The Nuggets-Warriors series is all about the Jokic-Draymond battle
The Nuggets and Warriors first-round series offers something no other playoff matchup can provide – the world’s absolute best players on each end of the court will go head-to-head. The results of these matchups will decide which team advances.
Nikola Jokic is an offensive savant who will take home his second consecutive MVP award after carrying an undermanned Nuggets team all season. His 32.85 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) set an all-time record and his 9.8 value over replacement player rating led the NBA by 2.4 points. Include Joker’s true shooting and assist percentages, along with every other advanced metric, and the evidence is clear that Jokic had one of if not the best offensive seasons in basketball history. He dissects and destroys opponents’ possession by possession, and there’s no answer for the way he can read the game and react no matter what the defense does.
Steph Curry is a transformational superstar who has changed the way basketball is played, but Draymond Green is the engine that makes the Warriors go. He won’t win the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year after missing 30 games this season, but he’s the best defender in the NBA. With Green on the court, Golden State’s defensive rating easily led the NBA at 104.2, and it ballooned to 112.0 without him. Just the way Jokic reads the way a defense will react, Green does the same to every offense in the league. He anticipates and blows up action better than anyone in basketball and he can do it guarding multiple positions.
Green is also the key to the Warriors’ infamous death lineup that led them to five straight Western Conference titles. As a screener, passer, and short-roll man, he unlocks their offensive ball movement and the three-point shooters. Curry doesn’t have to create with the ball near as much when he’s on the floor with Draymond and is free to move and shoot off of screens where he is most deadly. When Green returned from injury last month, Curry went 13-for-16 from the field for 41 points in just 15 shared minutes with Draymond in his first game back.
The tricky part about making any predictions about Jokic vs. Draymond or the impact the matchup has on the series is we don’t have any evidence to go on from this season. Green didn’t play in any of the four games against Denver. Additionally, Curry, Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins, along with Denver’s Monte Morris, Aaron Gordon and Will Barton, all sat out at least one of the games.
So what will the Warriors look like when the series starts Saturday night in San Francisco? Curry’s status is still up in the air for Game 1, and he, Thompson and Green have only played a total of 11 minutes together all season. Will it take some time for them to find a rhythm, or will they instantly click as they did for five amazing playoff runs in the past?
For Denver, Jokic averaged 28 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists against Golden State. This series sets up for him to post some monster numbers even with Green playing. Joker will have to play a lot of minutes; probably considerably more than Green in each game. Denver needs to take advantage of all of the time Draymond is off the court, whether that’s Jokic or DeMarcus Cousins making Golden State pay.
But ultimately, playoff games are decided by stars in crunch time. In this series, the margin of victory or defeat will be decided by the plays Jokic and Draymond make in the clutch.
Who can make life easiest on their teammates in pressure-packed situations? The highlights will show Curry or Thompson or Morris or Gordon making the shots, but how did they get open and who got them the ball? Can Jokic overpower Green with his size advantage? Can Green keep Jokic off balance and take away some of his passing angles?
The answers to these questions will decide the series and watching how it all unfolds will be some highly entertaining basketball. Jokic and Draymond are the smartest offensive and defensive players in the world, and their battle of basketball IQ is something you won’t find in any other series.