- The Nuggets are 13-5 despite Nikola Jokic’s slow start.
- Is his lack of conditioning reason for concern or optimism?
- Either way, Denver is poised to look much different as the season continues.
On the surface, the Denver Nuggets have lived up to expectations in the season’s early going. They’re 13-5 and ranked third in the Western Conference behind the Lakers and Clippers.
Based on wins and losses alone, Denver is pretty much exactly where it was expected to be, at the front of a loaded pack of Western Conference sub-contenders. But digging deeper into the Nuggets’ play reveals ample evidence casting doubt on the viability of their early-season performance.
Is Denver overachieving or underachieving? The answer is indeterminate, and Nikola Jokic’s dispiriting start amid his team’s strong play over the first six weeks of the season is the biggest reason why.
‘The Joker’ Isn’t Himself
Jokic was named First Team All-NBA last season, and his dominant play at the FIBA World Cup provided more justification for those who believed he was on the brink of MVP contention entering 2019-20.
Instead, he’s been the most disappointing marquee player in basketball. Jokic’s per-game numbers and rate statistics are down across the board. He’s shooting career-lows from the field, beyond the arc, and free throw line, and fouling at a higher rate higher than any season since his rookie year.
Jokic, frankly, has barely been a shell of the player who finished fourth in MVP voting last season, and silenced many critics in his first taste of playoff basketball by averaging 25.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, and 8.4 assists per game.
A Fat Silver Lining in Nikola Jokic’s Awful Play?
A few years ago, The Athletic’s Ethan Strauss coined the phrase “fat is potential in disguise” to describe the dynamic allowing room for both optimism and concern about players who lack NBA-level conditioning. It’s still unclear on which side of that spectrum Jokic’s level of…