Nikola Jokić – A+
Nikola Jokić became the first player to post 26 points, 16 rebounds, and 18 assists in a single game. He typically feasts on the Pelicans, and this time, his playmaking popped. He orchestrated numerous looks at the rim, practically handing points to Aaron Gordon, Christian Braun, and Reggie Jackson. Much of the game was simple with Jokić on the floor. Cut to the rim, and he would find you. He posted 18 assists on a night when Denver shot 10/40 from deep.
There are, however, two nits to pick if that’s what you’re into. Jokić shot 1/8 from 3-point range on a night when it seemed like he could generate better looks. He also fumbled an entry pass down one in crunch time. But let’s not kid ourselves. It was a masterclass. He just needed a little more from his teammates this time.
Michael Porter Jr. – B
It’s hard to believe we’re focusing on Porter’s three-point shot. In truth, it’s all we’re waiting for. Porter’s floor is higher than ever. He played relatively well against the Pelicans, posting an efficient 18 points with 11 boards. He’s growing into a slasher and clean-up guy at the rim. That’s all welcome, but Mike isn’t Mike without the shot. And Denver needs Mike right now without Jamal Murray on the floor. MPJ shot 2/6 from three against the Pelicans. He should have gotten more looks down the stretch, but he can help himself with the shots he’s already getting. It’s his job to knock these threes down.
Aaron Gordon – C+
A glance at the box score would suggest he played better than the grade, but Gordon’s capable of shrewder basketball. AG shot 0/4 from deep. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with Gordon taking open threes in the regular season. He has to show teams he’s willing and able. But they came at bad times in the game. When better shots were called for, his last was a contested three with 18 seconds left on the game clock and 14 seconds left on the shot clock. Denver didn’t need a three there, and even if they did, Porter was on his way to the right corner.
On the other side of the ball, AG took the unenviable Zion Williamson assignment. It’s an arduous task, but Gordon’s best suited for it on Denver’s roster, and Zion took it to him Friday night. Gordon might feel like he was in a car accident this morning. He might as well have stood in front of a truck.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – B
Pope’s a low-volume shooter and tenacious defender this season. It’s a great approach. Ingram got off to a hot start, but Pope turned up the intensity when Denver was in danger of letting go of the rope. He helped them claw back into the game from potential blowout territory. Offensively, he took four threes, knocked down two, and posted eight assists to zero turnovers. His eight points might seem low, but Pope did his job Friday night.
Reggie Jackson – B–
The good: 14 points on 50% from the field—the not-so-good: 3 assists to 4 turnovers. Jackson played chaotic basketball in New Orleans. He got in trouble by sometimes over-dribbling but ultimately did a good job attacking the rim. He scored a handful of points just by running in that general direction while Jokić had the ball.
Christian Braun – A+
Speaking of running to the rim while Jokić had the ball, Braun played the best offensive game of his NBA career. He scored 25 points on 11/19 shooting. His relentlessness nearly saved the day. He scored in transition, he scored cutting along the baseline several times, and he got his deep shot going. He grabbed nine rebounds, including a clutch offensive board, and the subsequent layup cut the lead to two late in the fourth.
Jalen Pickett – F
Denver survived with Pickett on the floor. He was a +9 in the loss. But he did not look comfortable out there. His standout play was a double dribble violation in the second half. He needed to do a better job of getting the ball to Jokić. That was the only choice to make Friday night.
Peyton Watson – D
Watson struggled in a five-man bench lineup in the first half. Michael Malone shortened the rotation in the second half, but it was a curious decision to open how he did. Most interestingly, Malone put Watson back on the floor for some crucial fourth-quarter minutes. Watson missed MPJ in the corner, air-balled a free throw to the right of the rim, and missed an open three from the corner. The moment looked a little big for him, but reps like these are the best way to grow.
Julian Strawther – F
Strawther appeared in the first half, missed three 3s, and didn’t play in the second.
Zeke Nnaji – F
Nnaji logged only 4:18 seconds in the game, and Denver sank while he was on the floor. Nnaji was a -10 in those four minutes. It was a disaster.