Nikola Jokić – A
This loss had nothing to do with Jokić’s effort on either side of the floor. He dropped a bonafide reminder game in New Orleans, dominating his opening stint before the bench squandered his work. He responded to a lackluster effort in Atlanta like a player of his caliber should—he put his foot down, and there was virtually nothing Jonas Valančiūnas could do about it. But this game was lost in the bench minutes. Denver’s second unit got torched down by the bayou.
Jamal Murray – C
After a promising first quarter, Murray fizzled out. He overdribbled some, but we don’t complain about that when the shots fall. Ultimately, Murray bricked makeable shots. Open shots. And that’s really what the poor grade boils down to. Murray faired better than most of Denver’s perimeter defenders in the effort—he’s not to blame for Jose Alvarado’s 38-point outburst. But he shot 1 of 7 from the field in the second half. It wasn’t good enough.
Aaron Gordon – B-
AG’s afternoon was all about slowing Zion Williamson, an unenviable task. While Zion got his—by far the most effective starter for the Pelicans—Gordon did a good job containing him. It was a disciplined, physical effort that required wearing some violent shoulder-to-chest collisions, and AG was up for it. Zion played well, but he didn’t dominate, and Denver was in a position to win a challenging game on the road. They probably would’ve if the bench could have kept their heads above water. Gordon did his job in New Orleans.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – C-
Kenny Pope is falling back to earth after an out-of-this-world start from beyond the arc. He’s not going to hit over half of the shots he takes from deep, and we’re seeing the variance we should expect from a role player. No matter how well KCP plays, he’s not a star—inconsistency is inevitable.
Bruce Brown – C
Brown was much more impactful than Pope on offense, but he was the primary defender for a significant chunk of those Alvarado buckets. Sometimes a guy gets hot, and there’s not much you can do. But that seems to happen far too often for the Nuggets, and Brown is supposed to be one of the answers to that problem. He wasn’t this time around.
Bones Hyland – Benched
Bones got benched after five uninspiring minutes on the court. His hands were by his side as Alvarado hit his first 3 of the day, but he wasn’t the main culprit in the outburst.
The minutes were admittedly a disaster for Bones. Still, it’s worth noting what appeared to be a short runway for the youngster. He wasn’t allowed to play through a rough start, and Denver was forced to trot out a weak bench against a deep one.
Ish Smith – C
Ish played in Bones’ stead. He was deployed as a unit stabilizer and Avalrado stopper and accomplished neither. While he played well against the Rockets, he shouldn’t be viewed as the solution to a quick guard. He’s not a stopper.
Ish provides utility on this roster. His minutes are tenable. It’s just when and why he’s deployed that’s so curious.
Davon Reed – F
Speaking of curious rotation minutes, Reed played another 12:48 in the loss. Reed worked so hard for this opportunity and produced for the Nuggets last season, but at the moment, these are the genuinely untenable minutes. What does he provide that Denver is benefiting from? As the defense slides in the wrong direction, what is Christian Braun doing chained to the end of the bench? I’d love to get off Reed’s case, but Michael Malone has his heels dug in on this one.
Vlatko Čančar – F
Vlatko couldn’t save the day this time. He was a big part of the problem. He struggled mightily in his 14:53 on the floor, failing to score on five attempts and committing as many fouls (3) as his combined assists + rebound total. He wasn’t even good defensively, allowing two of the most ferocious slams we’ve seen all season from Trey Murphy III.
DeAndre Jordan – D+
This game seemed to call for Zeke Nnaji, but Malone called DAJ’s number instead. He only logged 8:40 and scored five points, but he stuck out like a sore thumb on defense.
The team is in a tough spot right now. Sure—the record is acceptable. And yes, the eventual wave of home games is encouraging. Indeed, most of the tough losses don’t sting so severely after thoroughly examining the context. But there’s something off about the vibe and something blatantly wrong with the defense. The season we couldn’t wait to watch has felt a bit lifeless. Denver needs an inspiring win.