As we inch closer to actual NBA games, the challenge that the players will face in their quest for a championship becomes clearly. Early this week the NBA passed its first test by having every NBA player in the bubble test negative for Covid-19. This has bolstered the hope that the bubble concept will be able to hold off as Covid-19 rages outside of it.
Nobody quite knows what the product will look like – though with inter-squad – scrimmages this week we will get our first peak at an empty NBA game. While it’s foolish to argue that this restart will decide the legacy of an NBA player or organization, it certainly can help to build up one should they go the distance.
Just as Hercules had to overcome 12 challenges or labors in order to prove himself to be worthy, NBA superstars will be taxed in a way they never have before. Superstars will be responsible for carrying their teams on the court like usual but they will also have to keep their groups focused, engaged, and united in their quests for a championship. Here are the biggest challenges that 12 NBA superstars will face as they seek to win the title. Up next…The Joker.
Nikola Jokic is as unique a player as their is in today’s NBA game. In an era defined by “do everything” wings and “pull from anywhere” guards Jokic is anything but that. He plays with a force and a physically punishing style that makes players of the 80s and 90s smile. Along with the physicality that he utilizes on the interior it by no means overshadows the skill and creativity of his offensive repertoire. Jokic has such diversity in his offensive attack that he can dominate that end of the floor in a variety of ways. Back to the basket bully ball…check. Shoot it from distance…check. Manipulate defenses in the pick n’ roll game…check. Clean up the offensive glass…check. Carve up defenses with elite and dazzling passes…check. And most recently he added be a 7′ point guard to his resume so…check.
Since Jokic has emerged on the NBA elite scene the Nuggets have steadily progressed each season. Last year the Nuggets finished 2nd in the West, won a playoff series, and lost to the Blazers in 7 games. This season, after a slow start and something something…playing into shape…blah blah, Jokic was magnificent. He averaged 20, 10, and 7 with shooting splits of 53%/31%/81%. Nobody has ever doubted his offensive skill set. What obstacles Jokic will have to overcome to bring a title to the city of Denver will be twofold.
He has to perform better and more consistently at the defensive end. He has made strides in recent years — particularly as a drop defender in pick n’ roll coverage — but more is needed. In a Western Conference loaded with athletic wings and explosive guards, he needs provide more resistance when cross-matched on this players. Although Jokic has improved on the defensive end — particularly in his rim protection (when he’s on the floor the Nuggets allow 3.8% fewer shots at the rim) — and while he is an excellent rebounder (27% Defensive Rebounding) he needs to do more than just end defensive possessions on the glass. He has excellent feel for the game and is an intelligent player. These things will never make up for his limited athleticism and slow foot speed but they can help him close the gap to being a league average defender. For the Nuggets to advance past the 2nd round he will have to be more solid on the defensive end.
The other obstacle for Jokic will be in late game situations. During last season’s playoff run often times the Nuggets found themselves with the ball in Jamaal Murray’s hands late in the shot clock and late in 4th quarter. While Murray is an above average guard and a capable creator, he is not someone who to this point you want closing games for you if the other team has Lebron or Kawhi closing for them. Because of Jokic’s ability to make the “right play” and offensive versatility he needs to be the guy that has the ball late in games. Much like Dirk used to operate above the foul line late in games, so must Jokic.
Denver has largely flown under the radar this year with the two LA teams garnering most the national attention out west. If the Nuggets hope to spoil LA’s time in the bubble then Jokic will have to carry more of an already heavy load. If the offensive dynamo can shore up some of his defensive weaknesses and be the offensive fulcrum late in games, then they will have as good a chance as anyone to surprise teams in the west.