Nikola Jokić – A+
Alperen Şengün seems to love playing against Nikola Jokić. That’s not to say he dominates the matchup or something about the matchup allows him to thrive. It’s out of reverence. And there’s something enjoyable about watching him compete with a player he idolizes. Jokić doesn’t seem to care — he was ruthless in Houston. Sengun played well, looking the part offensively as Houston’s best player. But Jokić was better. Much better. He posted 35 points, 21 rebounds, and 11 assists in 38:15 on the floor. He finished the game +12 in a three-point loss.
It’s the fourth time in his career that Jokić posted 30+, 20+, and 10+ in a regular season game. He’s also done it three times in the playoffs. We’re witnessing one of the very best peaks in NBA history.
Michael Porter Jr. – B–
It’s been a long time since we heard the discussion of targeting Michael Porter Jr. on the defensive end. That was Houston’s game plan in their win. Porter struggled to contain Fred VanVleet on switches, which is to be expected to some degree — that is a mismatch. Still, Houston attacked him in the pick-and-roll relentlessly down the stretch and with much success. Porter did a lot of things right on the offensive end. He posted 25 and 10 on a night when Denver needed offense. He came away with some big rebounds and found success at the rim. But his defense was costly, particularly in winning time.
Aaron Gordon – B
Gordon produced in the win. That was blatant upon the first watch and stood out in the box score. But something was missing. The Rockets are undersized, which should mean a field day for AG. Yet he wasn’t particularly involved. He was an excellent supplementary piece on a night when he could have been much more. Still, he can only be dinged so much when he went out there and did his job. Denver ultimately lost this game because their second unit couldn’t stay afloat.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – B+
If KCP keeps this up, he will have few friends left in the league. It’s early November. Everyone wants to dig into their bags and get 25 points off. And no one has ruined more nights for talented NBA players than Pope. He continued his All-Defense campaign by putting Jalen Green in jail—Green shot 1/13 from the floor Sunday night. There were long stretches when he was taken entirely out of the game.
Reggie Jackson – C+
Jackson is doing enough in the Jokić minutes. The starters did enough to win in Houston. The problem is the non-Jokić minutes right now, and Jackson is on the floor for some of those as well. He swapped out early with Collin Gillespie, giving CG minutes with Jokić. But that puts Jackson in an unenviable position — playing point guard for a second unit without any typical starters in the lineup. That unit drowned. Denver did not score with Jokić off the floor in the first half. And Jackson bears some responsibility for that, even if it’s not a position to succeed in.
Christian Braun – F
Braun is in a legitimately rough patch of his young career. He’s still determining where to make an impact in the half-court offense. The second unit has lost all its juice, and Braun’s missing out on opportunities to swing quarters with his insatiable style of play. The eye-popping rebounds have dried up. The second unit isn’t getting stops, so the transition opportunities have evaporated. He looks lost at the moment.
Collin Gillespie – C-
Gillespie plays hard and understands the game. In particular, he understands what to do when sharing the floor with Jokić. Get the ball to 15, and do it every time. This principled play style and shared time with the starters allowed Denver to tread water during the Gillespie minutes. However, he does not mesh particularly well with the second unit as currently constructed. It’s almost all about his size, which isn’t his fault. But it’s putting a strain on the rotation.
Peyton Watson – F
No transition means little to no production from Watson. He’s a disruptive defender and an agent of havoc at his best. But he needs the opportunity to wreak havoc. He can’t create something from nothing. That’s not where he’s at in his nascent career.
Zeke Nnaji – D-
Nnaji is suffering mightily from Murray’s absence. The bench has lost its identity — one that Nnaji fit into neatly. Without that, he’s sticking out like a sore thumb as an undersized big. He’s not much of a force near the rim, and his roll game isn’t exactly dynamic. He’s taking the same approaches to games, but his minutes are less tenable.
Julian Strawther – F
Much was made about what Strawther provides outside of his shooting during the preseason. I’d argue too much. His production seems contingent upon hitting 3s at the moment. But it should also be said that he’s playing with a unit that is dragging everyone down. He’s a rookie. It’s unsurprising to see him struggle in that environment.