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Nuggets coach Michael Malone: You feel “spoiled” watching Nikola Jokic

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During the third quarter of Tuesday’s blowout win over the Thunder, Nuggets coach Michael Malone issued an unwavering order of his team.

“I was demanding (Nikola Jokic) touch the ball in the post every possession,” Malone said recently, reflecting on his big man’s dominance.

Malone’s request wasn’t unreasonable. In the first half alone, he’d dismantled Oklahoma City’s defense with 19 points on 12 shots and eight rebounds. There was nothing the Thunder’s still-developing roster could do against the All-NBA talent.

“It’s like watching a surgeon pick somebody apart,” Malone said. “He knows where the open man is, he found the guy, we had great ball movement, great spacing. You do catch yourself (in awe).”

Malone, who spent five years as an assistant coach in Cleveland, described being “spoiled” by getting to watch LeBron James on a nightly basis and now having a front-row seat to Jokic’s rise. Asked about Jokic’s torrid pace, Malone went back to James.

“And we were playing Miami, and it was a national TV game,” he said. “… It was LeBron vs. Dwyane Wade. And I said after the game in the coaches’ meeting, I said, ‘Do you guys know how lucky we are? We get a chance to have the best seat in the house to watch that guy play.’ And I think the same applies to Nikola.”

Through 14 games, Jokic is averaging 25.1 points per game, 11.4 rebounds and 10 assists per game. His scoring has jumped five points since last season, his minutes are up substantially, and he’s on pace to shatter the record for assists by a center, currently held by Wilt Chamberlain.

“Although the athleticism is quite different between LeBron and Nikola, lot of similarities,” Malone said. “More than people would probably realize.

“With LeBron sometimes, it was the athleticism along with the IQ and the unselfishness,” he said. “And with Nikola, his IQ is off the charts. He’s thinking three plays ahead of everybody else.”

Malone knows what Jokic is doing this season is special. The Nuggets’ record, 7-7, is probably holding him back from leading the MVP race at this point, but there’s plenty of time to rectify it. His recent play has left teammates in awe. Monte Morris called him a future Hall of Famer. Will Barton tells him before every game to go win MVP.

“I never take for granted being a head coach,” Malone said. “… And you sure as hell don’t take it for granted when you have a chance to coach a special player. Nikola is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Nikola is the top center in the world.”

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