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DNVR Player Grades: it's Michael Porter Jr. season

Brendan Vogt Avatar
January 3, 2020

Where were you on January 2nd, 2020? Michael Porter Jr. and the Denver Nuggets were in Indiana, looking to hand the Pacers their first home loss in six games and bounce back after a meltdown in Houston. It didn’t look good early—Nikola Jokić spent most of the first half on the bench in foul trouble, and the Nuggets never led before halftime. But Porter Jr. found a rhythm, then got hot, and then went unconscious as he led the Nuggets to a 124-116 comeback win.

Indiana jumped out to a big lead early, attacking Nikola Jokić often. Damantas Sabonis and Myles Turner combined for 15 first-quarter points on 6-of-8 from the field, and Jokić picked up two quick fouls. He picked up his third soon after returning to the game in the second quarter and played just 8:10 before halftime.

Indiana was hot from deep all night, but particularly in the first half when they hit seven of their 12 attempts. Jeremy Lamb was 3-of-3 and scored 18 points before the half, joining a long list of unlikely Nuggets killers. The Pacers lead grew to 14 in the first, but the Nuggets bench, led by Porter Jr., turned in one of their best performances of the season. They stopped the bleeding in the first quarter, and MPJ provided a spark that kicked Denver into gear in the second. They kept chopping—without Jokić—and cut the lead down to two before the half.

That’s when things got fun.

Porter Jr. completely took over the game, shooting with confidence and blowing past overzealous defenders. He entered a zone, not thinking, just playing and dominating around the rim. Denver wrestled control of the momentum and grabbed their first lead in the third quarter. MPJ handed the lead to Jokić, who closed the game out with a monster fourth quarter.

Let’s go to the grades:

Honor Roll

Michael Porter Jr. – A+

I’m prone to getting ahead of myself, but that felt like a December 15th moment. The Nuggets have a top record in the league, entered the night as one of five teams in the top-10 of both offensive and defensive rating, and have some strong wins on their resume. Still, thus far, it’s felt like something is missing. There was an excitement that permeated last season as if something special was happening. The Nuggets were must-see TV.

Those feelings returned on Thursday night as Michael Porter Jr. slipped into a zone that few scorers on earth are capable of accessing. He finished with a career-high 25 points—his second time setting a new career-high in three games—18 of them coming in the second half, on 11-of-12 from the field overall. He shot with confidence, he drove with conviction, and his confidence grew with each bucket—eventually demanding the ball from his teammates. It was the most fun stretch of the season and the kind of performance that makes it hard to keep perspective. We can’t expect this from MPJ every night. Not yet. But we will someday.

Nikola Jokić – A-

Jokić put himself in early foul trouble, pouted while exiled to the bench, and didn’t record a single assist in the win. It sounds like he’s visiting the principle, I know. But he scored 20 points in the second half, including 12 in the fourth, as he closed the game with ease for Denver down the stretch. Jokić is many things, mercurial perhaps chief among them, but he’s also one of the best closers in the league. He was great when it counted.

Honor Roll

Jamal Murray – B

Murray wasn’t particularly efficient on Thursday night, but he played well. He scored 22 points—albeit on 8-of-18 from the field—grabbed five boards, and recorded seven assists without turning the ball over once. He played a team-high 37 minutes and was a +11 in the win.

Mason Plumlee – B

Much was asked of Plumlee in a game in which Jokić only played 24 minutes. Plumlee logged 23 of his own, scoring eight points, grabbing seven rebounds, and recording four assists. He finished as a team-high +17.

Will Barton – B-

Barton III struggled from the floor but mitigated those struggles by getting to the line, making his mark on the rebound-battle, and recording five assists. It wasn’t a great night for a player enjoying an excellent season. He made some poor decisions and was short on several jumpers, but played hard enough to contribute to the win.

Gary Harris – C+

Gary Harris, the 2012 “Indiana Mr. Basketball” award winner, returned from injury for a homecoming game of sorts. He was underwhelming in his 36 minutes, scoring just 12 points and turning the ball over five times.

Principal’s Office

Paul Millsap – D+

In 27 minutes, Millsap scored just six points, hitting only two of his seven field goal attempts and missing both of his threes. He was nearly invisible.

Jerami Grant – D+

Grant failed to make much of an impact at all in is 20 minutes played. He was 3-of-6 from the field, scored six points, and was non-factor on the glass. It was a tough night for Denver’s power forward tandem.

Game Ball

 

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