Calling Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic an elite defender might look like an overstatement, but sometimes stats don't lie.

So far, Jokic has the best defensive rating in his team (103.6 per 100 possessions). Moreover, he occupies 4th position among all centers in the league in the defensive win shares category (13.9%), which estimates the number of wins a player produces for his team due to his defensive ability.

The main question is: How can a player, who's not among the most athletic guys, be ranked among the likes of Rudy Gobert?

Nikola Jokic

Nikola  Jokic
Nikola  Jokic
MIN: 32.69
PTS: 25.54 (61.42%)
REB: 13.94
As: 7
ST: 1.29
BL: 0.86
TO: 3.63
GM: 35

BasketNews' Augustas Suliauskas explored the topic, trying to figure out whether the stats and the video material are telling the same story.

While filling in as a guest analyst for TNT's Inside the NBA, Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green pointed out that Jokic needed to perform better on defense. Jokic got the message.

On "The Draymond Green Show" podcast, Green went into detail about how Jokic approached Green the following year and thanked him for his criticism.

"I went at Jokic's defense. I'm like: "If they're going to be a good team, he has to be good defensively." I showed four clips of him not rotating over to the low man or not moving. I was very critical of him," Green said.

"He came up to me that following year and said: "I saw what you said about my defense. You were right. But I've gotten better." I said: "You've gotten better 100%. I've been watching you this year."

Throughout Nikola Jokic's career, we've grown accustomed to the idea that he's a defensive liability. He has had some good and bad games in the regular season, but playoffs have invariably exposed the weak parts of his game.

He was the No. 1 target for the opposing teams when it mattered. His slow feet and bad lateral movement left Nuggets coach Mike Malone with no choice but to use a passive pick n' roll defense, even against opponents with superstar guards like Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, or Chris Paul.

All they needed to do was get their man into the screen. Switching was never an option either. In isolation, Jokic was left far behind by explosive guards. The problem was the same, whichever tactic Nuggets chose for their leading man.

A similar situation is happening this season but on a much rare occasion. At first sight, it's rather hard to understand or explain the change in Jokic's numbers.

2-pointers this season

Points made: 27,8
Accuracy: 55,7%
Place in standings: 14
Record max: 36
Record min: 20
Most made 2FGs: Nikola Jokic

Malone has made the same defensive choices in using drop and flat against pick n' rolls.

Whatever weaknesses the Serbian center has shown on pick n' rolls were not only his fault. It seems that his teammates last year didn't help him at all to cover up his deficiency - and even worse, they made him look terrible.

This year, things are different because the Nuggets seem to be working more as a unit. You can feel the responsibility of his teammates not to let him deal alone with pick n' roll defense. Players stand at one pass away when needed, and on-ball defenders maximize their efforts, pressuring the handler from behind.

If the guard takes too long avoiding the screen or gets pinned every time, that's a problem. Michael Porter was a huge part of the Nuggets' defensive success. When he was still playing in October, his individual defensive rating was at an amazing 89.1 mark.

Porter was good on the ball, but also on time with rotations. This season, we're more likely to see Nuggets use two players helping on the weak side and forcing the ball to get in the basket from seven meters away.

Obviously, Jokic is also responsible for his improvement. His use of hands often creates an unexpected problem for guards whenever they become careless with the ball.

Drop is still the most used tactic as Jokic stays pretty much in the area, waiting for guards to make a decision. If they overthink, he's ready to slap the ball away.

On other occasions, he's provoking mid-range shots for players not comfortable or efficient on that kind of shots. This type of defense allows Jokic to protect the rim and avoid easy lay-ups.

Whatever the choice might be on pick n' roll defense, Jokic finishes off the defensive sequence with a box out. He averages an NBA-best 2.8 box-outs per game, a price he has to pay for his opponents jumping much higher than him.

He's also second in rebounds per game and takes 11.5 of them on defense, allowing a very small amount of second-chance points.

Mike Malone does a great job in keeping players accountable and reminding them that pick n' roll defense is not only a two-man job. That's particularly important in the NBA, where the game is spaced out.

Jokic is having an unreal season and it will be interesting to see if his defensive improvements will allow him to win the MVP trophy again.

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