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Four Responses to Recent Nikola Jokic Criticism

Feb 28, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) brings the ball up the court during the third quarter against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s keep this as simple and blunt as possible. This piece pulls in a plethora of Nikola Jokic hatred, slander, and criticism found on Twitter. It is my job to respond to these anti-Jokic statements to the best of my ability. 

Four Responses to Recent Nikola Jokic Criticism

Slander Example #1: What About Westbrook?

Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double in the 2016-2017 season, averaging more points than Jokic. Why was Westbrook criticized as a “stat padder,” and why is Jokic considered “one of the greatest offensive players ever”?

Argument: 

While Westbrook averaged seven more points than Jokic in his MVP year, Russ also had a 42.5% field goal percentage (24 shot attempts) compared to Jokic’s 63% (14.8 attempts). This is a dramatic difference in field goal percentage, as Westbrook shot the ball nearly nine more times than Jokic – leading to more points but not even making half of his overall shots. Westbrook placed 100th in field goal percentage during the 2016-2017 season, while Jokic is currently ranked 6th in the 2022-2023 season. 

Westbrook also led the Thunder to a 47-35 record, finishing as the sixth seed in the western conference. Jokic, on the other hand, is currently leading the Nuggets to a 44-19 record (with 19 games remaining left on Denver’s schedule) and is projected to be the top seed in the western conference despite having no all-star selections on the roster. 

In 2016-2017 Westbrook recorded 42 triple-doubles, with OKC winning 33 of those games. While Jokic doesn’t have the same volume of triple-doubles that Russ had, the Nuggets are 28-0 (recording back to last season) when Jokic records a triple-double. Simply put, the Nuggets are very unlikely to lose when Jokic records a triple-double. 

Simply put, Jokic shoots at a significantly better percentage and is carrying his team to a much better record than Westbrook’s MVP season.

Criticism Example #2: Jokic Can’t Win in the Playoffs

Argument:

ESPN’s Max Kellerman recently stated: “I’ve never seen a disconnect like this where a guy monopolizes the MVP, and yet he floats out of my top five at number five”. His fellow ESPN coworker Kendrick Perkins stated afterward that Jokic needs to show playoff success to win future MVPs (he then went on to say that Embiid should’ve won the MVP last year despite never appearing in a conference final)

It is ludicrous to say Jokic is not a top-five player in the league while averaging a triple-double and leading your team to a top record in the west. Almost everyone who watches NBA on a night-to-night basis, following the sport daily with great detail, should know Jokic is a top-five player at minimum. But I am not here to argue that silly narrative. 

It is crazy how Jokic gets slandered about his playoff exit last postseason. While Denver faced off against the eventual NBA champion Golden State Warriors, Jokic played with fringe starters and bench players. Monte Morris (averaging 10 PPG this season for the lowly Wizards), Will Barton (recently cut from the Wizards), Austin Rivers (5.2 PPG this season), Jamychal Green (6.2 PPG this season), Bryn Forbes (out of the league), DeMarcus Cousins (out of the league), and rookie Bones Hyland (shooting 39.8% from the field this season). 

Aaron Gordon and Jeff Green are the only pieces still on the Nuggets roster this season from that playoff rotation. Yea, no wonder why Jokic lost in the first round. I’m surprised he even led that bullish squad to the playoffs. People tend to forget that Jokic has appeared in a conference final and his “rival competitor” (more so between Denver and Philly fan bases on Twitter), Joel Embiid, has not. 

Losing to the Suns in a sweep hurt in 2021, but again, Jamal Murray was inactive with a torn ACL, and Phoenix eventually made a finals appearance. 

Slander Example #3: Nikola Jokic Might Pass the Analytics Test, but He Doesn’t Pass the Eye Test.

Argument:

As the great JJ Redick recently stated, “What….the f*ck…..are you watching”. 

Over the past three seasons, Jokic has received much criticism for being praised for leading the NBA in almost every single advanced metric. Read that again and think to yourself how crazy that is. The narrative is that Jokic receives MVP votes and praise, as a whole, for leading the league in unusual (yet proven) statistics. However, much of the argument against Jokic stems from the “eye test.” It seems like most of today’s “eye test” is centered around athleticism, making the right decision, defensive rotations, and making shots/highlight plays. Jokic haters believe he doesn’t pass the eye test because of athleticism – out ruling the more essential factors in being a good basketball player. Therefore, the 284-pound Serbian who can’t jump too high or run quickly fails the “eye test.” 

I’m biased as a Denver native, but Jokic is the smartest player in the NBA. Instead of forcing shots or passes, Jokic slows the game down. A lot. He carefully dissects not only the defense but his teammates as well. Who’s cutting? Who’s making an off-ball screen? I have a mismatch, and I will take advantage of that until I’m doubled and there’s an open man. 

I love this Jokic assist for many reasons. Bruce Brown misses a corner three, and Jokic rebounds. Instead of forcing a shot over Mason Plumlee and Paul George, he surveys the floor and finds a cutting Aaron Gordon for an easy finish. Most centers would gather the rebound and force a shot since the ball is at the bottom block. But not Jokic. He slows everyone down and makes the right play. 

There are 60,000 examples of Jokic making the right play in his career. How does this not pass the eye test?

Hate Example #4: Nikola Jokic is a Liability on Defense.

Argument: 

Though Jokic isn’t an elite defender, he is average to above average. His quick hands often force turnovers, and he gets into passing lanes. Jokic is currently 21st in steals per game with 1.3 and 9th in deflections with 3.1. How is that a liability? Yes, there are things to work on, like defending the pick & roll and sometimes falling asleep on defense. But liability is not the right word. Trae Young is a defensive liability, and Enes Kanter has always been a defensive liability. Jokic is far from that, even though there is more work to be done. 

And just for fun, I’ll add this clip:

What’s better than a Jokic game-winning block with Chris Smoove commentating? 

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