his mesmerising basketball plays, Jokić plays a winning style of basketball, certainly displaying the strength of his brain muscles. He goes out night after night, and he gets the job done, especially in Game One against the Heat, notching yet another dominant triple-double and cruising to an 11-point victory over the Heat.

Whether it was the often exaggerated high-altitude, fatigue from a tense seven games with Boston, or Jimmy Buckets suffering from a sore back after carrying in the last 18 games, the Heat looked out of their depth. Thus, much like the OxTube after a night out in London, they decided to not show up, leaving those expecting their success disappointed, out in the cold, and frantically emailing their tutor for an extension.

One thing is for sure, whilst first-round exists last year, the Nuggets are certainly a force to be reckoned with this year. Having lost only three games in the entire playoffs, and coming fresh off of a sweep that humbled the unbearable Lakers fans, it is hard to see how Butler and the Heat will come between Joker and the Nugget’s first ring in franchise history. Now, we can only hope that Jimmy Butler did not throw away his “Four More Wins” t-shirt after Game One as he can re-use it for Game Two and, at this rate, the rest of the series.

Image description: Nikola Jokić readies for a free throw

Image credit: All-Pro Reels via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)