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The Denver Nuggets Are Reeling

Brendan Vogt Avatar
March 13, 2023

Nikola Jokić – A+

Jokić picked it up on defense against the Brooklyn Nets. His work rate increased, and he walked away with two blocks and two steals to show for it. He came to win, playing well on defense and dominating on the other side. He dropped 35 points, 20 rebounds, and 11 assists to only three turnovers in the loss. He was dominant for most of his time on the court. There’s an important exception, however. The Nets went small in the second half and committed to preventing Jokić from receiving the ball. If he somehow did, they doubled him. There was no subtlety to the approach. They dared someone else to beat them, and no one stepped up. Still, for everyone’s shortcomings, Jokić had two chances to win the game for Denver. And he came up short.

Lost in the result, and despite those misses, is a bonafide reminder game from Jokić, who’s returned to MVP-caliber form. Now, the others have to rise and join him. Denver will see similar looks in the playoffs. Jokić’s teammates and coaches must be prepared.

Jamal Murray – D

Murray let it fly from deep, the only area from which he could do damage Sunday evening. He knocked down 5 of his 12 three-pointers, which is typically a good sign for his production, but he shot 0 of 7 from two-point range. Murray left the game early after his left knee appeared to bother him on the sidelines. He’s looked slower lately, laboring through ugly possessions and failing to blow by his defender. He played a poor game on both ends Sunday, which, combined with his early exit, raises questions about his health.

Michael Porter Jr. – A+

Porter played one of the best halves of his career to open the game. He scored 19 points in 15:03 on the floor before halftime. He played well defensively, got out and running, and moved the ball well. He and Jokić put on a masterclass in the second quarter. Curiously, after his only two turnovers of the came occurred in short order in the third quarter, Michael Malone pulled Porter from the game. He would not return until about the 20-second mark in the fourth when he was asked to stand as a decoy.

Malone may have felt he needed more perimeter defense. Given Murray’s absence, he may have felt he needed another point guard (Bruce Brown) on the floor. Neither is a satisfactory explanation for pulling Porter after that half — after the season he’s had. Malone has challenged Porter at every turn of his young career. He’s hit him with high expectations and a short leash. Despite the tightrope walk, Porter’s been excellent. He’s answered every call this season, and demonstrating such little trust in those moments is utter mismanagement. After the game, Porter was asked about finding a rhythm and he acknowledged the elephant in the room.

Is this a crisis? Likely not. Porter’s been a professional and demonstrated how badly he wants to win. That’s been his predominant perspective, and we’ve no reason to assume he’s abandoned that overnight. But Malone doesn’t get a pass for this one. He was playing with fire on Sunday.

Aaron Gordon – C+

Gordon played a sneaky role in the third-quarter collapse. He missed several reads and committed a turnover on a mistimed entry pass to Jokić. He was efficient in a low-volume scoring role, and the minutes went well, for the most part, with the starters on the floor. Still, this wasn’t AG’s best game. They’ll need more from him when facing similar approaches on defense.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – C+

This Nets team is like a bunch of varyingly skilled Mikal Bridges clones. Almost everyone is a wing, even the guards. That left KCP with less chance to impact the game on defense — although he did make a couple of plays when defending Spencer Dinwiddie and Seth Curry. He missed the two 3s he took.

Bruce Brown – D+

Brown might have the longest runway on the team for players not named Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray. I’m half-sure Malone doesn’t even monitor his minutes. I’m also not sure why the runway is so long. The Nuggets are better with Brown on the roster, but his impact in Denver has waned since the start of the season. He hasn’t been a bonafide stopper in months, and his point guard play is leaving much to be desired.

In Malone’s defense, Brown was an obvious option at point guard, with Murray missing the end of the game. Still, Brown struggled against the Nets. Context notwithstanding, it’s jarring to notice he logged eight more minutes than MPJ.

Jeff Green – C-

Jeff Green played backup center in Thomas Bryant’s stead as Malone trotted out a three-guard, two-forward lineup. It was a disaster. Green grabbed one board in nearly 19 minutes, and struggled on defense.

Reggie Jackson – F

Jackson committed perhaps the worst turnover I’ve ever seen in Sunday’s action.

Christian Braun – A

Miraculously, Braun popped up in the second-half rotation. He was fantastic — he changed the game with his relentless motor on defense. He even added seven points and one assist in 11:39 on the floor. Braun playing is meaningful; hopefully, he’s in the rotation for good. Now, to find a way to do it without benching one of the best players on the floor.

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