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The Denver Nuggets Flexed Their Muscle in Oklahoma City

Brendan Vogt Avatar
October 30, 2023

Nikola Jokić – A+

Nikola Jokić is a player with a long list of positive qualities. His otherwordly touch, perhaps unprecedented IQ, and penchant for clutch-time magic are near the top. It’s such a long list that it’s easy to overlook his most obvious advantage — Jokić is massive. That’s probably where the list starts for young Chet Holmgren, who flashed his talent and potential in a matchup with the best player alive. Holmgren impressed Jokić, but Big 15 handed out some advice through the media:

“He’s a really talented guy, but this is his first year. He’s still learning everything. … I think he needs experience. I think he needs to be a little bit fatter, to be honest.” – per Bennett Durando of the Denver Post.

Jokić took 16 shots in Oklahoma City. He took 13 of them inside the paint. That set the tone as Denver capitalized on a strength advantage. The Thunder have the length to match up with the Nuggets, but Denver bullied them inside and on the glass.

Most of the NBA universe is high on OKC’s future, and with good reason. In the meantime, Jokić and company offered a humbling reminder: there are levels to this.

Jamal Murray – A-

Murray’s playing with a tremendous sense of security. While many would be tempted to use the moment to vault themselves into a new stratosphere of consideration and appreciation throughout the league, Murray is locked into a team-oriented approach. It’s hard to pick nits with his play style. He’s more decisive and cerebral than ever. He’s falling in love with spreading the wealth. With Murray and Jokić leading by example, the Nuggets are meeting the standard of excellence they set in June.

Michael Porter Jr. – A

When Porter plays at this level, the only question about the outcome is the margin of victory. Porter scored 9 points on 4/5 shooting in the first quarter. He also grabbed five rebounds in that span. MPJ is putting up gaudy rebounding numbers to start the season. This game might have been his best effort, as it included more contested and high-leverage rebounding opportunities. Porter finished the game with 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 assists. He shot 4/7 from deep. Perhaps the most encouraging note is that it all looked easier for him as he recovers from a sprained ankle. That was the best he’s moved so far.

Aaron Gordon – B

The Memphis Grizzlies were better equipped to deal with AG’s strength and athleticism than the Thunder. Gordon looked more imposing this time around as the starters cruised. While the Big 3 took care of the offense, AG and KCP got their hands dirty. Gordon recorded one steal and three blocks in 23 minutes.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – B

Pope is now 3 for 3 in collecting DPOG chains this season. The team might have to retire the award at this point. KCP is too locked in. Denver locked up another perimeter player in their third straight win to start the season. SGA, who typically gives the Nuggets trouble, scored just 7 points as Pope spearheaded a group effort to lock him down.

Christian Braun – A+

Braun has discarded the rust that built up during his preseason absence. Like Porter, he’d been playing his tail off but struggling to find his form. He burst through the wall in OKC. The bench cruised as Braun and fellow youngster Peyton Watson put on a show. Braun picked up 7 rebounds and 7 assists off the bench. He played stifling defense, too. CB finished +25 in 21 minutes on the floor. That’s absurd.

Peyton Watson – A+

Watson scored a career-high 17 points on 8/11 from the floor. His athleticism and unique build popped as the Thunder struggled to contain him. The bench knows what to do right now. They’re hellacious on defense, and their eyes grow wide when they see a chance to run. Watson fits the mold perfectly. He’s allowing the game to come to him and has already put the shaky preseason in the rearview mirror. That doesn’t mean it’s smooth sailing from here, but his potential is on tape. He’s seen himself succeed. Now, his challenge is to understand why and replicate it.

Reggie Jackson – B+

Jackson took just three shots and recorded six assists again as his teammates cooked. That’s a green flag for the veteran who is coming up big to start the season. He’s pushing the right buttons and pulling the right levers off the bench.

Zeke Nnaji – C+

Nnaji grabbed three rebounds as he finally reaped the rewards of his hard work. He was scoreless but provided utility defensively. He finished +12 in nearly 15 minutes. The backup five minutes are working for now.

Julain Strawther – B+

Strawther logged 7:34 of playing time in the blowout. That was all the time he needed to put up 8 points — one more than SGA’s total.

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