Phoenix Suns are keeping Jokic from his Nuggets

phoenix suns, denver nuggets, Nikola Jokic (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
phoenix suns, denver nuggets, Nikola Jokic (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) /

Coming off a game where Nikola Jokic had a 32-20-10 triple-double the Phoenix Suns should feel good about the gameplans that have been used to defend him in this series. While this series is not over, the fact that the execution has been at such a high level should instill confidence in the team and for fans going forward.

The Phoenix Suns’ main strategy against Jokic is to try and limit his exceptional passing, and through three games it has worked.

Through the first two games, Jokic had collected a total of only nine assists compared to 40 shot attempts. In the third contest the Joker was able to break free for 10 assists, but also took 29 shots in the process, something that ideally he would not have to do.

Part of the reason Jokic has had to adjust his play so much is because of Jamal Murray’s injury, but the way the defense from the Phoenix Suns plays just as big of a part. That scene starts with Deandre Ayton, because without the sound, steady defense he has been playing without getting into foul trouble it would not be possible.

Few centers have the profile of Ayton to be able to match Jokic’s strength in the post, have the length to bother any jump shots in the mid-range he puts up, and the mobility contest 3s and counter drives, but Ayton does (something covered in the latest VOTS podcast).

The Trail Blazers tried a similar strategy with Jusuf Nurkic in the first round and it worked to an extent, as Jokic averaged only 4.5 assists per game in the series. Where it fell apart was when Nurkic would get into foul trouble and that Portland’s guards and wings were not at the level of Phoenix’s are on the defensive end, especially off the ball.

The Suns have also incorporated in some ways to ease the burden on Ayton at points, while ramping up pressure on Jokic. One example is that a Suns wing player, usually Jae Crowder, will guard Jokic when he first catches the ball on the perimeter.

Playing tight coverage deters a shot, leading to a pass or slow drive in which Ayton can step in halfway and Phoenix can utilize its smart players and tight rotations to scramble switch back into position, not allowing Jokic to make a pass or take a contested shot.

Part of the defense on Jokic has come at the other end of the court as well. The Suns have been insistent on making him move on the other end of the court by putting him in many actions. This has been leading to a winded Jokic by the end of the game, giving the Suns open shots on offense and making the job easier on defense.

Nikola Jokic has not played badly in the series, not even close, he is just tasked with too much responsibility and does not have the types of weapons around him needed to overcome a locked-in five-man Suns unit on defense. Thirty-point games from Jokic are no indictment on Ayton, because the Suns have been executing a defensive game plan that is perfect to get them to the Western Conference finals.