I don’t think there’s ever been a time where you could ever put the Denver Nuggets into the conversation for winning the trade deadline. Well, this year, they are firmly in that conversation, if not the front runner. They gained two potential rotation pieces without giving up a single one (Gary Harris injured and no timeline on return). The rotation? What an interesting question, particularly with this team.
Before the trade deadline, they had some pretty big holes. Who was going to give Nikola Jokic a break and not sink the team? Who’s gonna be able to guard a big wing? Well, both of those needs are addressed and well done at this point. The issue, a log jam of effective rotation capable players that all can have a role on teams and even fit holes on this team. The starting lineup has four of its five starters fully solidified and could form a potential big four if Michael Porter Jr. continues to progress.
As the season starts to make a push towards the playoffs, and Denver’s log jam of talent, it’s a huge question about who’s in and who’s out. Then who’s out when the rotation shortens for the playoffs. The answer goes against all precedence and norms. Like a common running back room in football, the Nuggets could be best served running the bench mob by committee.
Denver has four of its five starters fully solidified. Jokic is looking like the best player in the world right now and among the MVP front runners (clear choice to me). Putting shooters and slashers around him is the perfect type of offense. Jamal Murray and Porter are deadeye shooters from all over the floor. Once Aaron Gordon acclimates to his new team, could be the ideal slashing type of player and the first guy to firmly play in the dunker spot for him since Kenneth Faried. Those four should be extremely fun. The question is whom you put with them. The two primary candidates are Will Barton and Monte Morris. Both have very intriguing attributes that could make them fit very well.
Morris is a pure point guard and king of the assist/TO ratio statistic. Murray has shown to be most efficient when starting next to a pure point guard. The team’s highest-rated five-man lineup had a Morris/Murray backcourt. He brings a certain level of consistency and comfort to that position that the team needs. He’s also a solid scorer and can get to the basket while having a decent outside shot as well. Head coach Mike Malone has alluded to returning Morris to the starting lineup when he returns from his shoulder injury, however, Barton has made the most of this opportunity in the starting lineup, which makes this an even tougher decision.
For Will, he draws a lot of criticism, mostly fair criticism. He takes some wild shots and plays out of control at times. He has some really bad live-ball turnovers too. All of this is true, but somehow always ends up on the team’s most efficient lineups. He’s a total gunner, which comes in handy during those times when the team gets a little shot-shy, which happens too often. He can create shots for himself and he’s an underrated passer. When his shot is going it’s a big piece for the team and shows why he’s stuck around for so many years. Neither guy has a ton of defensive upside, so it comes down to what they bring offensively.
Proposed Starting Lineup: Morris/Murray/Gordon/Porter Jr./Jokic
The Bench Mob
It’s time to get crazy. After Gordon and Porter, they don’t have any size at the three. If Barton starts, you don’t have a true scorer, more just guys who can score. You have a glut of guards that deserve minutes. Traditionally, teams are going to cut rotations down to nine for the playoffs. Rarely, a team will have 10. Malone is among the shortlist of recent examples back in 2019.
Trouble is, there are about seven guys to fill five spots. However, based on the matchup, this could be a mix-and-match situation. The only real guaranteed spot is Barton. The main reasoning for Barton off the bench he’d be the only true scorer no matter who else you put on the floor. That sixth man role will be critical.
At point guard, you have PJ Dozier and Facundo Campazzo. Both have brought a ton of value to the team in different situations and ways. There are situations and matchups where you could have both playing for that game. Dozier having played 1-4 on the floor makes him a lot easier to play given his versatility. Dozier will likely be given the upper hand given his size, but discounting the impact Facu has on the game, even at his size shouldn’t be underestimated. There are situations where either could get the nod, even with in-game adjustments.
The new addition of JaVale McGee is a big one. It gives Denver something they haven’t had since, well, himself. A true rim protector and shot blocker. This team is one of the worst in the league on defense around the rim and the restricted area. McGee should help with that. Nonetheless, he should be viewed as a purely matchup-based option.
Other guys that could play instead could be Paul Millsap, JaMychal Green, Zeke Nnaji, or Vlatko Cancar.
Cancar is interesting because we haven’t seen a lot of him, but he’s shown to be a functional guy that can fit anywhere in the frontcourt. He’s a brick wall on defense. He’s worth a look on guys like Zion Williamson whose game is heavily based on physicality. However, there doesn’t seem to be a big role for him other than being the head cheerleader and the best friend to the best player, which for a Euro player may be bigger than people realize.
Nnaji hasn’t gotten a ton of run, but he’s shown to be far more NBA-ready than anyone expected. He’s rock solid and seems like a Millsap remake. He played center at Arizona and played 3-5 in Denver so far. He’s likely on the outside looking in but should be considered for minutes in certain situations.
The grit comes with “Dad” Millsap and Green. Millsap has seemed to age exponentially over the last year. He just doesn’t move the way he has. The man has been a staple on this team and taught them how to win as a key veteran presence. It may be time to have a tough conversation about him not playing very much anymore. His IQ shouldn’t be discounted, but he doesn’t seem to have it physically anymore. Reports say that he’s ready to serve whatever role the team needs, and that may need to be taken to its full extent.
Green is the main guy that would be interchangeable with Millsap. He doesn’t have the IQ that Millsap has and is a worse defender because of it, however, physically he should get the nod as he is ready to take that brunt on defense and has a more capable offensive game. All in all, Green is a Millsap-esque player with less of the IQ.
The bench is super complicated as there are a lot of matchup-based decisions to be made on a nightly or series basis. No matter what, it’s near impossible to cut the rotation down to ten and it’s illogical to cut it down to nine given the assets the Nuggets have on the roster.
Proposed Bench Mob: Campazzo or Dozier/Barton/Dozier or Nnaji/Green or Millsap/McGee or Green
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