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Denver Nuggets Stuck in March Mire

Brendan Vogt Avatar
March 15, 2023

Nikola Jokić – B+

Jokić fluctuated between utter dominance and sheer indifference. It often looks like a choice for Jokić, and it did again in Toronto, as he flipped the switch on and off. Scoring seemed so easy for him Tuesday night. It’s a shame he only shot 13 times, given his teammates’ ineffectiveness from deep. That selective aggressiveness wasn’t enough to overcome the hole the starters dug for themselves in the first half. The defense was woeful again. Jokić’s defense looked much better in the loss to the nets, but he took a step back in Toronto.

Jamal Murray – F

Murray left the last loss early with knee soreness. He probably needed a rest, but with family in attendance, the Canada Kid played 40 minutes in the loss. Unfortunately, he wasn’t up for it. Murray was a non-factor defensively and shot 5 of 18 from the floor. The box score is brutal, but the eye test might be worse. He’s laboring through possessions, dribbling the air out of the ball, and creating little separation.

Michael Porter Jr. – A

Porter responded to the benching by picking up where he left off against Brooklyn. He played a solid first half, knocking down his shots and limiting his mistakes on defense. He did completely lose OG Anunoby for an open three, it wasn’t a perfect effort, but he was engaged. He hit another level in the third. Porter scored 13 points on 5 of 5 shooting, grabbed 3 rebounds, dished out 2 assists, and picked up 2 steals in the quarter. Fred VanVleet, amid a certified heater, tried to hunt him for a short stretch, too. Porter held his own. He and Jokić played Denver right back into the game. By the time Porter returned to action in the fourth quarter, Toronto’s lead had grown, as had the desperation in his shooting. He went 0/3 to close.

After the game, head coach Michael Malone spoke about overcoming adversity and learning a lot about the guys in the locker room during this stretch. If he’s right about what we’re learning, we’re learning Porter is ready to compete. He’s looked as reliable and locked in as any non-Jokić player lately. That’s a significant silver lining. His readiness for the playoffs was considered a critical storyline long before the season began.

Aaron Gordon – C+

Gordon knows what to do on offense with Jakob Poeltl floating in the paint. He’s not waiting for threes. He’s turning the shooting space into a runway and sneaking into position in the dunker spot. That approach was solid again, but he struggled in the other areas of the game. Gordon grabbed just one rebound in 34:22, and while he picked up two steals and a block, it wasn’t his best game on defense. He also struggled at the free throw line again. On a more encouraging note, Malone tried staggering Murray and AG with the second unit in the second half. Small ball AG might be the way forward for the bench.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – C

Pope played a strange game. In nearly thirty minutes on the floor, he only shot twice. Pope has suffered as Denver’s lost focus on a healthy offensive process. He doesn’t create for himself in this uniform — he feasts off good ball movement. His lack of involvement tells you a lot about how they’re playing. He did pick up four assists and a couple of steals.

Bruce Brown – B-

Brown was aggressive in Toronto. He attacked the glass and the rim, providing some much-needed scoring off the bench. He was the first sub for Jamal Murray and logged some time with the starters. Reggie Jackson did not play. Brown’s minutes went relatively well for Denver. Still, he left plenty to be desired on defense. The finishing is great, but I’m itching for some stops.

Christian Braun – C+

You can close your eyes and picture how virtually any Braun minutes go. He always plays hard, and he’s relentless on defense. Unfortunately, they weren’t winning minutes for Denver off the bench. He grabbed three rebounds, blocked a shot, and shot 2 of 2 from the field in nearly 17 minutes of playing time. But his -12 was the second-lowest mark on the team, behind Murray’s -20.

Jeff Green – C+

Green was 2-3 minutes away from a strong performance off the bench. But in the fourth, he committed a foul while fighting for a defensive rebound that should have been his. He was also responsible for a horrible turnover while trying to find Braun. Ironically, he rebounded well outside of that stretch, and that was his lone foul.

Thomas Bryant – F


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