Waste of talent: unacceptable ending for Nikola Jokic

Donatas Urbonas
Senior Staff Writer
2022-09-13 10:00

Serbia's loss against Italy showed that the basketball country still doesn't really know how to use such a basketball unicorn as Nikola Jokic in FIBA competitions.

Credit: FIBA

When Italy was on such a miraculous shooting streak, even the best player in the world may not have helped Serbia to survive a 3-point shower. However, the way the EuroBasket 2022 ended for Nikola Jokic was unacceptable.

In the last game for Serbia, Nikola Jokic scored his national team career-high 32 points but played only 28 minutes.

The best player in the NBA can't be benched for 30% of the game.

Player of the Game
Marco  Spissu
Marco Spissu
Points 22
Accuracy 7-11
Rebounds 4
Assists 6

Yes, Italy was a very uncomfortable opponent for Serbia. Inspired by Atomic Fly [head coach Gianmarco Pozzecco], they were not only able to score from the 3-point line from 1 to 5 position but also played up-tempo basketball.

They tried to expose Nikola Jokic using pick and pop and force Jokic to work in a defense involving him in almost every possession.

Jokic felt some signs of fatigue during the EuroBasket. Svetislav Pesic put his players on tough training camp and held pretty intensive practices. If that had any influence on Jokic's minutes, that is also the responsibility of the head coach.

But even under these circumstances, Jokic's presence was helping Serbia more than damaging.

Every time he was on the floor, he squashed Italy's defense. He dominated the paint, put Italy's big into foul trouble, drew double-team, and opened space for his teammates.

However, the back-to-back NBA MVP watched the collapse from the bench when Serbia went down in critical moments.

Nikola Jokic made both free throws and was benched with 4:27 to play in the second quarter. Serbia was up by 12 (42-30) and established a solid lead before halftime.

Simone Fontecchio answered with six points in a row, and the difference started to tumble. Italy boosted their confidence with a couple of tough 3-pointers and stayed close to one of the EuroBasket contenders. Jokic didn't return before halftime.

Jokic was benched again with 55 seconds to play in the third quarter. Serbia was up by only 2 points (68-66).

That's when Italy opened the fourth quarter with a few 3-pointers and started to dig hole for Svetislav Pesic's team.

Serbia scored only 2 points, and Italy went on a 13-2 run. Jokic didn't play for 4:36 and returned to the floor with Serbia down by nine (70-79).

On top of that, another MVP, Vasilije Micic, was also on the bench during this key stretch. Serbia couldn't create opportunities to score, and two of their best shot creators were not playing. On a night where the role players couldn't deliver.

Jokic was hot from the beginning. He had 24 points in 22 minutes after the first three quarters.

When he returned to the floor with 6:19 to play, Jokic tried to rescue Serbia with a crazy three-and-one from the logo. But it was too late.

Jokic attempted only three field goals and four free throws in the fourth quarter.

He finished the game with 8/14 shooting from the field, 14/15 free throws, 13 rebounds (6 ORB), four assists, two steals, one block, and four turnovers.

Although Italy was heavily attacking him with pick and pops, his plus-minus was the best on the court for both teams (+11).

When Greece struggled to break Czech Republic's wall, Dimitris Itoudis kept Giannis Antetokounmpo on the floor for almost the entire second half. Giannis was benched only for 7 seconds.

Luka Doncic didn't play less than 34 minutes except for an easy win vs. Hungary.

That's how you play generational stars, no matter who you face. Because at the end of the day, they will find a way.

There's no coach bigger than Jokic, Giannis, or Luka. That's something that some European coaches still have to understand.

FIBA World Cup quarterfinal elimination in 2019, failure to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, and shocking elimination in Round of 16 at EuroBasket 2022 put Serbia in danger.

Jokic will turn 28 in February, but Serbia still hasn't won a single medal with Nikola as the cornerstone player.

When Serbia won the silver medal at Rio Olympics in 2016, Jokic still wasn't the NBA star and contributed as an asset to Miroslav Raduljica, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Milos Teodosic.

The EuroBasket 2022 was an improvement for Serbia in terms of Jokic's usage.

For example, he averaged only 11.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per 22.6 minutes in China, compared to 21.7 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per 25 minutes this year.

But the last game showed that the basketball country still doesn't really know how to use such a basketball unicorn in FIBA competitions.

28 minutes with Jokic in an elimination game and zero medals with him since he became the NBA All-Star is an unacceptable waste of talent, and that's the issue Serbian basketball has to address.

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