Aaron Gordon – A+
Aaron Gordon loves to play the Clippers, and he played a near-perfect game in Los Angeles Friday night. The Clippers had no matchup for AG, with their stars missing time due to injury, and he did it all. He cleaned up errant layups, turned defense into offense in transition, shot comfortably from deep, feasted in the dunker spot, dug out a deep position on mismatches—he even took over for Jokić as Murray’s PnR partner in the fourth quarter. He was unanswerable.
Gordon’s off to a terrific start this season. Much of that can be attributed to more time in his envisioned role, but even when Denver’s missed time from star players, he’s stepped it up to another level. A lightbulb seemed to go off above AG’s head after two games against Golden State in the playoffs. He’s played with a great understanding of what makes him so valuable ever since.
Nikola Jokić – A
Before it turned into a full-blown showcase game for Gordon, it was business as usual for the back-to-back MVP. Jokić dominated the first half with 17 points on 13 shots, four rebounds, five assists, and two steals. All seven of his field goals came in the paint. He attacked Ivica Zubac on the move—rolling downhill after a screen, or lumbering down the lane after a shot fake from deep. He was too good. So good that he let someone else drive to finish the trip.
Jokić did not take a shot in the second half, instead grabbing nine rebounds and blocking a shot. You know, standard center stuff.
Jamal Murray – B+
Jamal Murray returned to action Friday, and the rest did him good. It wasn’t a highly-efficient scoring night for him, but a substantially better game as the point guard. He logged nine assists to only one turnover, helping Jokić get going in the first half and running the show with AG in the fourth. Clippers fans must hate this guy.
KCP – C
KCP knocked down a three in the first quarter. He did not make another field goal until the fourth. He took only four shots all game, didn’t grab a rebound, and picked up one assist. No harm and no foul in a game Denver controlled from start to finish.
Bruce Brown – B-
Brown started in place of MPJ, and predictably, he did a bit of everything. Four field goals, four rebounds, four assists, and a steal. He got his signature floater off and threw down a thunderous alley-oop to complete a brilliant sequence from Ish Smith.
Ish Smith – B-
Ish finally returned to action, and he returned in style. The second quarter was his—he blocked Norman Powell’s jumper, turned it into a highlight on the other end, and knocked down a three of his own. The rest of his minutes didn’t go as well, but these were the minutes that mattered. Ish gave Denver a spark off the bench.
Vlatko Čančar – B
Vlatko did it again! Despite some smoked layups near the rim, Vlatko scored 13 points, recorded two assists, and logged 24:41 on the court alongside both units.
I’m burying the lede—the defense popped again. Most notably, he blocked John Wall in transition.
What a treat.
Davon Reed – C-
Michael Malone turned to Reed again, and it got ugly again. But through the struggles, Reed improved on his last performance. He finally got a jumper to fall, and his defense wasn’t a problem against the shorthanded Clippers. He played hard.
Zeke Nnaji – C
Nnaji missed both 3s he took, his best chance to make a positive impact, and grabbed only two rebounds in 15:36. The physical aspect of his game comes and goes—mostly the latter. He’s got to make his presence felt more consistently to secure a spot in the rotation.