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Nikola Jokić – A+
Nikola Jokić wasn’t particularly aggressive in the win over the Suns. He orchestrated a first-half masterclass and registered 16 assists, but we have updated expectations for the greatest player in the world. Unreasonable expectations. The 30-point games look so easy these days. Perceived passivity begets disappointment, even if, in truth, his playmaking was vital in that win.
There was no passivity in the loss to the Kings. Jokić put up 16 first-quarter points with that look in his eye. A look that we grew familiar with as he dragged the organization through extended absences from Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. He’s a new man now—a different player. And he emptied the tank in Sacramento.
Jokić was merciless. He dropped 36 points with 13 rebounds, 14 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, and 0 turnovers. He finished +11 in a six-point loss. It was the second time in the last four days that he posted a 30-point triple-double with zero turnovers. If not for two disastrous stretches with DeAndre Jordan on the floor, Jokić would have led his team to an improbable victory. He’s walking on water out there.
Michael Porter Jr. – C-
Porter missed his threes and got torched on defense. He looked gassed, as did all of Denver’s shooters. It was the second night of a back-to-back and their fifth game in seven days. The Nuggets hit just six of their 25 attempts from deep. The missed threes are forgivable, but Porter’s first and fourth-quarter defense was well below standard. Despite some success from the midrange, it was a disappointing performance from the forward.
It’s noteworthy that Porter moved back to small forward, with Aaron Gordon returning to the lineup. That bumped Justin Holiday and congested the court. Porter will have to adjust and succeed from his starting position. Denver is best with AG out there, this dynamic notwithstanding.
Aaron Gordon – B-
Gordon returned and brought a lot of energy. Seven of his made-field goals were at the rim. One was a corner three that felt unlikely but looked pure. He scored his 17 points efficiently, but Denver struggled with him on the floor. Some of that is the dynamic mentioned in the Porter section, compounded by tired legs and wayward shooting.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope C-
There were plenty of expected points that never materialized for Denver. Pope shot 0 of 3 from distance. The rest of his box score reflects tons of activity, particularly the four steals on defense. But gut-punching mistakes and missed shots supplanted his typical veteran brand of clutch play. It was a sloppiness we’re not used to from him.
Reggie Jackson – B
Jackson filled up the stat sheet as the only Nuggets to hit multiple threes. His 20 points and 8 assists stand out, but Denver got crushed while he was on the floor. His defense has fallen off a cliff lately, and the minutes with DAJ went disastrously. A lot of that falls on DAJ.
DeAndre Jordan – F
The Kings went with JaVale McGee in their second unit. That gave us a straight-to-DVD version of Godzilla vs. King Kong off the bench. I’m not sure which one DAJ is or who wins in the actual film, but McGee kicked his ass. Jordan finished -17 in under 10 minutes on the floor. And he might have flunked the eye test to an even worse degree.
Not to give the readers whiplash with the bench observations, but this serves as an excellent answer to the question: why hasn’t DAJ been playing this entire time?
Peyton Watson – A
Watson put on another stunning display of defense. He fired up the motor, never let off the gas, and was Denver’s best chance of slowing De’Aaron Fox. He was their best chance of slowing anyone. And this time, he controlled himself on offense, taking just one shot, which he converted. It’s not that Watson should never shoot. He should aspire for a perfect balance of hellacious defense and composed offense within a contained role. That’s no easy task; he did an excellent job in Sacramento.
Christian Braun – C+
Malone continues to tinker with the ball-handling responsibilities. Braun never played alongside Jackson, running with the starters as Jackson sat. He shared some guard duties with KCP for a healthy chunk of minutes. He didn’t do much in the way of creating and didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter. He was, however, Denver’s leading scorer off the bench.
Julian Strawther – D+
Strawther finished with just three points. He, too, could not convert from deep. The Nuggets could have used more juice from the second unit, and we know Strawther can provide it.
Justin Holiday – F
AG’s return bumped Holiday to the bench. He made little to no positive impact there. He finished scoreless in 11 minutes.