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Reggie Jackson – A+
Nikola Jokić never made the trip to Los Angeles, so a different Denver Nugget channeled his inner Wilt Chamberlain instead. Reggie Jackson became the first player since Wilt to post 35+ points, 13+ assists, and 5+ rebounds on 78%+ FG. He only turned it over twice. Jackson finished a game-high +25 in a nine-point win without Jokić, Jamal Murray, and Aaron Gordon on the floor. He was transcendent against his old team. He had some help, too.
Jackson’s first bucket was an easy one. He slipped free to the rim and scored off a gorgeous feed from his partner in crime. The former Clipper, DeAndre Jordan, made the play this time. That bucket set the tone for a game without Denver’s player—no need for a futile flurry of jumpers. Denver went right back to its bread and butter: the two-man game.
Jordan posed a legitimate lob threat and screened well. That kept things relatively simple for Jackson as a scorer. Terance Mann was either fighting through a pick or conceding a switch, and the latter was an automatic bucket. James Harden offered no resistance at all. Even Kawhi Leonard was on the wrong end of some ‘Big Government’ bailout points. His former teammates should know better than to let Jackson get hot early. He turned those screens into points even when he wasn’t scoring. Six of Jackson’s 13 assists resulted in dunks for Jordan. Five of them were alley-oops. Lob City rose from the dead, and Clippers fans watched the necromancy in horror.
DeAndre Jordan – A+
Without Jokić, the Nuggets turned to DeAndre Jordan for the start, and Jordan turned back the clock. He rampaged through his old stomping grounds, devouring rebounds and soaring high to snatch every lob. Surely, he caught a rush of nostalgia. It’s always great to catch up with an old friend. Jordan and those rims go way back.
It wasn’t just the lob threat and the rebounding that made him so valuable. It was also his playmaking. So often, the Nuggets stagnate without Jokić. But the approach from both Jackson and Jordan encouraged better movement. Jordan made it clear on the floor and in the huddle that he’d find anyone who cut for him. He was looking to keep the ball moving. I wish we had a Jokić cam going for this one. There must have been a tear in his eye.
It’s unlikely that Jordan can play every night at this stage in his career, but he presented a stellar argument for more opportunities. He wasn’t just good in 15’s shoes. He played an exceptional game.
Michael Porter Jr. – D+
Kawhi Leonard took the Michael Porter Jr. assignment from the opening tip. That’s a suboptimal starting point. Porter typically struggles to find shots without Jokić on the floor and definitely without Murray to draw attention from premier defenders. But in this case, Porter did a decent job springing free for open shots. He just bricked most of them. It looked like his inability to score would be why Denver fell short. It looked like he might waste a masterclass from his two veterans. But Malone stuck with him in the closing minutes, and Porter delivered the dagger from three-point range.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – C-
If Jokić didn’t play, neither did Murray and Gordon, and Porter shot 3/13 from the field, then KCP stepped up in the win. Right? You’d think. But Pope shot 3/14 in the improbable victory. We’ll be talking about this game all season.
To Pope’s credit, no one on either roster struggled more than Paul George—KCP’s assignment. That earned him yet another DPOG chain. In the interest of transparency, George missed some good looks. Still, Pope was in his grill down the stretch as George air-balled a three from the corner before putting another one into the side of the backboard. Some things never change.
Justin Holiday – B
Holiday turned it over three times. But one was on the receiver, and he was rock solid outside of those mistakes. He shot 2/4 from deep, rebounded from the small forward position, and defended well. This is his value on the roster. Break glass in an emergency, and get a playable vet on the floor.
Peyton Watson – A-
Michael Malone handed Watson the DPOG chain and a challenge on Sunday night. He challenged him to replicate the energy and effort. He implored him to aspire for consistency. One day later, Watson did just that in Los Angeles. He bothered Leonard and George at times with his vexing length. He logged just under 24 minutes and played his tail off for Malone.
Offensively, there’s still no emerging skillset beyond what his physical tools allow when attacking the rim. While some players dip into their bags to score, Watson’s offense qualities lay on the floor in a disordered heap. He’s as likely to trip over it as he is to find what he wants. But he’s playing hard right now. And that’s all anyone’s asking him to do.
Julian Strawther – B+
Like Watson, Strawther carried a strong Sunday performance into the second half of a back-to-back. He sunk three 3s off the bench and logged nearly 20 minutes. Denver played well with him on the floor.
Zeke Nnaji – B-
The Nuggets got crushed with Zeke out there, but we should acknowledge that he made a decent effort. Nnaji scored eight points, grabbed seven rebounds, and blocked three shots in nearly 12 minutes. Remarkably, all seven of Zeke’s boards were offensive rebounds.
Christian Braun – F
Malone chose not to play a backup point guard, putting the ball in Braun’s hands instead. It didn’t go well. Braun does a lot at a high level in the NBA, but he’s not a creator. Not yet, anyway.