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Nikola Jokić – A+
From his pickup days in Sombor to his MVP campaigns at the highest level in basketball, Jokić has stayed true to a simple philosophy. This is a game about teammates. Perhaps that’s why he allowed pride to sink in briefly as he spoke with ESPN after another win in Ball Arena. Jokić posted another triple-double and, more importantly, passed the great Alex English on the Denver Nuggets’ all-time assist leaderboard. He’s kind of proud of this one, he admitted on the broadcast after the game. Hopefully, he said, his teammates will remember him as someone great to play with. We don’t often catch Jokić reflecting on his legacy, but if that’s what he’s after, that’s the one he’s weaving so far. There’s a new assist king in the Mile High City.
It’s an inevitable milestone that’s still worth taking a beat to appreciate. Jokić is no longer flashing talent but now cementing himself in league history. It’s no longer a matter of time before he builds a resume worthy of the best player in the organization’s history. That time is now. He’s where he belongs, where he was always headed.
His value was on full display Wednesday night as Denver nearly fumbled another one to the Minnesota Timberwolves — one of their worst matchups these days. They were getting walloped whenever Jokić sat, and he often sat due to foul trouble. He had to wait until the fourth quarter before checking back in and cleaning up a mess on their home floor. But he wasted no time once he got the green light. Jokić and Murray did what they do in close games. They locked in and sealed the win.
Jamal Murray – B+
Murray played A+ basketball when it mattered most. Although, for about half the game, he played lazily and sloppily. Disconnected. He failed the early tests, particularly taking charge of the second unit. It was a head-scratching performance right up until it became something thrilling. Murray led all scorers with 19 second-half points, hitting every shot Denver needed. Murray’s struggles contributed to the near choke-job, but he reached down and pulled the bone out himself.
He would do well to turn in more four-quarter performances. To rely a little less on his crunch-time prowess. Taking the easy shots as they come remains an area of growth for him. In the meantime, we’d do well to remember that his testicular fortitude will matter in the playoffs. Sometimes it comes down to grown-person shots. That will be just fine for Murray.
Michael Porter Jr. – F
Porter was MIA in this one. He missed some shots, but mentally he looked out to lunch. It’s the kind of performance he needs to iron out this regular season. While they’re happening less and less often, they can’t happen in the playoffs. He logged under 23 minutes, and Bruce Brown closed in his stead. That was the right call from acting coach David Adelman.
Aaron Gordon – C-
Gordon also got into some foul trouble, which complicated things for Denver before the fourth. After drawing praise for his defense lately, Gordon phoned it in Wednesday night. He got repeatedly torched, including by Kyle ‘slowmo’ Anderson.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – B-
Kenny P kept a low profile in this one. He shot only six times but made four field goals, including two 3s. He also picked up three early steals. His second three was timely — down five in the fourth quarter, and on the verge of flipping momentum, he drilled one from the left corner. He was also the recipient of the assist that gave Jokić the record.
Bruce Brown – B+
Brown closed over MPJ, which might have been an offensive sub this time. Porter was disengaged while Brown took it to the rim like a man possessed. He was the antidote to the energy many of his teammates were bringing. He was excellent despite falling asleep off-ball and getting into some foul trouble.
Bones Hyland – C+
Bones tried his hardest to get off the ball in the first half. But Murray was so disinterested in scoring that it put the young guard in a tough spot. He was neither the problem nor the solution against the Wolves.
Zeke Nnaji – C-
Zeke is always 20% away. He boxes out well but doesn’t secure the board. He gets up high but mistimes the jump. He’ll move well off-ball but finish too softly. Still, he’s working hard and is a preferable option to DAJ.
The Denver Nuggets – A+
The Nuggets are off to their best start through 45 games in team history at 32-13.