As part of my Wednesday column, Pickaxes & O’s, I try to assign game balls for every Denver Nuggets game this season. It’s a fun exercise to look at which players accumulate the most game balls over the course of the season and charting game balls allows for a quick overview of who is most frequently the team’s MVP. Pickaxes and O’s took the last two weeks off and thus the game ball awards have fallen behind so here are the last 3 weeks of game ball winners and the most up-to-date chart.
It’s no surprise that Jokic leads the team in this category. Joker is consistently one of the three best Nuggets players night-in and night-out but I tend to grade him (and everyone else) on a bit of a scale based at least in part on what is expected of them. Gary Harris - who last season was the team’s most consistent player but rarely the team’s star - has shot up the leaderboard over the last two weeks as he’s become a playmaker and creater in Jokic’s absence. Jamal Murray has also put in a few big games over the last few weeks to place himself among the top.
Lastly, the balance on this roster really shines through when you look at this graphic. There have been 10 different winners in just 33 games. Most recently, Trey Lyles has become one of the team’s go-to options off of the bench and has swung a couple of games with his hot shooting. Although it’s purely subjective, it’s still fun to track throughout the season and will hopefully continue to paint a picture as to who is leading the team on the court.
Gary Harris | DEN @ NOP | 24 points, 4 assists
There have been some really bad game balls awarded this season and this one was right down there with the worst of them. It wasn’t a great showing from Garris but it was one of the first games he started showing flashes of the brilliant play that has defined his season so far.
Emmanuel Mudiay | DEN @ ORL | 18 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists
This was the last really “good” Mudiay game. Him, Kenneth Faried, and the rest of the bench saved the Nuggets in this one and helped jump start the turnaround for the Nuggets who prior to this night couldn’t seem to compete on the road.
Trey Lyles | DEN @ IND | Career-high 25 points, 5-7 3FG
Add another name to the list of game ball winners! This was Lyles’ big breakout game. He’d been coming on strong over the last week but this was the game that solidified him as a core piece of the roster. He’s maintained this brilliant shooting and has forced his way into the rotation and will likely stay in the rotation even after Paul Millsap returns.
Jamal Murray | DEN @ DET | 28 points, 11-19 FG
Murray was awesome in this game. He had broken out of his shooting slump long before this but there were moments in this game where you see just how much Murray’s hot shooting streaks can completely change the potential of this roster. He gets on J.R. Smith-esque hot streaks where it feels like he won’t miss no matter where he shoots from. This was one of those games.
Gary Harris | DEN @ BOS | 36 points, 6 assists, 16-25 FG
This felt like a Gary Harris breakout game. This was the best I have ever seen Harris play. Career-high 36 points (his first 30-point game!) and a lot of shot making off of the dribble. He made Jaylen Brown, one of the league’s best defenders, look like a scrub. If this is a glimpse of Harris’s potential, then the Nuggets are much more dangerous than people realize.
Mason Plumlee | NOP @ DEN | 9 points, 9 rebounds, team-high +10
This game ball could’ve gone to a number of Nuggets. I chose to give it to Mase because he had the toughest job and he made some of the most important plays of the game. He helped get DeMarcus Cousins in foul trouble and helped wear down both Cousins and Anthony Davis. That led to the Nuggets dominating the 4th quarter and overtime. Fantastic effort from Plumdog.
Trey Lyles | DEN @ OKC | 15 points, 10 rebounds, 6-10 FG, 3-6 3FG
This was a well-rounded Nuggets effort but Lyles did two things that Denver desperately needed: knocked down open threes and crashed the glass. The last full possession of the game should’ve seen Lyles as a secondary option on a pindown screen with Gary Harris but unfortunately, the team did not execute the play. Still, Lyles was a huge x-factor in this game and has been for the Nuggets for quite awile.
Mason Plumlee | MIN @ DEN | 13 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists
This one would’ve gone to Jokic had Joker not turned the ball over 10 times. It could’ve gone to Jamal Murray for scoring 30 points but Murray allowed Jeff Teague to go off in the 3rd quarter which was the biggest reason that the Nuggets blew a double-digit lead at home. So I’m giving it to Mase. Mase did a little of everything and won his match-up when he was on the floor. His night was low on highlights but he made a big impact.
Nikola Jokic | DEN @ POR | 27 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists
This felt like more than just a win for Jokic and the Nuggets, it felt like Jokic got over a mental block. He this game having played a couple of very hot and cold games since returning from an injury ankle injury. He wasn’t in a slump but he didn’t look like Joker, either. He’d also completely fallen flat in the two previous match-ups against Jusuf Nurkic and the Trail Blazers.
The monkey is officially off of his back. Jokic dominated Nurkic and created his own personal highlight reel en route to a very Joker-esque statline. From one-legged fallaways to drive by dunks, Jokic had one of the most impressive games of his career and held Nurkic to just 10 points and 1 rebound.
Nikola Jokic | DEN @ GSW | 18 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists
This one could’ve easily gone to Gary Harris who had 18 points and scored a couple of huge baskets down the stretch but the key to the game was Jokic. Draymond Green is arguably the toughest post defender in the NBA yet Jokic makes scoring on him in the post look easy. It’s one reason that the Nuggets have had the Warriors’ number over the last few seasons. When Jokic was on the court, the Nugges were dominating the Warriors. That’s why he gets the game ball.