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Nikola Jokić and the Denver Nuggets Return to Form at Home

Brendan Vogt Avatar
December 15, 2023

Nikola Jokić – A+

Nikola Jokić has returned to his hyper-efficient ways. No one is surprised. But it’s the first time since Game 3 in the bubble that we questioned his ability to deliver on any level. Watching him miss from the paint induced a collective existential crisis. On the other side of brief terror, our worldview remains intact. Nikola Jokić is still the best player alive. And the Denver Nuggets are still the team to beat.

The defense was the headline in Denver’s dominant win over the Brooklyn Nets at home. And Nikola Jokić played a vital role in the success. He and Justin Holiday split the defensive player of the game chain. The perimeter defenders did a great job clogging passing lanes and running shooters off the line. Jokić earned praise from Michael Malone for his disruptive pick-and-roll defense. As the last line of defense, he forced a handful of awkward looks in the paint. Cam Thomas does not mind taking awkward looks, so it worked fine for everyone.

Jokić brought some offense to the party as well. He finished with a standard Triple-Double — a breezy 26-15-10 on 8/12 shooting with one turnover. Arguably, the best part of his performance was his approach. A tired, inferior opponent traveled to Denver. An opponent that’s ill-suited to handle Jokić. He could have treated it as a statement game — a high-scoring announcement that he’s back. Instead, he recognized it as a get-right game for the team and orchestrated an excellent collective performance.

Jamal Murray – A

The Nuggets played so well that Murray’s stats look pedestrian. He and the starters traded in statistics for rest in a wire-to-wire blowout. When Murray was on the floor, he was highly effective. He hit various challenging shots — the classic Murray package from mid-range. But what stood out to me was his shot readiness. He’s shooting 45% from deep in 12 games. He’s notably decisive on the catch-and-shoot opportunities.

Murray did a great job defensively, as well. He and Justin Holiday wrought havoc in the passing lanes. Murray finished with three steals on a night when the Nuggets set their season-high in the category.

Aaron Gordon – A

AG’s taking advantage of mismatches in recent games. His physicality is jumping off the screen again, and he’s punishing smaller forwards when given the opportunity. In his last couple of outings, he displayed an excellent combination of brutal bully-bull and beautiful ball movement.

Michael Porter Jr. – C

Porter only scored nine points and shot just 1-4 from deep. Just when it looked like he’d turned a corner from three-point range, he missed a large handful of makeable looks. Those who clamor for more consistency still have a point. In the meantime, he at least rebounded and played with energy. No harm, no foul in the 23-point win.

Justin Holiday – B-

Holiday shot poorly, but he finished with four steals. The Nuggets started an ultra-long lineup with Holiday in KCP’s place. Denver deflected or stole seemingly every attempt at a cross-court pass. They mucked up anything happening in the middle of the floor. It looked like a particularly annoying loss to play through.

Peyton Watson – A+

Michael Malone’s done a great job rationing high-leverage minutes to the young guys. He’s letting them learn to play through the tight moments, hone their talents, and fill particular roles alongside champions.

These minutes were a little different for Watson. With the starters on the bench, he had a green light to explore his game offensively. It resulted in the best offensive performance of his nascent career. Watson attacked the rim and flashed a breathtaking combination of length and athleticism. He knocked down 2/5 threes. He even picked his head up and found teammates, finishing with five assists.

Julian Strawther – C+

Strawther didn’t shoot well but still made a positive impact. He can put the ball on the floor in a pinch. He’s a bright and willing defender. And occasionally, he rebounds well off the bench. Some shooters fade to the background if the jumper isn’t falling. That’s only sometimes the case with this rookie. He’s got more to offer.

Christian Braun – B

Christian Braun put on a Bruce Brown-esque performance at home. He finished with one steal and two blocks and brought the crowd to its feet with the best dunk of the season for the Denver Nuggets.

Reggie Jackson – C+

Jackson didn’t light it up this time. And it wasn’t his most efficient performance. But he added a little juice off the bench, finishing with 12 points, 4 assists, and 2 blocks.

DeAndre Jordan – C

The biggest takeaway from DAJ’s performance is that he played at all. This was a matchup that, on paper, called for Zeke Nnaji. Jordan played anyway. He was the only Nugget to finish in the negative but was serviceable in 12 minutes.

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