Nikola Jokić – A+
Jokić returned to the lineup after clearing health and safety protocols and didn’t skip a beat in a dominant performance. His highly efficient 31-9-10 set the tone for the starters, who ultimately did enough to win. It was like he never left—he was the best player on the floor, and disaster struck whenever he sat. Through no fault of his, he was too uninvolved in the final possessions of a game he’d controlled. His teammates took matters into their own hands.
Jokić was aggressive and took 11 attempts at the free-throw line. He did miss four, to nit-pick, and Denver missed nine as a team in a two-point loss.
Jamal Murray – D
Murray was in a different state than Jokić in their return. He was laboring and couldn’t keep up with the game’s pace. It took him too long to get the ball up the floor, into the offense, and the ball out of his hands. He was on the verge of salvaging it all with a great fourth quarter—but his lone miss in that 9:06 was his worst decision. Trailing by one with 1:44 remaining and Jokić setting a screen, Murray got loose with a clever change of direction. He saw a lane. But he also saw three converging defenders and forced a wayward left-handed layup. Murray went crashing to the ground, and the Pistons broke with numbers. It just wasn’t his night.
Michael Porter Jr. – B
Porter’s in some shooting funk, given his all-universe ability. The easiest knock on his start to the season is his tendency to withdraw from the contest when the shot isn’t falling. But he avoided that pitfall against Detroit. He grabbed eight boards, including three OREB, and scored 18 points by attacking the rim. 11 of his 18 points came in the third quarter when he also blocked two shots. He did so much well, save for the one thing that’s typically a lock. Go figure.
Aaron Gordon – B
AG returned from a gnarly illness for which the symptoms still lingered as he spoke to the media. Gordon’s been sick for some time, but he played well and scored 17 points on 7 of 10 shooting in only 28:35. He grabbed seven rebounds, including three on the offensive end, and one that turned into a chance to send the game to overtime. After Murray intentionally missed a free throw, AG grabbed the loose ball and faded away with an excellent look to extend the game. But he faded too much, he admitted, and the shot didn’t fall.
Speaking of free throws, AG went to the line for three of them after a review revealed a flagrant foul on his three-point attempt. He missed all three. Brutal.
KCP – B-
Kenny Pope brought his quick hands to work, picking up two steals and two blocks. He knocked down two threes as well and generally avoided costly mistakes. However, he played an unfortunate role in a broken possession in the final two minutes, falling over on a hasty drive as Jokić lumbered over for a screen. Denver kept control, but AG bricked a desperation three, and the Nuggets went scoreless in consecutive possessions of a one-score game.
Bruce Brown – B
The bench was dreadful, but Brown stood a cut above the rest. He played the right way. Some unfortunate lineups anchored him down.
Bones Hyland – F
Bones was also working his way back from a new non-covid illness after clearing health and safety protocols. He probably shouldn’t have been out there, and it showed for about nine minutes. He left the game and did not return.
DeAndre Jordan – F
DAJ wasn’t returning from any illness. He just gave a failing effort: his one point and four total rebounds in 11:16 match the eye test. It was as bad as the Dallas game was good.
Zeke Nnaji – C-
Nnaji was far from a disaster, but his minutes were for Denver. Some of that rests on Michael Malone’s shoulders.
Michael Malone – F
I don’t typically grade Malone, but his decisions played a crucial role in the loss. His timeout mismanagement reared its head in the final seconds, and he wandered from a rotation that looked like a recipe for success.
Malone wasn’t sure who would be available or how much they’d have to offer and overthought it from there. KCP staggered with the bench first, not Murray or Porter, and then Christian Braun replaced him to complete a dreaded five-man bench lineup. They got destroyed in a short amount of time. He abandoned that look in the second half, but he also abandoned Christian Braun, opting for Davon Reed instead. He settled on Murray’s minutes with the bench, but Murray didn’t have it Tuesday night. The whole thing was a mess.