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Nikola Jokić – A-
The best players find ways to keep themselves invested throughout the regular season. Even when raw competitiveness isn’t enough. Larry Bird famously used only his left hand to defeat the Blazers in ’86. The reigning MVP, Joel Embiid, treats games against bottom-dwellers as opportunities to set new personal records. In harsh contrast, his predecessor, Nikola Jokić, uses them to unleash his inner basketball sicko. He stops shooting nearly altogether. He turns the playmaking up to 11. It’s like a cheat day for the most peculiar superstar in the game.
Jokić took only three shots against the Detroit Pistons Sunday night. He posted 4 points, 7 rebounds, 16 assists, and 5 blocks. He’s the second player since 1982-83 to post 16+ assists and 5+ blocks in the same game. The other, Jalen Rose, was also a Nugget. Like I said, real sicko stuff.
Jamal Murray – A+
Murray, media like myself, and some in the online Nuggets fandom danced a familiar dance over the last few days. In the regular season, Murray is prone to small bouts of over-dribbling, inconsistency, and subsequent criticism. We write, talk, and tweet before he responds with a masterpiece. It’s almost as if he reads and hears every word. What’s different now is Murray is a stamped champion. A certain anxiety is alleviated. It’s easier to laugh at it all. I certainly was while Murray responded with another masterpiece against the Pistons.
Murray was the first player to reach double-digits in scoring. He was also the first player to reach 20 points. He was the only one to reach 30 and finished just three shy of a 40-piece at home. He dominated, utilizing a lovely combination of pick-and-roll savvy, a beautiful array of post moves, and another quick trigger from deep. Murray also took home the coveted DPOG chain.
Michael Porter Jr. – B+
Porter’s shoe size was his most formidable foe in this contest. He left a toe on the line twice when seemingly stationed for a catch-and-shoot three. He finished 1/5 from deep but shot well from the floor en route to 18 points. The brightest feather in his cap might be his defense. Porter was active, disruptive, and eager to stifle Bojan Bogdanović after a switch. We all remember the days when that would be a brutal mismatch. Porter finished a game-high +29.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – B+
KCP also dropped 18 points while shooting 3/6 from deep. He was due for a solid offensive performance. He and MPJ are two of the best role players in basketball, flanking the center of Denver’s offense with devastating supplemental skillsets. The two also played together with the second unit in the win. That’s a highly intriguing look. The two offer superior spacing for the Reggie Jackson & DeAndre Jordan pick-and-roll.
Aaron Gordon – C+
There wasn’t much left for Gordon to do. He cleaned up some messes in the paint and mostly cruised. He did knock down both of his free throws. AG has played 32 games this season—16 before missing time with a heel strain and 16 since returning at the start of December. His free throw splits: 52% before / 73% since.
Reggie Jackson – A-
Jackson had a field day off the bench. He knocked down his shots again, which is welcome, but his playmaking is the headline here. He finished with 13 points, nine assists, and just one turnover. He was dealing.
Peyton Watson – A-
Watson knocked down a pair of 3s, shot 5/5 from the line, and deleted a rim attempt from Kevin Knox. Watson is on the short list of reasons to see the Nuggets in person. His highlights are electric. He’s a remarkable athlete.
Christian Braun – B-
Braun’s numbers are modest, but he posted some highlights in the win. At his best, CB is a rouser. His dunks and blocks are so loud. He brought the crowd to its feet more than once Sunday night.
DeAndre Jordan – B
If you know Reggie Jackson was dealing, then you already know DeAndre Jordan was dunking. His alley-oop highlights still have the juice. He flew high for his nine points and seven rebounds off the bench.