Trail Blazers

2021 NBA Playoffs: How the Blazers plan to stop Nikola Jokic

Trail Blazers

There’s an old saying that goes, “it takes a village to raise a child.”

For the Blazers, there’s a modern version, as the team has echoed Tuesday after practice. 

It takes a whole team to stop Nikola Jokic, the likely 2021 NBA MVP.   This idea isn’t ludicrous, at all. It’s actually what needed to be said, especially in regards to a guy like Jokic.

Although he did lead Denver in scoring at 26.4 points, he also led the team with 8.3 assists. If he’s not scoring, then he’s playmaking. Two skills he’s mastered at an elite level and keeps the defense guessing because of his trickery and unconventionality. 

“He’s very dynamic,” said Robert Covington. “When he has the ball he can do a lot of different things. It’s just not on [Nurkic] or [Kanter] to stop him.'

It’s on all of us. We can’t leave those guys on an island. We all have to collectively defend as a team. No matter what, when we defend, it’s not just about one person. We defend as a unit.

Robert Covington on Jokic

Covington is right, the Blazers will have to try and defend Jokic as a team, although that may be easier said than done.

During the regular-season, Jusuf Nurkic was Portland’s primary defender on Jokic and held his own against his former teammate. 

In two meetings, Jokic scored 31 points on 50% shooting in 13 minutes and 37 seconds vs. Nurk.

“Having Nurk, and we didn't have Nurk in that series [in 2019], changes our ability to keep a big body on him,” said Stotts. “Nurk and his defensive abilities versus Enes, it is different. From that aspect, there’s no question that we’ll be able to do some things differently than we did two years ago in regards to Jokic.”

 

Where the Blazers have some issues is if Enes Kanter spends long stretches on Jokic. In a game in which Jokic scored 41 points, he scored 37 of those against Kanter in almost 11 minutes and shot 57.1%.

Through three meetings in the regular-season, Jokic scored a total of 49 points on Kanter while shooting 55.6%.

Jokic’s offensive breakdown is no secret. He tied for second in the league in post-ups per game at 5.8 and did so 24.6% of the time. When on the block he scored at a high clip at 51.8% and shot 55.6%.

The joker as the pick-and-roll man, something he did 17.1% of the time during the regular-season, is something else Portland will need to watch. In such actions, he scored on 51.4% of sequences and shot 53%.

“I don’t know if there’s a formula for any great player,” said Terry Stotts on how to contain Jokic. “The challenge for us with him is that he’s more than just a scorer. He has a great ability to make his teammates better. His passing is as much of a threat as his scoring. He gets the ball in all types of positions. There’s such a variety to his game that it’s not like we can do a steady diet to take away one thing because he does so many things.”

As Covington said, it’ll take a team. Nurkic and Kanter are probably up for the challenge, but stopping someone like Jokic will take a team because he has so many strengths.