Nikola Jokic turned in arguably his finest performance of the season on Monday, celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day with 30 points (13-for-19 FG, 3-for-5 FT), 11 rebounds, five assists, three steals and two turnovers, which translated to a Game Score of 27.2. The Nuggets outscored the Magic by 18 points with Jokic was on the court, in a 13-point win. Excellent game.
But Jokic’s performance had been trending up well before Monday, as he has gotten his season back on track after a slow start. The Nuggets began the year starting Jokic next to Jusuf Nurkic in the frontcourt, two talented centers in a twin towers configuration. Unfortunately, Jokic and Nurkic don’t work well starting together because both are centers, they have overlapping skill sets, and they clogged the paint for the rest of the team/got in each other’s way.
After a few weeks, the Nuggets shook up the line-up by moving Jokic to the bench and starting Nurkic next to more traditional power forwards like Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur. This may have helped get rid of the conflict in skill sets, and even helped Jokic start to find his level, but it didn’t optimize Jokic nor the Nuggets because it limited the minutes of the superior player.
In the early/middle part of December, while still coming off the bench behind Nurkic, Jokic seemed to find his rhythm. He turned in a stretch of five straight double-doubles, wrapped around a three-game absence for a wrist injury.
Finally, in late December, the Nuggets moved Jokic into the starting line-up with Nurkic coming off the bench, and Jokic’s performance has exploded since then.
okic’s performance on MLK day was his best since rejoining the starting line-up, according to Game Score, but an examination of his game scores over time shows that his overall performance level has tracked with the major events of the season. Jokic’s game scores were lowest when he started next to Nurkic, increased when he moved to a bench role away from Nurkic, and have flourished since his return to the starting unit with Nurkic off the bench.
All that is to say, things are looking up for the Denver Nuggets.