Vlatko Cancar – A+
Who are you going to call? Down Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., Bones Hyland and Jeff Green – Vlatko heard his number called again. He’s now becoming famous for stepping up when the Nuggets are so short-handed, but this time around he’s seriously striving for something more than glory at the back of the bench.
Vlatko played an integral part in the Oklahoma City win, sweeping cheeky counterattacks off the bench and providing leadership in the non-Jokić minutes. As Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Malone’s best full-backs took out one after the other, the Slovenian sensation performed. And then he locked him up. Čančar paid attention. He knew where SGA killed them all night and put his body in the way. It was a proud, disciplined performance that earned him the DPOG chain by the end of the game.
Vlatko is a limited but very loyal player. Loyal to the team’s cause of winning. He proved himself at the end of the bench in the NBA without complaints and more than once lived up to the higher expectations for Team Slovenia. He once told me that one factor in his success on the international stage is heightened expectations. You ask more of him and he has to dig deeper.
Would the Nuggets be wise to ask for more from him, too?
Nikola Jokic – A+
If you were already nostalgic for those two seasons where Jokić put the whole city on his shoulders, this game is for you. MVP Jok made a glorious return without star power. He imposed his will on a defense committed to stopping him, dominating them from below. If you can’t stop Jokić then you have to start fouling and the MVP saw a reasonable whistle in OKC. He took 18 free throws and downed 16. His nine assists sell his playmaking efforts. Jokić, who defeated important attacking players, regularly caused open looks. He was masterful.
Aaron Gordon – A+
If I had to pick a word to compliment Gordon this season, I would go with willpower. AG lowered his head again and threw himself against a wall, confident he could break through. The Nuggets forced overtime at +13 in the fourth quarter. AG scored 17 points in 7:47 of those 12 minutes. He was obsessed.
This is a sweepstakes.
The boss was the first non-Jokić player to record a triple-double for the Nuggets since Andre Iguodala on April 10, 2013, according to ESPN stats and intelligence. He’s dusted off his point guard skills in a pinch this season, and while it’s sub-par, it’s durable when he plays like that. But it wasn’t a perfect night for Brown. He struggled to contain the perimeter, and it was Vlatko — not the beloved off-season acquisitions — who figured out how to slow SGA. The all-defense lineup around Jokić didn’t bring much defense at all.
It was not a good night for the defensive Dynamos. SGA is too big for the guards, even Brown and Pope. Nobody defends him well, but Denver has gotten off to a disappointing start on defense. They mixed up the role players and even played a game with a defensive oriented lineup around Jokić last night. They still can’t stand guard for four quarters.
Of which Reed – F
Reed caught the start and didn’t do much to confirm the decision. OKC shifted any potential attention from him to Jokić on defence. Reed was all alone and he couldn’t deflect a shot. He was also on the wrong end of an SGA mini-role.
Nnaji scored eight points in about 15 minutes. He looks more confident when he finishes all around the brim, which is a good sign. But as a rebounder, he still leaves a lot to be desired.
No sane person expected Braun to pick up the offense in the non-Jokić minutes, but he was practically a zero at that end. He snagged six rebounds, a sign of his rush.
Jack White – played!
All hands were on deck for Denver. Jack White recorded true live minutes, and while he didn’t score in 9:47, he blocked two shots. This one was justifiably impressive.