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Denver Nuggets

One Play: Denver Nuggets centre Nikola Jokic keeps leveling up as a passer

Welcome to "One Play!" Throughout the 2020-21 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.

Today, Denver Nuggets centre Nikola Jokic takes the spotlight.

Context: A week ago, I broke down one of the more impressive passes Jokic made in the 19-point, 18-assist, 12-rebound masterpiece he put together in Denver's win over the Houston Rockets.

Three games later, here we are again.

On Monday, Jokic starred in Denver's blowout victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves to the tune of 19 points, 12 assists and 12 rebounds, making for his fourth triple-double of the season. Not only that, Jokic has now recorded double digit assists in six straight games, the longest such streak of his career.

As always, Jokic threw a number of passes worthy of attention in Denver's win over Minnesota, but there is one in particular that stood out.

Let's take a closer look.

The play:

Breakdown: The four Nuggets alongside Jokic are Monte Morris, Facundo Campazzo, Gary Harris and PJ Dozier.

Morris brings the ball up the right side of the court, Harris parks himself in the strongside corner and Jokic hovers around the elbow closest to them. Campazzo and Dozier spot-up on the left side of the court - Campazzo on the wing and Dozier in the corner.

Morris dribbles towards Harris, hands him the ball and replaces him in the corner. Harris quickly moves the ball along to Jokic while Campazzo and Dozier switch spots on the weakside.

The plan? Run a handoff between Jokic and Harris.

Harris has been one of the least efficient scorers off of handoffs so far this season - small sample alert! - but he's generated around a fifth of his scoring (21.7 percent) on those plays. If that sounds unsustainably high ... it's not. According to NBA.com, Harris scored off of handoffs with similar frequency in each of the last three seasons.

Handoffs are his bread and butter.

Knowing the scouting report, Anthony Edwards puts himself between Harris and Jokic. It prevents Harris from getting the ball back from Jokic, but it opens up a backdoor cut.

This is where Jokic's genius comes into play.

Ricky Rubio probably would've helped off of Campazzo in the corner anyway to prevent Harris from getting a layup or dunk, but Jokic makes Rubio commit to rotating over by staring directly at Harris as he makes his cut towards the basket.

That's not usually a pass defenders have to worry about a centre making, but it's one Jokic has been making for years.

As soon as Rubio commits - check out where his momentum is heading when the ball leaves Jokic's hands - Jokic makes the one pass Rubio and the Timberwolves aren't expecting.

Campazzo isn't a lights-out shooter, but he has all the space he needs to make Rubio pay.

Why it matters: Jokic has proven himself to be one of the best passers in the NBA over the last couple of seasons, but this level of manipulation - a no-look, crosscourt pass that fools one of the better defenders at the point guard position in Rubio - is something you'd expect to see from LeBron James, Luka Doncic or Chris Paul, certainly not a 7-foot centre.

It's not just the pass itself that's impressive either. It's the timing of it. A split-second sooner, and Rubio wouldn't have had to commit to rotating over. A split-second later, and Rubio would've been able to rotate back to Campazzo, knowing there wouldn't be enough of a window for Jokic to slip a pass to Harris on the backdoor cut.

It's that combination - the vision to spot his teammate open in the corner and the IQ to know when to deliver the pass - that elevates Jokic from a special passer to an all-time great passer.

The returns this season have, quite frankly, been absurd. Jokic is up to 12.8 assists per game through six contests, the highest mark in the league. (The only other players currently averaging double digit assists are Russell Westbrook with 11.8 and James Harden with 10.8). It's also the most assists a centre has ever averaged in a single season. The current record is held by the one and only Wilt Chamberlain, who averaged 8.6 assists per game back in 1967-68.

Jokic obviously has a long way to go to catch and surpass Chamberlain - 66 more games of elite playmaking, to be exact - but with these sorts of passes in his arsenal, he might just do it.

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