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Grades: Denver Nuggets enter the season firing on all cylinders

Brendan Vogt Avatar
December 19, 2020

Head Coach Michael Malone answered a question regarding the right combination to comprise a starting unit in his pregame availability Friday night. He told the media it’s not necessarily about putting a team’s most talented guys out there together. It’s about finding the right fit. Shortly after, Will Barton III started over Michael Porter Jr. in Denver’s preseason finale. Read into that what you will, but the result was a consecutive blowout of the Portland Trail Blazers.

Paul Millsap turned back the clock, Nikola Jokić cocked back a dunk, Bol Bol checked in early, and MPJ got hot off the bench. It was an A+ preseason game, headlined by an A+ performance from the resident veteran. Let’s go to the grades:

Paul Millsap – A+

Millsap looks like a different player than the one that at times struggled to stay on the floor in the Nuggets’ Western Conference Finals run. The three-point shot still looks silky, and he’s finishing around the rim with ease again. Even his handle, which looked loose and unreliable in the bubble, looked crisper as he heated up like a microwave early. He dropped 24 points and 5 rebounds on 9/13 shooting in 15:13 of first-half action.

Gary Harris – A

Harris’ shot still looks like an adventure, but he seems more comfortable and confident thus far in the preseason. Harris served as Millsap’s partner in first half crime, adding 12 points of his own on 5/8 shooting.

FYI: my unofficial count, that’s zero floaters for Harris in three preseason starts.

Michael Porter Jr. – A

Porter missed some open looks in game two but bounced back in the finale with a strong all-around effort. Despite playing with the bench after two straight starts, MPJ dropped 2o points, 9 rebounds (4 OREB), and 3 assists 6/12 shooting. The four offensive rebounds might be my favorite part of his line. Are you not feeling involved? Make yourself involved. It was a strong response from the player facing the most pressure on the roster.

Will Barton III – B+

Barton was 1/4 from the floor in just under 20 minutes but recorded 3 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals. ‘Thrill’ fits so well with the bench that it’s easy to forget how well he fits in with starters too.

Nikola Jokić – A-

Jokić is just hoping no one pinches him right now. The big man finished only 2/3 from the floor in his 16:51 of action, as that’s all they needed from him. The Nuggets got out to a big lead early and played the right way for virtually the entire game.

He also threw down the dunk of his career and the second-best dunk of the night. I’m not joking actually.

Jamal Murray – A-

Denver’s two stars co-starred in the same story Friday night. Little was needed from Murray either, and he was able to enjoy a rare small work load in an easy win.

Monte Morris – A-

Does anyone want to guess how many turnovers Morris recorded? Anyone? Zero turnovers for Monte on Friday night, who logged three assists and 11 points on 4/8 shooting, including 3/5 from deep. He’s been rock solid.

Isaiah Hartenstein – A-

That was a strong showing from the likely Plumlee replacement. Hartenstein put up 9 points, 6 rebounds (4 OREB), 3 assists, and added 3 blocks on 3/6 from the floor. Hartenstein told the media he wants to be a star in his role, and you can see those gears turning when he’s on the floor. He plays hard, he’s physical, and he’s committed to keeping the ball moving with quick decision making.

PJ Dozier – A-

Dozier got to show off his much-maligned shot in preseason game #2, but it was his defense and playmaking that defined his game in the finale. Dozier finished with 4 assists in 14 minutes off the bench.

Bol Bol – B+

The ball finds Bol out there, and he’s rarely hesitant to shoot — perhaps a little too much so in the finale. Bol finished 4/12 from the field en route to 16 points and 8 boards in just over 22 minutes of action. His effort on the boards might’ve been the most encouraging aspect of his performance. The stat line fills up quickly, but it’s so hard to get a read on what type of impact he makes. Perhaps more so than any player on the roster.

Zeke Nnaji – B+

Where can I buy stock in Nnaji’s jumper? The Nuggets believe, Zeke believes, and I’m starting to feel it too. He finished 3/6 from the floor and 1/2 from deep on his way to 7 points in 12 minutes.

RJ Hampton – B-

Man, is this kid raw. Hampton played in over 18 minutes to close out the game and looked how you might expect. His feet are still moving too fast for his head to catch up out there, but wow, is he is fast. His movements stand out.

Facundo Campazzo – C

An admittedly showing from Denver’s newest folk hero Friday night. Campazzo fouled quickly and often, failing to record an assist in his 14:46 on the court.

Vlatko Cancar – C

Cancar is one of the few Nuggets who didn’t get his moment against Portland.

Denver Nuggets preseason grade: A+

The ball is popping, the boys are smiling, and the Denver Nuggets look primed to win a lot of games again.


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