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DNVR Player Grades: Michael Porter Jr. and Nikola Jokić lift Nuggets to victory

Brendan Vogt Avatar
August 4, 2020

Good things come to those who wait, and Denver Nuggets fans waited a long, long time for what happened Monday. For Michael Porter Jr., the hero of the 121-113 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, that wait must have felt like an eternity.

Porter Jr. waited patiently to return from a career-threatening back injury during his lone season with the University of Missouri. Then, on draft night, he waited patiently for his dream to come true as he slid to 14. After arriving in Denver, there was more waiting to do. He missed an entire season as his back kept him off the court again. Then waited patiently to learn his role, before earning his coach’s trust in his first season of action. He looked cleared for takeoff after a breakout game in Indiana, but then he tweaked his ankle, and then — well, a global pandemic broke out, and we all had some waiting to do.

When Porter Jr. dominated the Thunder with 37 points and 12 rebounds on just 16 shots in Denver’s second ‘bubble game,’ it came to everyone’s relief and no one’s surprise. It’s been a long time coming.

The Nuggets were without three starters again Monday — Jamal Murray (hamstring), Will Barton III (knee), and Gary Harris (hip) — but MPJ caught a consecutive start alongside Nikola Jokić. That proved to be the difference as Jokić closed out the best performance of MPJ’s nascent career. The two combined for 67 points on 22/37 from the field, while Paul Millsap and Monte Morris added 17 apiece as the starting unit rolled.

A fantastic shooting performance from the Thunder and the canny gamesmanship of the ever-pesky Chris Paul threatened a momentous win for the Nuggets late in regulation. But a missed free throw from Paul and a dominant overtime performance from Jokić sealed the deal as Denver grabbed their first-ever win in August.

It wasn’t just a win; it was a vibe check, and a much-needed shot of dopamine as the Nuggets worked frantically to get the hype-train back on course. It wasn’t just a regular-season game either. It was the MPJ game. The game we’ve all been waiting to see.

Let’s go to the grades.

Honor Roll

Michael Porter Jr. – A+

I’m handing out a rare A+ to our King of the Game, presented by DraftKings Sportsbook, and I won’t think twice about it. A wildly-entertaining mix of uncanny tough shotmaking and pure matchup exploitation resulted in a 99th percentile scoring performance. In 43 minutes—that number itself is astounding to those familiar with his struggle to earn playing time—Porter Jr. dropped 37 points on just 16 shots (75%FG) and grabbed 12 rebounds. It almost looked like light-work for him.

After an admonishment from his head coach over his effort in game one, the rookie attacked the glass like a man-possessed and gutted OKC with a flurry of off-ball cuts. He was relentless.

There is no answer for a 6’11” forward with his shooting prowess and instincts when paired with Jokić. As the game went on, Jokić and MPJ’s connection grew stronger. It’s hard to imagine a player Jokić might enjoy playing with more on that end of the court, and MPJ feels he’s making a good impression.

That quote is enough to intoxicate any diehard, but there’s more. MPJ showed a much-improved effort on the defensive end, showing Malone he’s reliable in close games. In the final seconds of regulation, Malone drew up a play to get the ball in his hands. Of course, he never got a shot off, but that’s hardly the point. Porter Jr. is earning the trust of the two most essential members in the organization. No longer is the thought of him swaying a playoff series purely hypothetical. It’s squarely on the table now, and mouths are beginning to water in Denver.

Nikola Jokić – A

We’re back in the Jokić experience, expressing our frustrations with his demeanor before checking the box score to learn he is dominating. What a peculiar thing to enjoy such a talented yet mercurial player.

Through two-quarters Jok looked somewhat disinterested and a little out of rhythm—but as time ticked away, the score remained close, and urgency set in, Big Honey ambled out of his cave to finish the kill. In just under 5 minutes in the overtime period, he put up 8 shots, scored 8 points, and grabbed 4 boards. All told, he finished with 30 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists. Another day, another dollar, another triple-double for the sport’s premium nonchalant superstar. All hail our reluctant King.

The Class

Paul Millsap – B+

I am very relieved to write this blurb after handing everyone’s favorite Dad an “F” in game one. He looked useless on offense and slow on defense against the Heat, but he flipped the script against OKC with 17 points and the strong defensive showing we expect from a player of his caliber.

As it turns out, Millsap is both a good and useful player. Don’t believe everything you read in the paper.

Monte Morris – B+

In Monte, we are learning to trust again. Morris followed up a disappointing start in game one with a welcome injection of scoring from the guard position in game two. He put up 17 points on 6/12 from the field, grabbed 4 rebounds, dished out 4 assists, and put a 0 back in his precious turnover column. He also sunk the two most crucial free throw attempts of the game from Denver, putting the Nuggets on top with their final points in regulation. That’s more like it.

Principal’s Office

Torrey Craig – D+

Craig looked great in the opener, appearing ready and capable from beyond the arc, and providing the effort Malone was looking for from his other starters. He was not quite as impressive in game two. He took 8 shots, hitting just 3, and missing all 4 of his ill-advised attempts from deep. It always feels like a welcome contribution when he takes and makes those threes opposing defenses are willingly conceding, but the flip side of that coin is a handful of maddening wayward heaves. He’s excellent when he’s good and tough to watch when anything less.

Mason Plumlee & PJ Dozier – D+

They played 19 and 18 minutes, respectively, but combined for just 6 points on 2-8 from the floor.


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