LOS ANGELES – For over a week, all the nuggets knew by themselves. With new competition, Monday’s presidential opener against the Clippers breathes new life into Denver’s training camp.
The result, a 103–102 Clippers win, didn’t matter much. But for the first competition since Denver crashed out of the playoffs against the Suns, it was an interesting performance.
Here is what stood out.
Emerging MPJs: It took a quarter of the time to see what Michael Porter Jr. added to his arsenal. The 6-foot-10, newly minted max player, dropped 16 points and snatched four rebounds in barely 10 minutes into the first quarter. In addition to a tighter handle, the Porter looked stronger and more assertive.
Defensively, he was more attached last year than at this time.
There were also several sequences with Aaron Gordon highlighting an emerging two-man game that wasn’t as prominent as the previous season. Using Gordon as an offensive initiator, either taking the ball to the court or in transition, he found Porter on a few occasions, which suggested a devastating and versatile potential forward pairing. Porter finished with 23 points and seven rebounds.
Perhaps it was a result of not playing through to Nikola Jokic, who joined the team on Sunday but sat down for Monday’s game. Or maybe it was a concerted effort by the Nuggets to put the ball in Gordon’s hands as a playmaker. He also took the initiative, sharing the court with Monte Morris and PJ Dossier.
After a disappointing post-season, Gordon was determined to make better use of his physicality and strength than the previous season. In several plays, Gordon put his shoulder down and threatened his defender like a running back.
Outside of Porter scoring, Gordon’s versatility may be the most notable aspect from Monday night. He finished the night with eight points, four rebounds and three assists.
Dossier Location Secured: Despite a deep and talented pool of guards, Nuggets coach Michael Malone has emphasized how valuable the dossier is to their roster.
“He’s not fighting for minutes, he’s not fighting for my honor,” Malone said. “I’m a huge PJ Dossier fan. I understand the importance of PJ Dossier because he brings versatility. He’s the kind of player who can play 1, 2 or 3 when on the offensive and he plays 1-4 on defense Can do.”
Dossier had his moments against the Clippers and did a little bit of everything. He buried two 3-pointers, caught four rebounds and threw three assists. A 3-pointer came out of a corner in the transition – a shot the Nuggets are pushing into camp.
In another sequence, Dossier drew two defenders and fired a bounce pass to a rolling Jeff Greene. It got the highlight of the night – a poster dunk on Clippers big man Harry Giles. The entire Nuggets bench jumped out of its seat in the jam.
Jeff Greene is still good enough to have one of these sneaky posters 15 years later, per game. pic.twitter.com/dxrkZeny6N
— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) 5 October 2021
Bones/Boles: Before the game, Malone saved his highest praise for Denver rookie Bones Highland, whose game and energy have already won over his teammates.
“The guy I think has a tremendous camp, and he’s a rookie, is Bones Highland,” Malone said. “Bones has been phenomenal, every day, day in, day out. Everything is being thrown at him. But the energy, the speed at which he is playing, is tremendous.”
Highland played as advertised. He was fearless, driving in the teeth of the Clippers’ defense and aggressive toward the rim. His experience for the game was excellent. On one sequence, Hyland lofted his defender into the air, went to the rim, absorbed contact and was eliminated via a foul. He finished the game 8-of-13 with 19 points.
He and Boll added a fascinating dimension to Denver’s second unit. After receiving praise from his teammates during the week in San Diego, Bol backed it up with hustle, effort, and some of his signature moments. Whether it’s a finger-roll on offense or a shot change on defense, Bol backs up the modest hype that aired last week.
The Nuggets will play their second preseason game at Golden State on Wednesday. Both Jokic and Will Barton are expected to be available.