Nikola Jokic has emerged with a new physique. But as Kevin Love might attest, there’s a balance to be had that could be a detriment to Jokic’s play.
Nikola Jokic‘s newfound physique was the talk of Twitter after pictures surfaced of a man completely different from the one we last saw on an NBA court. Big Honey had become a Kirstaps Porzingis look-alike and jokes regarding his conditioning were no longer relevant.
Few words are needed to explain the benefits of a slimmer frame, especially in a profession that values peak physical condition.
Jokic usually looked like he needed a breather from tip-off. Fewer pounds weighing down his seven-foot frame reduces the risk of injury to wrap up the 2019-20 season and beyond while opening the door for an increase in nightly minutes that rank seventh-fewest among 2020 All-Stars (32.3).
This isn’t the first time a husky All-Star trimmed significant weight from their body. As many were quick to point out upon seeing pictures of Jokic, Kevin Love experienced a similar transformation before the 2014-15 season.
By the summer of 2014, Love was already in the process of trimming fat as a way to increase longevity. After landing on the Cleveland Cavaliers, he sought to take his diet even further to adjust to the faster pace he expected his new team to play at.
There’s a reason, however, even Love believes he took his regimen too far. Using a similar rationale makes you wonder whether Jokic will arrive at the same conclusion and if his basketball gifts would be better off in his previous shape.
Love entered the NBA at around 270 pounds and became a perennial All-Star with the Minnesota Timberwolves in part because of it.
In his three All-Star seasons with Minnesota — injuries limited him to 18 games in 2012-13 — Love averaged 13.7 rebounds per game — leading the league in 2010-11 — including 4.1 on the offensive end.
The rebounding was aided by an innate sense of where the ball was to come off the rim but more so from Love’s ability to ram his way into whatever spot on the floor he chose. The same applied to his work on the low block, where sheer size consistently got him close to the bucket.
DeMarcus Cousins is the only other big man in NBA history has ever averaged north of 8.0 free-throws and 5.0 3-pointers in a single season. Love did that twice, in 2011-12 and 2013-14.
During his final season in Minnesota, Love bullied his way to 5.1 attempts per game in the restricted area, converting them at a 65.2 percent clip. Upon arriving in Cleveland, those numbers dropped to 3.0 and 59.0, respectively, and seldom crept back up to his Timberwolves days in the years that followed.
Plenty of that change stemmed from his new role as a Cavalier. More complementary floor spacer alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving than a low-post focal point with a team all his own. His usage rate dropped and his 3-point attempt rate soared to career-highs.
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His numbers were always going to dip as the third of a Big Three, but the extent they did can’t be solely chalked up to circumstance. Love’s trimmed body took away that which made him such a dominant force in Minnesota, contributing to his inconsistencies in Cleveland.
Despite a more perimeter-based game that includes an inordinate amount of ballhandling duties, Jokic is a bruiser in his own way, where he ranks fourth in post-ups and 10th in rolls per game. A lack of speed and quickness makes him prone to go through defenders instead of around them, resulting in the ninth-most drives per game among centers.
All it takes is a quick Google images search to show the physical punishment Nikola Jokic absorbs amongst the trees with various cuts and bruises across both arms. He takes that toll because he can retaliate with success.
How will the absence of that ability come into play against frontcourt-heavy teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz with their respective All-Star big men in Anthony Davis and Rudy Gobert? Is it now possible for P.J. Tucker’s force to take away the one advantage the Denver Nuggets would have in a series against the Houston Rockets?
There won’t be a definitive answer until we have the evidence to prove it. Love still made another two All-Star Games amid Cleveland’s run to four straight Finals. He averaged 17.1 points and 10.0 rebounds, helping the Cavs to the 2016 title.
It’s hard to argue, though, that he wound up the player Cleveland expected to get upon acquiring him. The Nikola Jokic last seen on an NBA court won’t be the one to step onto the hardwood in Orlando. If Love’s story is any indication, Denver’s playoff hopes might suffer as a result.