New Orleans Pelicans: Nikola Jokic is a good model for Zion Williamson

Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets drives to the basket past Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images)
Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets drives to the basket past Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by C. Morgan Engel/Getty Images) /

Zion Williamson will be making his comeback for the New Orleans Pelicans next season, hoping to become an MVP candidate and lead his team deep into the playoffs.

That’s something 2-time MVP Nikola Jokic knows something about, as he has put up two historic seasons in a row while taking an under-manned Nuggets team to the playoffs, including once to the Western Conference Finals.

The two couldn’t be much different as players, as Zion punishes opponents with brute strength and otherworldly athleticism, while Jokic’s game is built around shooting, passing and finesse, though both do it in giant bodies.

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Even though the two are very different, Jokic is actually the perfect model for Zion Williamson when it comes to certain aspects of his game.

New Orleans Pelicans: What Zion Williamson can learn from Nikola Jokic

Take conditioning seriously

Like Zion, Jokic came into the NBA with a lot of question marks about his physique, as he was a guy who looked more like a pro wrestler than a basketball player.

Jokic grew in size during his first few seasons in the NBA, and his career didn’t really take off until he started taking his physical conditioning more seriously. Jokic was always good, but keeping in shape allowed him to not get gassed at the end of games, which is especially important when you play in the thin air of Denver.

Jokic slimmed down, his minutes per game increased and he put together back-to-back MVP seasons for the Nuggets. He’s never going to pass for an underwear model, but Jokic has taken steps to ensure he stays healthy and on the floor more late in games.

It appears Zion is doing the same, as he is working with a personal trainer and has a chef who is focused on keeping him healthy and trim. It’s not just about avoiding injury, but also being effective late in games when the Pelicans need Zion on the floor.

Become more of a playmaker

Nikola Jokic is one of the best passers in the NBA and arguably the best passing center in the history of the game, so no one expects Zion to get to that level as a playmaker, at least not right away.

But if you look at Jokic’s first two seasons, he only averaged 2.4 and 4.9 assists, not far off where Zion was at 3.7 in his only full season.

Of course, Jokic now averages around eight a game, so his passing has jumped to a whole new level since those first few seasons in the league.

Zion ran the point for much of his last full season, something that I think we’ll see less of under coach Willie Green, but he is still going to have the ball in his hands a lot.

Most of the time he’ll be looking to score, as Zion is pretty much unstoppable once he gets into the lane, but he has to get better at finding cutters and open shooters to avoid some of the double teams and hard contact he is going to face.

Jokic is also an elite outlet passer, something Zion can improve, as he usually looks to take the ball up the floor himself instead of looking ahead for a teammate on the break.

Jokic is amazing at creating gravity in the middle of the floor, drawing in defenders and then finding open teammates in a variety of ways. Zion is probably never going to get to his level as a passer, but this is something he can add to his offensive game, as he too creates a lot of gravity in the middle of the floor and will have better shooters and cutters around him then he did the last time he played.

If Zion really wants to win MVP for the New Orleans Pelicans, he can take his cues from the Joker, who started to take his conditioning seriously and emerged as an elite passer and playmaker as well as a scorer.

Next. How Zion can win MVP next season. dark