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The Thunder Run the Denver Nuggets out of Ball Arena

Brendan Vogt Avatar
December 30, 2023

Nikola Jokić – D+

Jokić had little room to work on a cramped floor against a talented team. The Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t afraid of the Denver Nuggets and know how they want to defend Jokić. The Thunder excel at turning teams over, and they can shrink the floor with players like Aaron Gordon and Peyton Watson in the starting lineup. The latter started in place of the former instead of Justin Holiday as an alternative. The Nuggets also shot 27% from deep as a team. Factor in playing on the second night of back-to-back, and we have a bonafide recipe for disaster.

The Thunder held Jokić under 20 points despite him shooting 9/10 from the floor. They also turned him over seven times. Chet Holmgren proved a particularly tough assignment on the other end. He’s skilled, nimble, and versatile. He stretches a defense out to the perimeter, where Jokić struggles. Denver tried a handful of other adjustments throughout the game — like putting Jokić on Josh Giddey and Michael Porter Jr. on Chet. But Denver never dug themselves out of an early hole.

Jamal Murray – D+

Jamal Murray recorded 11 assists and only turned it over twice. But that’s where the high marks end. It wasn’t his night from the field. Meanwhile, his Canadian counterpart, SGA, dropped 40 points. Murray was thoughtful after the brutal loss. He was willing to dive into why they’ve lost two games to the Thunder in Denver.

Denver’s been undisciplined in one-on-one containment, particularly knowing tendencies. They’re turning it over too much, which Murray insists is under their control despite OKC’s proclivities. But the most significant factors, he told the media after the game, were energy and emotion. Denver came out flat and lost focus after some tough calls.

Michael Porter Jr. – D+

Porter scored eight quick points and then fell out of the race. His shot drifted, energy waned, and production dropped off a cliff. If this were the first matchup you’d seen between the two teams, you’d likely think the Thunder are better top-to-bottom. We know the additional context, but let’s not kid ourselves, either: it was a beatdown.

Peyton Watson – C-

Watson played his tail off. Energy wasn’t an issue for a young player trying to seize an opportunity. But his inclusion in the starting lineup worked much better against the Grizzlies. Watson couldn’t knock down his threes this time.

Michael Malone told the media that he shared some notes with Watson during the game. Don’t play with a “settle-mentality,” Malone urged him. Just because he’s open in the corner doesn’t mean he has to relegate himself to a shooter. “He’s so damn athletic,” Malone said. There’s room to attack behind the defense by cutting to the basket, he pointed out.

If Denver needed this game to keep their season alive, they should have started Justin Holiday at Small Forward. That worked beautifully the last time AG was out. But there’s a strong counter-argument rooted in prioritization. These minutes are meaningful in Watson’s development — both in the short and long run. That apparent reprioritization is a significant shift for Malone.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – D+

Scrub this from the #FirstTeam highlight tape. Don’t let these minutes see the light of day again. Pope isn’t the first or the last to struggle with SGA. Still, 40 points is 40 points. OKC’s stars had a field day on the Nuggets’ home floor.

Reggie Jackson – C

Jackon isn’t moving well out there while he deals with this skin lesion. At one point in the loss, he subbed himself out and went straight to the locker room. He was questionable to return and ultimately did. But his struggle from the field continued.

Christian Braun – D+

Braun tried to play with his signature aggressiveness. He grabbed three rebounds and got himself to the line four times. But he failed to make a field goal or much of a positive impact.

Julian Strawther – D+

Strawther led the bench in scoring, yet Denver got crushed with him on the floor. He logged the fewest minutes of any rotation player and finished a bench-worst -15.

DeAndre Jordan – C+

Guess what wasn’t the problem this time? The backup center minutes! Jordan played well, grabbing eight rebounds and six points in his 13 minutes. Denver stayed afloat while he was out there.

Justin Holiday – F

What I’m about to write doesn’t strengthen my argument from the Peyton Watson section: Holiday didn’t produce at all off the bench. It’s not an argument for Holiday as the superior player, but rather the better fit.

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