Last night’s game highlighted individual defense on both ends of the positive/negative spectrum.
One of the biggest storylines of the contest was Dillon Brooks’ defensive performance locking down Jamal Murray to 3 points on 1-14 shooting. Brooks added another star-stopping night to his “All-Defensive Team” campaign, and I know you’re thinking that Jamal Murray isn’t in the same realm as Bradley Beal, DeMar DeRozan, or Devin Booker. However, he was performing to the level he did in the bubble leading up to tonight’s game, as he averaged 28.5 points on 55.4% shooting from the field and 47% from 3 (8.3 attempts per game) in his last 12 outings. Though a part of it was Murray just missing shots, Brooks hounded him all game and applied pressure on him all 94 feet.
Then on the other hand, Nikola Jokic went supernova, as most MVP candidates do on a nightly basis. No matter what Jonas Valanciunas threw at him, Jokic found a way to get buckets. He’s truly one of the most unbelievable talents in the league right now.
Michael Porter Jr. quietly put together a strong 21 points, using his blend of size and skill to convert on opportunities around the rim and from 3.
These particular players will be the Denver Nuggets’ core going forward — unless they make a deal for someone like Bradley Beal, since Porter or Murray trump whatever most teams offer from a prospect standpoint. In a 7-game series, you’re going to need the defenders to stop them.
They’re pretty set in the Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. positional archetype. Granted, moves will likely be made at some point, but Dillon Brooks, Justise WInslow, De’Anthony Melton, Kyle Anderson, and even Brandon Clarke are great starting points. And those could be the guys that take on these defensive assignments in a 7-game series. The big questions going forward are how to stop guys like Murray and Porter, Donovan Mitchell, Luka Doncic, and Brandon Ingram — the big wings or electrifying guard archetypes. And it looks like the Memphis Grizzlies have answered 75-80% of that question.
The big one will be Nikola Jokic. Obviously for a player with his scoring and playmaking acumen, your best hope is to contain him. With saying that though, it does raise a question going forward about the frontcourt position with Jaren Jackson Jr. Is he a starting 5 in a 7-game series? Especially against a big, physical center like Jokic?
And granted, we didn’t get to answer this question tonight, since we didn’t see Jackson in this one. However, we got a great sense of what we want to see with how Valanciunas defended him tonight. Jokic was awesome, but Valanciunas made him work. He was physical with him, and his hands were active, but Jokic hit shots.
Nothing to really do about that.
The idea does enforce though that they really need to monitor how Jaren Jackson Jr. defends the Jokic’s of the world — or even someone in the same realm of physicality and skillset with Karl-Anthony Towns. If he can defend pure 5’s, it’s a game-changer. However, it does enforce that the Grizzlies will need to have a bruising 5 on the roster at any point, whether it’s Valanciunas or someone else.
Nonetheless, despite this being a long view line of thinking, the Grizzlies have put themselves in a spot where there are years from competing with them. As they showed last night, and as they showed against Milwaukee before the break, they can hang with the league’s elite. And where they are in the standings, a playoff series can come sooner than you think.