There are fleeting endorsements, and then there are ringing, ironclad statements that leave no room for ambiguity.
After just eight games together, Nikola Jokic offered the latter about rugged forward JaMychal Green, whose 15 points and nine rebounds were essential to Thursday’s 114-104 win over the Warriors.
“JaMychal is a guy that I would like to play with him for the rest of my life,” Jokic said. “He’s amazing. His effort, his energy, his toughness.”
Although Jokic regularly offers enlightening soundbites, he doesn’t pander to anybody. It shouldn’t be taken lightly when Denver’s franchise player offers this kind of unsolicited endorsement. Whether Denver’s front office consulted Jokic or not amid the frenzied free-agent period may be immaterial. What matters is that the Nuggets found the type of player and personality Jokic unequivocally wants to be around.
Perhaps Green’s toughness rubs off on the rest of the Nuggets. Maybe his relentless pursuit of rebounds seeps into Denver’s other players. It’s also possible his unapologetic commitment to winning becomes the attitude of the Nuggets moving forward. After all, that’s all Jokic cares about. His current triple-double pace means nothing to him if it doesn’t translate to victories.
“Just want to win,” Green said. “Winning is meaningful to me. I don’t care if I was out there (in the fourth), Paul (Millsap), P.J. (Dozier) whoever. As long as we’re winning, I’m cool.”
Is it any wonder that Jokic, the NBA’s most selfless superstar, has found a kindred spirit in Green?
Jokic’s glowing validation to reporters wasn’t any kind of stunt. Jokic went up to Green privately after the game and told him how much he loves playing with him, according to a source.
Among frontcourt pairings, part of the reason Jokic appreciates Green is because he eases some of his own burden. Last season, the Nuggets couldn’t count on Jerami Grant as a reliable rebounder. Though still productive at 35, Paul Millsap doesn’t have the spring he used to. And it’s no secret the Nuggets are still working to coax consistent defensive effort out of Michael Porter Jr.
Green’s no-nonsense approach has been a breath of fresh air, not just for Jokic but for the Nuggets in general.
“Just my style of play,” said Green when asked how he’d built chemistry so quickly with Jokic. “… Just how I come in.… Know my role. Don’t try to get outside myself, and I’m gonna play hard.”
On Thursday, aside from tying his season-high with nine rebounds in 28 minutes, Green hit two of the biggest buckets of the game. With the Warriors threatening late in the third quarter and the shot clock dwindling, Green barreled into the lane and made himself available. Naturally, Jokic rewarded the effort with a simple pass before Green floated it in from a few feet out.
Asked where Jokic ranked among the best players he’d ever played with, Green said he was in the top three. That list includes names like Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter.
“He can run the team,” Green said. “We’re in his hands right now”
Later, up 100-91 with 5:30 remaining in the fourth, Green stepped confidently into a 3-pointer with Draymond Green charging at him. The shot fell – Green’s third 3-pointer of the night – all but sealing the win.
Through eight games, Green’s 3-point shooting numbers are preposterous. A career 38-percent shooter from outside, Green’s nailing nearly 53 percent of his 3s this year. He’s hit at least two in all eight games thus far.
Owing to his play and his attitude, Nuggets coach Michael Malone has raved about him. He’s lauded his willingness to guard smaller wings or play up and tangle with bigger centers. And despite Green’s offensive contributions, it’s his commitment to defense that has endeared him to Malone.
“He’s old school,” Malone said. “He’s a throwback player. Doesn’t say a lot. Let’s his actions speak volumes. Toughness, grit, not gonna back down. … This is exactly what I envisioned when we got JaMychal Green this summer.”
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