Of course there is a lot of speculation before the NBA final series between the Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat; there are about as many predictions as there are basketball fans. It’s not just because of the wonderful quirk of professional sports that while nobody knows how it’s going to end, everyone thinks they know what has to happen for it to end one way or the other. In this particular case, it is also due to the constellation: At the beginning of the playoffs, who believed that the underdogs from Florida, who were still behind in the final quarter of the decision game for the last playoff spot, would first defeat the Milwaukee Bucks and then the Boston Celtics would, the top two teams of the regular season?
Hardly anyone, which is exactly why all experts have to sort themselves out again. And because the SZ sports editors are not immune to believing they know exactly what will have to happen and how it will end, here is a prognosis for this final in the North American Basketball League: It is quite possible that Nikola Jokic from Denver Nuggets even if his club triumphs not being voted Most Valuable Player in the best-of-seven series precisely because weil he’s the most valuable player to the Nuggets.
There is now a lot of talk about the lulatsch lout from Serbia, who is turning the sport and thus the NBA upside down. Some compare him to football legend Tom Brady, who was once voted 199th on the talent exchange – and became the most successful player in history. The Nuggets picked Jokic 41st in 2014; that’s in basketball what 199 is in football, and Jokic symbolizes that the draft is by no means about how good you are is – but how good one become can. Jokic is now a five-time All-Star and has twice been voted Most Valuable Player of the regular season. Now he has eight so far Triple Doubles – more than any other player in NBA history – led his nuggets through the playoffs to the first final participation in the club’s history.
Jokic, 28, is an example of what happens when someone brings things with them that are difficult to learn and therefore difficult to measure: joy in playing, feeling for the ball, an eye for the situation and teammates, as well as composure in all the circus that the NBA often does – and then learn what can be learned in the best basketball system in the world. As at the beginning of his professional career, he weighs 125 kilos, but he no longer looks like a dough on his feet – there is a very unfavorable youth photo of him, like Brady – but like someone you trust in the woods of cutting down Colorado trees.
The trainers have worked on the mobility, the balance, the throwing technique – but have left him his gamer idiosyncrasies, which make him unique. “Basketball IQ” is a term that’s used in an inflationary way, and often because people can’t explain why someone is so good. Ultimately, in any sport, it means that he very often makes decisions that increase the likelihood that his team will be successful.
There is no one like him in the NBA, maybe there never has been
Yes, he creates terrific individual stats; see the eight Triple Doubles, i.e. double-digit values in three statistical categories, in the playoffs he has even managed an average triple double: 29.9 points per game, 13.3 rebounds, 10.3 passes. But you believe him when he insists that he doesn’t care about these values as long as the team is successful – and that sets him apart from other superstars in this league. Of course, they also want to win and win titles, but they want to be recognized as the main reason for doing so – unforgettable Kobe Bryant, who was only satisfied when he also received the MVP award as “most valuable player in the final series” for the NBA title in 2009. Jokic is different, this final series is different and that leads to this prediction.
Jokic is a center playmaker, there is no one like him in the NBA, maybe there has never been one before – and something like that provides a brain teaser for the opponent who can’t prepare for him, like nobody can a rally against Novak Djokovic or once putting in a hook from Mike Tyson can practice without experiencing it directly. Heat coach Eric Spoelstra, blessed with a remarkable basketball IQ himself, has to make a decision early on about how to deal with Jokic, and he’ll have to adjust that strategy over what might be seven games; i.e. changing a tire at full speed – because the clever Jokic will also react to the opponent’s tactics and adapt his game accordingly.
That means: In double coverage he will look for the already fantastic interaction with point guard Jamal Murray and leave him the limelight and most of the points; and if Murray scores as consistently as he has in the playoffs (48 percent from the field, 40 percent from beyond the three-point line, 92 percent of all free throws for an average of 27.7 points per game), he’s definitely a Finals MVP candidate thanks to Jokic . It is also quite possible that Jokic is on the lookout for Aaron Gordon at important moments; if he scores while defending superbly against Heat star Jimmy Butler, he could be as valuable as Andre Iguodala was to the Golden State Warriors in 2015 – when he was voted MVP despite the trio of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
Because Jokic is so unique – a 2.11m giant with the touch of a winger, the vision of a point guard and the zest of a streetball player – he makes everyone around him better; and he is clearly pleased that he is doing it. Jokic is the NBA’s best do-gooder, so with a Nuggets triumph, there’s a good chance someone else will be voted MVP: because Jokic made him one.
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