Over the last couple of weeks, it has become glaringly obvious that the Denver Nuggets have a logjam of talent at the Forward position.
Quite frankly it’s having a negative impact on the team. The Denver Nuggets are 5-5 in their last 10 games after starting 12-3 in their first 15 games. The bench rotations and minutes distribution have been anything but inconsistent and it’s showing through the bench’s inconsistent play.
The starting five for the team is abundantly clear and there will be zero changes to that lineup for the season. Gary Harris, Will Barton, Paul Millsap (though currently fighting an injury), Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray are incredible together and will continue to be one of the best five man units in the NBA. The issue lies in the bench where the Nuggets easily have seven players deserving of significant minutes.
The back half of the rotation where the Nuggets have Malik Beasley the former 19th overall selection. His draft partner Juancho Hernangomez was selected 15th overall of the same draft, then Michael Porter Jr as a 7th overall draft pick, a defensive specialist in Torrey Craig, and newcomer Jerami Grant.
It is fair to say that Monte Morris has a sound grasp on playing time as the point guard for the second unit, and he does a great job. Mason Plumlee is the only other center on the roster with Bol Bol not suiting up and has definitely earned his playing time. With only two centers and two point guards on the roster, the rotation at those positions is set.
Malik Beasley, last season, shot 40 percent from three, played great in the playoffs and seemingly hit every open three, helping the Nuggets bench tremendously in terms of scoring production. This season his three point percentage is still 40%, however his field goal percentage is only 38% meaning he’s shooting better from three than from everywhere else. He’s also the second lowest player efficiency rated player on the roster with a PER of 8.10.
Juancho Hernangomez this season has proven to be a capable shooter, a hustler on defense, an an all out energy guy. His teammates constantly comment on how good a teammate he is and how hes loved by everyone. You love to see him have success, but his player efficiency rating is the lowest on the team at 7.48.
Michael Porter Jr. is the player that most people are definitely ready to see play a role that garners him over 20 minutes a game because of the amount of hype surrounding him out of high school as well as this offseason. Coach Mike Malone has repeatedly said that he needs to find more minutes for Porter Jr. and stated that he is too talented to not put on the floor. Then you look at the stat sheet and see he’s averaging 8.9 minutes per game the lowest out of these five players.
Part of the issue with getting Porter Jr. minutes, is that he is buried on the depth chart and Malone believes that in order to earn the respect of his teammates. To keep the peace in the locker room, Porter Jr. needs to fight, scratch and claw his way into the rotation.
Torrey Craig is a player that I believe is getting the short end of the stick as the team dabbles with playing time and minutes distributions. Craig earned his playing time in the playoffs last season where he was absolutely a key piece to the teams playoff success on the defensive side of the ball.
His defensive prowess and shutdown defender status were able to nearly remove players from entire offensive possessions. This season he’s had offensive woes that resulted in his dip in minutes, playing 13.8 minutes per game, shooting 25 percent from three, 54% from the free throw line, and the teams third lowest PER of 8.99 is not good enough.
Finally, this offseason the Nuggets traded the Oklahoma City Thunder for Jerami Grant who has stepped in and easily been one of the Nuggets best bench players. Grant is playing 22 minutes per game average, shooting 38.4 percent from three point range, 46.2 percent from the field, and he’s a high energy player that blocks shots, gets rebounds, and electrifies the arena with big dunks.
It is clear that you cannot play all five players, who play the same position, equal minutes especially with Will Barton eating up 32.6 minutes per game as the incumbent starter. Ranking the players by their player efficiency rating should be distributed in this order:
Michael Porter Jr. – 13.97
Jerami Grant – 12.78
Torrey Craig – 8.99
Malik Beasley – 8.10
Juancho Hernangomez – 7.48
That being said, Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez are too good to be rotting on a bench that is too deep to give them minutes, and should be shopped around for trade value. Kevin Love, JJ Reddick, Bogdan Bogdanovic are some players that could potentially come in and impact the Nuggets rotation while alleviating the pressure of having five forwards that play similar roles on the roster. A true sixth man, bench shooting guard, or veteran leadership are the roles the Nuggets should look to fill.