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Michael Porter Jr. Saves the Day in Minnesota

Brendan Vogt Avatar
March 20, 2024

Nikola Jokić – A

The Wolves played their most important game of the season without Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, and Naz Reid. Tim Connelly built that team to contend with Denver’s size. Without their three best bigs, the Wolves stood little to no chance of holding Jokić down. Kyle Anderson started for Minnesota, and I almost felt bad for him. Jokić forced three quick fouls before the Wolves turned to Luka Garza. With respect to Luka Garza, that’s a losing recipe. Jokić barely saw him out there.

The Wolves turned up the defense in the third quarter, sending doubles, hacking, and scratching, doing whatever they could to keep Jokić away from the rim and off the glass. Denver’s offense, typically a well-oiled machine, dried up. One could practically hear the gears grinding as they searched for a way to score. No one cut while Jokić was doubled. Teammates stood and watched as he was mugged in the middle of the floor. Remarkably, Jokić finished the game with more turnovers (3) than assists.

The Joker enjoyed the last laugh in the end. He caught fire in the fourth, sinking a pair of threes that sunk the Wolves’ hopes for an unlikely result. Denver finished strong behind their two-man game. You know, the other two-man game.

Michael Porter Jr. – A

Porter turned in another Porter Quarter in Minnesota. Only this time, it wasn’t to open the game. MPJ scored 13 points on four shots in his final 7:10 on the floor, and the Nuggets were desperate for that production. Denver’s offense coughed and sputtered before giving out entirely in the second half. The Wolves roared back and carried a multiple-possession lead deep into the fourth. The Nuggets were up against the ropes. That’s when Jokić looked for Porter, and that’s when Porter responded with a 7-0 run.

Porter shot 4/7 from 3-point range in the win. His resurgence from deep is reflected in his shooting percentage post-All-Star break. But the numbers only tell part of the story. Nuggets fans know well that Porter is a truly elite shooter. At his best, we don’t second-guess the open jumpers or even the contested ones. That feeling is restored. Porter’s playing with complete confidence.

Jamal Murray – C+

Murray’s performance has two headlines. Let’s start with the good one: He posted 11 assists to just two turnovers. Some of his passes were particularly inventive, and he’s finding Porter more consistently these days. His playmaking, already impressive, is still getting better.

The less flattering headline is that he still can’t carry a second unit. Murray needs help to score easily right now, and even some successful possessions involve over-dribbling. The second unit’s limitations are mostly not his fault. Still, a player of his caliber should be able to generate better looks. That’s the next leap for him to make.

Also of note: Jackson was on the floor in Murray’s stead for a significant stretch of the fourth quarter. As was Justin Holiday was in place of Aaron Gordon.

Aaron Gordon – C

AG sprinted out of the gates to help Denver take an early lead. He nearly posted a double-double in his first stint, exploding for eight points and eight rebounds. The Wolves were too small. But there’s more in the notebook; again, it’s not all flattering. Anthony Edwards had no problem scoring on AG, KCP, and the reinforcements for three quarters. In the meantime, AG had plenty of trouble holding onto the ball. Every Nugget posted a turnover except for Justin Holiday, who nearly closed instead of Gordon. AG led the category with four.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – C+

Pope got plenty of work from Edwards for the better part of three quarters. It’s worth noting that the Nuggets held him scoreless in the fourth, but a review of those field goal attempts reveals a team effort that included some fortunate misses. On the bright side, Pope knocked down a pair of threes, including a timely one to cap off his steal at the end of the third. He’s got a knack for big plays, even on those nights when he underwhelms.

Reggie Jackson – B-

Jackson posted six assists off the bench, and Denver cruised with him on the floor alongside Jokić. With Jackson playing well and Holiday a better shooter than Gordon, Malone rolled the dice on a funky lineup for a significant stretch of the fourth. It moved MPJ to Power Forward, which paid off.

Christian Braun – C

Braun at least led all bench players with four rebounds. And he did knock down another three. But the bench stumbled in Minnesota. Braun and Watson, who have been playing well since the break, underwhelmed.

Peyton Watson – D+

Watson was all over the place in Minnesota, and that’s not meant as a compliment. He was unproductive and undisciplined, seemingly overeager to make a play. There’s no shame in making mistakes before learning lessons during his first real season in the rotation—especially if those lessons are learned during wins. This is all part of the process.

Justin Holiday – B+

Holiday might have a truly unique role in the NBA. He might not play, but he might also start. Perhaps he’ll come off the bench only to find himself closing. When he plays, he gives Denver either nothing or precisely what they need. In Minnesota, it was the latter.


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