Nikola Jokić – C–
Nikola Jokić is tired of the non-calls. After a career-best streak of stomaching the whistle and focusing on team success, Jokić finally relented, turning his attention to Tony Brothers and the crew in Cleveland. Jokić was called for some light fouls early, forcing him to sit. A lack of calls on the other end compounded his frustration. After being whistled for an offensive foul against Jarrett Allen, Jokić hit his breaking point. The next time he went down the floor, he fouled Allen again with an elbow as he looked to score. It was deemed a flagrant foul and essentially damned the Nuggets. Many Nuggets fans will side with Jokić. They’ll empathize with his frustration and possibly value him standing up for himself over the win. I can understand that position. But when grading his performance, Jokić let go of the rope—fair or not. He also got destroyed on the defensive end.
Michael Porter Jr. – C–
Porter finally saw his three-point shot fall. He knocked down his first two looks. Later in the game, he swished a monster stepback three over Max Strus. That’s a great indicator that he’s feeling more confident. Porter finished 5/9 from deep. Unfortunately, we’ll have to categorize that as a silver lining. Porter’s best shooting night was also a horrid defensive performance riddled with mistakes. In truth, Denver struggled while he was on the floor. He was a game-worst -31 despite leading the Nuggets in scoring.
Aaron Gordon – C–
AG’s inability to shoot sticks out without Jamal Murray in the rotation. It was particularly noticeable against a team like Cleveland, which starts two bigs in Allen and Evan Mobley. His free throw stroke and three-point shot look as wayward as ever. Teams are starting to guard him like Draymond Green. Gordon did spend a lot of time with the ball in his hands and logged five assists — including a filthy touch pass to Jokić. It was Denver’s best highlight of the game.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – C–
Pope was on the floor for Denver’s best attempt at a comeback, and his defense played a role during that stretch. But all told, he didn’t have a great game. The starters got waxed, and Pope shot 2 of 9 from the field for just 9 points.
Reggie Jackson – D+
Jackson only scored seven points, logged one assist to two turnovers, and struggled defensively. Just about every Denver started did. Cleveland scored too easily out of the pick-and-roll. The Nuggets got crushed during Jackson’s minutes.
Christian Braun – C+
Braun continued moving in the right direction in Cleveland. He scored 13 points on 6/11 shooting and knocked down a three. He joined Pope in the lineup that made a second-quarter run. Alongside KCP, AG, Jokić, and Julian Strawther, Braun was effective. That group featured Denver’s best player, three best defenders, and two shooting threats. Harrison Wind wrote more on that stretch here.
Julian Strawther – C
Strawther gets points for fitting into that second-quarter lineup neatly. His highlights included a blocked shot that turned into a fast-break dunk and a three from the corner. That group defended well, and Strawther looked comfortable during that run.
Zeke Nnaji – C–
Before the game, Michael Malone revealed a desire to play Nnaji more, including more minutes alongside Jokić. That’s the best position to succeed in and an opportunity Nnaji rarely gets. He got two of those minutes in the first quarter before Jokić exited. Nnaji did take some steps in the right direction. He grabbed four rebounds and scored nine points. But his impact is inflated by a good garbage time run.
Jalen Pickett – C–
That applies to Pickett as well. He knocked down a couple of threes and recorded three assists, but it all happened late in the game.