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Heatcheck: How far can streamlined Nikola Jokic take Denver Nuggets in playoffs?

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Wednesday 24 June 2020 11:29, UK

Nikola Jokic in action against the Milwaukee Bucks 4:54
Can the new 'skinny' Nikola Jokic help take the Denver Nuggets all the way to the NBA Finals?

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic has shed a significant amount of weight during the NBA season hiatus. How far can a streamlined 'Joker' take Denver in the playoffs?

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After footage of a svelte Jokic attending a basketball event in his native Serbia was posted to social media, Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly confirmed his All-Star center had been working extremely hard on his fitness, telling Altitude Sports Radio: "He's beach-ready. He has abs. He showed up in great shape. He sent me a picture. No shirt on. He has got abs. I have never seen him have abs before."

It has since transpired that Jokic has tested positive for coronavirus and remains in his homeland to observe protocols

On Heatcheck - and before news of his positive test was revealed - panellists Ovie Soko and Mo Mooncey considered the impact a newly-slender Jokic could make on the Nuggets' playoff hopes. Could he lead them all the way to the NBA title?

"Leading the Nuggets to glory is a bit of a stretch but I do think they will be new and improved," said Mooncey. "You also have to remember that the Nuggets hold a significant advantage over every other team in the league in playoff series when they are at home because of the altitude in Denver. They are accustomed to it, their opponents are not. Automatically, with no home playoff games in Denver this season, that advantage is gone.

Check out Nikola Jokic's best plays from this season's NBA. 4:27
Check out Jokic's best plays from the 2019-20 season so far

"When it comes to Nikola Jokic, it is fantastic to see him in such great shape.

"Players haven't played for three months now and they are no longer used to the physicality of the NBA because that is something you can't simulate when you are training by yourself or in a gym with assistant coaches. Maybe having a few extra pounds to help him bang down low in the post where he operates might have been better for Jokic now against players no longer prepared to guard that much of a physical presence.

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"But in terms of his overall career and for the future seasons of the Denver Nuggets, this is fantastic progress for Jokic."

Soko agreed that title talk for Denver is premature.

"When you bring championship talk into this, I think that's a cold take but saying (a streamlined Jokic) improves the Nuggets, yes, I definitely see that being true," he said.

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"Because he is such a skilled-based player and not necessarily someone who relies on athleticism, the increased quickness and increased agility can only benefit a player who is already 'thinking the game' at a very high speed. The game seems to slow down for him. Anything in addition to that can only help the Nuggets.

"We saw in last year's playoffs Denver depend on Jokic and they need him to play big minutes. Carrying around all that weight for extended minutes made things tougher for him. Now it is time to see if (his new body shape) translates on the court because we haven't yet seen him play at this weight. But it is a positive change, both for him and the organisation."

Nikola Jokic drives by Jonas Valanciunas 0:23
Jokic found Jerami Grant with a superb no-look pass en route to a triple-double in the Nuggets' win against the Grizzlies in December

Could Jokic's loss of bulk have an adverse effect on this game, particularly his interior defense?

"I'm interested to see if Denver change their style of play and if the weight loss impacts Jokic's style of play. At the moment, Jokic is averaging one block a game and he is not a fantastic defender down low. But if you are looking at the Western Conference, there are not too many guys he will have to guard on the low block who are real scoring threats," Mooncey said.

"What is fascinating for me is only nine per cent of Jokic's buckets come in the first eight seconds of the shot clock. Are we going to see more from the Nuggets offensively in transition? Moving the ball with Jokic getting down the court faster and getting to his position on the block faster?

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"The other thing is Jokic's minute management. Currently, he averages 20 points in 32 minutes per game but only five points and seven minutes in the fourth quarter. Now he has lost the weight, maybe we will see him able to play better basketball and more minutes in the fourth quarter because he has more energy. Also, throughout the game, he'll no longer have to conserve so much energy ahead of that fourth quarter.

"With the direction the league is moving in, with a faster style of play, (losing the weight) will definitely benefit him."

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