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DNVR Player Grades: Nikola Jokić does it again

Brendan Vogt Avatar
January 9, 2020

Since hiring head coach Michael Malone in June of 2015, Denver Nuggets have quietly developed an elite young core without sacrificing their ability to win games in the meantime. They’ve proven to be one of the top teams out West, at least in the regular season, but have managed to fly under the radar. The Nuggets don’t draw a lot of national attention, and when they do, they’re prone to laying eggs on the big stage. It leads to misguided criticisms of a flawed but great team—namely their lack of a true superstar, or a legitimate go-to guy in the final moments. Of course, this is far from the case.

The Nuggets have Nikola Jokić—one of the premier players in all of basketball when it matters most, and the big man was in his bag again on Wednesday night. One game after dropping a career-high 47 points, Jokić went for 33, including the go-ahead bucket with eight seconds remaining as the Nuggets stole a 107-106 win on the road.

Denver was without their starting small forward, Will Barton III (personal reasons), and power forward, Paul Millsap (left knee contusion) in a matchup that already challenges them on the defensive end. Gary Harris has shown the capacity to guard Luka Doncic well in the past, but Doncic isn’t just a scorer—he’s also a master playmaker and a surgeon in the pick-and-roll. Without Millsap, the Nuggets could have wilted. But it was the defense that sealed the game on the possession following Jokić’s bucket. The Nuggets clamped down, forced an errant pass, and the ball sailed past half court as the Mavericks couldn’t get a shot off.

A small army of Nuggets fans who gathered at Sports Column for DNVR Nuggets’ first watch party of the year exploded in unison as the Nuggets sealed a 3-2 road trip with an improbable win.

https://twitter.com/HarrisonWind/status/1215107550661595136?s=20

Let’s go to the grades:

Honor Roll

Nikola Jokić – A

Forty-seven points and a new career-high wasn’t enough for Jokić. He had to follow it up with an MVP-caliber performance on the road and solidify his status as an elite closer with yet another game winning shot. After putting the Nuggets ahead for good, Jokić’s shooting improved to 3-of-3 in the final ten seconds of a game that’s either tied or in which the Nuggets trail by one. No other player has more than one such field goal this season.

It was a tale of two halves for Jokić, who scored only seven points on 2-of-5 from the floor in the first half. The Nuggets trailed nearly wire-to-wire but kept the lead around five. The longer the game went, the more it felt like they had a chance if they could keep it close. They kept their heads above water before Jokić began to walk on top of it. A flip switched for the big man, who put up 15 shots in the second half, knocking down ten of them, including four of his six attempts from deep. When the three-point shot is falling, Jokić cannot is virtually unstoppable, and he oscillated between knocking them down and destroying mismatches in the post. He finished with 26 second-half points, including the two most important ones of the game.

The Class

Jerami Grant – B+ 

Hard to say who needed this performance more — Grant himself, or the Nuggets from Grant. The prize acquisition from the Summer, Grant, was billed as a potential power forward of the future, but we haven’t seen him fit into place the way we envisioned. Grant brought it in Millsap’s stead Wednesday night, finishing with 15 points, five rebounds, two assists, three blocks, and one steal. Two of those blocks came on Doncic, and for the first time all season, we saw Grant’s length and athleticism make a significant impact on the defensive end. Five rebounds comprise a high-mark for him, and his team-high eight attempts at the free-throw represented a willingness and ability to penetrate that Denver is sorely lacking.

Mason Plumlee – B

What a roller-coaster season for Plumlee, who swings from the most frustrating player on the team to the bench’s only hope on any given night. He was closer to the latter in this one, posting ten points, five rebounds, and four assists on 5-of-6 shooting. Plumlee is a more than capable backup center, mind-numbing post-ups notwithstanding.

Monte Morris – B-

Morris’ line is nothing to write home about, but on the first watch, the eye test suggests he made a significant impact on the result. He’s working his way back to form, which can’t come soon enough for this much-maligned second unit. The floor he established as a backup point guard last season felt almost too good to be true. And perhaps it was. But they need him to find a steadier baseline. He’s getting there.

Jamal Murray – C+

Murray was quiet on Wednesday night. He took 18 shots in his 31-plus minutes, but he only hit seven of them, including 0-for-3 from deep, and finished with just 14 points. It’s hard to fade into the background of a game when shooting that often, but he disappeared for long stretches of the win.

Principal’s Office

Gary Harris – D+

Harris wasn’t able to lock up Doncic this time—an admittedly arduous task—meaning he wasn’t able to provide much value at all as his offensive struggles continue. Harris was 3-of-8 from the floor, 0-of-3 from deep, and finished with just nine points. He did not record a single rebound or assist.

Michael Porter Jr. – D+

There are no two ways about it—Porter Jr. had a rough outing in Dallas. In over 14 minutes of playing time, MPJ turned it over as many times as he shot the ball and finished with more of them—three—than points. His confidence was lacking, his handle was loose, and he couldn’t find space to make an impact in the other areas of the game. There will be growing pains as we watch him ascend. Consider this performance as one of them.

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