The Denver Nuggets capped off their impressive 4-0 preseason with a six-point win over the Portland Trailblazers.
With the regular season just two days away, the major questions leading into the regular season would be: How does Jerami Grant fit in? What will Michael Porter Jr.’s role be on the team? Will Gary Harris return to his 2018 form? Has Jamal Murray taken a leap forward as a player? to name a few.
As far as how much those questions got answered this preseason, here are some early small sample-size observations.
Jerami Grant looked like every bit of the player fans expected to see after his career in Oklahoma City. In his four preseason games, Grant showed the ability to finish at the rim, as well as hit three-pointers with regularity (58.3 percent). The 25-year-old play three of the four games as a reserve, but saw himself in the starting lineup once, where he flourished. In his start against the Suns, Grant scored 22 points on 6-of-8 shooting, whilst logging the most minutes of any Nuggets player. In all four preseason games, Grant had a positive plus/minus, he demonstrated excellent free throw shooting ability (92.9 percent), he blocked four shots and recorded four steals. This offseason acquisition appears to be a perfect fit for the team and he will contribute to the roster.
Michael Porter Jr. had an excellent preseason in terms of scoring points in limited minutes. However, he was typically getting into the game late against the other team’s depth players. In the first preseason game, Porter scored nine points in 17 minutes, followed by 12 points in 12 minutes, 11 points in 21 minutes, and five points in 15 minutes.
Positives: MPJ appeared to be able to score from anywhere on the floor, and he confidently shot when the offense moved through him. He collected 18 rebounds during all four games. He also got to the free-throw line and recorded multiple steals and blocks in two of the games.
Some things that will need improvement: He shot just 1-of-7 from the three-point line, he recorded only three assists in totality, and the offense seemingly became stagnant once it got to him. The Nuggets offense is predicated on selfless play, ball movement, and taking what the defense gives you; and, when the ball stops, it can mess up the system.
MPJ’s role, for now, appears to be a bench scorer who will play significant minutes during the regular season with the second string. The best-case scenario is he challenges Will Barton for floor time, elevating both of their play, with Porter eventually winning out, playing sixth-man minutes to end the season.
Gary Harris had a fine preseason, gaining a positive plus/minus in three of the four games. He also scored 18 points in the third game, recorded at least one steal or block in each game, and shooting 33 percent from three. He did appear to have a hard time in the second game against the Clippers, where he was responsible for seven turnovers and a -11 plus/minus. But all starters played poorly, and Will Barton started without Torrey Craig suiting up.
Jamal Murray has high expectations this year after signing a $174 million contract during the offseason. He’s been a top-tier player in the game before, particularly last postseason, but 2019-20 needs to be the next step in his development toward being a top 10 point guard in the league.
He had a mediocre preseason, with the third game against the Phoenix Suns being his only good game. Against Phoenix, he scored 16 points, had eight rebounds and six assists in 28 minutes. Outside of that, he had a positive plus/minus in three of the four games, he had a positive assist to turnover ratio in three of the four games, he shot 9-of-11 from the free-throw line and recorded a steal or block in three of the four games. However, Murray shot just 22 percent from three and 38 percent from the floor, both of which are elements that the team hopes to see improve from a player getting paid like a superstar.
With starters traditionally showing low productivity, its probable they were taking it easy in the preseason to avoid injury in meaningless games. These games act as a warm-up for the regular season and provide an opportunity to practice against other starting-caliber players.
Jerami Grant and Michael Porter Jr. were the two players with the most to gain in the preseason, and they both showed their skills. Will Barton, on the other hand, appears to be the first man out of the rotation with Porter and Grant rising, and he underachieved by posting a negative plus/minus in three of the four games, shooting 14 percent from three, and shooting 4-of-9 from the free-throw line.
Jarred Vanderbilt, Vlatko Cancar, Juan Hernangomez, and Bol Bol will probably round out the 15-man regular-season roster.
The Nuggets open up their season Oct. 23 at the Moda Center against the Portland Trailblazers in a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Semifinals.