Jimmy Butler praised two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, but not for the reasons you might think.
The Miami Heat are down 0-1 against the Denver Nuggets in the NBA Finals. Nikola Jokic’s offensive brilliance was on full display in Game 1. He dropped 27 points on 12 shots and dished out 14 assists with only two turnovers. The poise, the precision, the subtle dynamism — there isn’t anybody operating on Joker’s level right now.
For Miami’s Jimmy Butler, however, the praise for Jokic extends beyond his offensive repertoire. Butler credited the Nuggets star for his defense, too.
“As much as people look at what he does on the offensive end, he’s a hellified defender as well,” Butler said (h/t ESPN’s Tim MacMahon).
Jimmy Butler surprisingly credits Nikola Jokic for his defense
Jokic has been hailed as a defensive liability for pretty much his entire career. The foundation of Joel Embiid’s MVP argument was, for a large chunk of voters, that Jokic is a one-way player. A lot of the concerns regarding Jokic’s ability to translate his elite regular season production to the playoffs was the fact that he, theoretically, could not defend on the biggest stage.
To call Jokic a “hellified” defender might be a mild stretch. Jokic is by no means some elite rim protector. His limited foot speed can be exploited by twitchy guards in space and we just saw Bam Adebayo drop 26 points on 52 percent shooting in Game 1 because of all the easy catches he got in open pockets of space around the paint.
That said, the criticism of Jokic’s defense has often been far too extreme. He took a month off from max effort at the end of the regular season, which colored many opinions of him and essentially won Embiid the MVP award. But when active and engaged, Jokic’s supernatural intelligence does translate to the defensive end. He’s an excellent quarterback who can communicate with teammates and orchestrate coverage. He also has some of the best hands in the sport — he averaged 1.3 steals per game during the regular season.
What he lacks in athleticism, Jokic can mostly make up for with positioning and cleverness. He’s always going to be limited to drop coverage and he will always concede the speed advantage in certain matchups, but he’s far from unplayable in the postseason. Thankfully, that errant narrative has finally been put to rest.