Beat writer Mike Singer opens up the Nuggets Mailbag periodically throughout the season. Pose a Nuggets — or NBA — related question here.
With Jamal Murray out, I doubt that the remaining roster can go deep in the playoffs trying to win 125-123 games against higher seeds. Seems like their best chance to go deep is with really stout defense and a “good enough” offense without Jamal. As coach Michael Malone has said previously, let your defense start your offense. Don’t just be content trying to trade baskets.
— Bob, Centennial
Don’t look now but the Nuggets have the 12th-ranked defense in the NBA this season. Since the Aaron Gordon trade, they’re seventh overall defensively (and are 14-3). If the Nuggets are going to make any noise in the postseason, it’ll be because their defense buys them enough leeway to make up for losing Murray’s offense. Against the Pelicans on Wednesday night, the Nuggets were just 10-of-32 from 3-point range. But they forced 21 turnovers and racked up 14 steals.
Until Monte Morris returns, P.J. Dozier and Facu Campazzo are defensive upgrades to the starting lineup. New additions Austin Rivers and Shaq Harrison add two more defensive aces off the bench. The Nuggets have the pieces to be a stifling defensive squad. They can play big with JaVale McGee or play small and switch 1-4. Their defensive versatility gives them a shot, assuming their offensive foundation, built around Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr., continues to produce.
Why do you think JaVale McGee isn’t getting more minutes? Seemed especially noticeable in the Memphis game when their star player Ja Morant loves to take it to the rim. It would’ve been nice to have McGee’s defensive presence to limit or alter some of Morant’s scoring opportunities.
— @RobLowTV via Twitter
McGee was brought to Denver for his size and his championship experience. Since the deadline, Malone’s toughest job has been juggling the play of McGee, Paul Millsap and JaMychal Green. All three are veterans who expect to play yet can’t in Denver’s current configuration. One of those players may well get left out of the playoff rotation. My guess is it’s not going to be McGee because of his unique skillset, a matchup against a certain team (hello, Lakers!) and the fact that Millsap/Green have an overlapping skillset. Even a matchup against Dallas, (hello, Boban!) probably warrants McGee minutes.
Isn’t the third-quarter lulls the Nuggets consistently experience more a coaching issue than the players’ problem? Other teams make adjustments that the team fails to expect or react to. Malone sounds a little like George Karl throwing players under the bus when things go wrong.
— Andy, Bismarck
I genuinely don’t know what to make of the third-quarter lulls, but they’re real. The Nuggets have the No. 1 net-rating in first quarters, No. 7 in second quarters, No. 8 in fourth quarters … and are No. 24 in third quarters. Is that on Malone’s adjustments or lack thereof? Is that on the players for not mentally re-engaging to start the second half? For a while, Malone had the players leave the locker room early to try and get back in rhythm quicker. It’s perplexed the coaching staff as much as it perplexes other close observers.
With Michael Porter Jr.’s little brother committing to DU men’s basketball (and the family speaking at volume about loyalty) does that set up the perfect max offer and acceptance?
— @ry_garr via Twitter
It’s an interesting parallel to draw. Certainly, Coban committing to Denver can’t hurt Michael’s interest in staying here, but it’s probably way less consequential than say, how Porter feels his development has gone with the Nuggets. Denver was patient during Porter’s rehab following his second back surgery. Next, he was slowly integrated into the rotation last season before erupting in the Bubble seeding games. This season, he emerged as an offensive focal point even before injuries mandated he rise to the occasion.
Recently he indicated how far his relationship with Malone has come. And after Wednesday’s win, he spoke about how he “accepted a role” within the Nuggets’ hierarchy and how he’s “loved doing it.” Despite some occasional tough love, I also think Porter appreciates on some level how Malone has demanded he become a better defender. Porter is going to command a max salary, in my opinion, and the Nuggets, just as they did with Murray, would be wise to give it to him earlier rather than wait until next offseason.
With the Nuggets losing Will Barton for the foreseeable future, would they bring in another player knowing they would have to cut somebody? Or is this who they’re going with from here on out?
— Roger, Centennial
All indications I’ve gotten (barring more injuries) is that this is the roster the Nuggets are riding with into the postseason. If Morris is able to return over the final 10 games of the regular season from his hamstring strain and Barton is able to return at some point, either late in the regular season or early in the playoffs, the Nuggets will have their reinforcements. Fortunately, outside of Murray, neither injury was believed to be season-ending.
Will Barton (pun intended) be back in the regular season?
— Jon, Golden
Willy B. back? It’s a good question. See above.
Are you surprised by how well the Nuggets have done in the stretch after Jamal Murray went down, followed by Monte Morris and Will Barton? How far do you think this team could go in the playoffs?
— Marena Dangremond, Troy, Mich.
No, I’m not shocked. This team has a ton of resiliency and still has the MVP favorite and an emerging star in MPJ to carry the offense. Since Murray went down, both P.J. Dozier and Facu Campazzo have posted career-highs in scoring, and Aaron Gordon has played two of his best games as a Nugget since Barton’s injury.
The 7-1 record is fantastic, but that included two wins against Houston, two others against Memphis, who was on its longest road trip in years, and two nail-biters against Portland and New Orleans. Not to be a wet blanket, but if the Nuggets were going to hang on to their No. 4 seed, they had to win these games. The upcoming stretch, against six consecutive playoff teams, will be even more telling.
Any chance you see Austin Rivers starting come playoff time? Say in place of P.J. Dozier if the injuries are still the same for Monte Morris and Will Barton? I only ask since he has that playoff experience.
— Kevin Hart, American Fork, Utah
I don’t think Rivers is going to start, but I do see him getting real postseason minutes, which is somewhat amazing when you consider he wasn’t on an NBA team two weeks ago. His defense has been stellar, as has his locker room demeanor. Malone has professed confidence that his 3-point shooting, which is hovering at around 17% through five games, will come around.
Why don’t the bench players get more time? I don’t think Bol Bol is some amazing player who deserves minutes every game, but why don’t we see him more, especially during games where it’s a more favorable matchup off the bench over a guy like JaVale McGee?
— Bard, Castle Rock
Malone has enough issues to deal with in terms of allocating minutes, shoring up his postseason rotations, adjusting on the fly to numerous injuries than fretting about finding Bol minutes this late into the season. If he were to dip into the frontcourt reserves, Zeke Nnaji has proven far more trustworthy defensively in a limited sample, anyway. From here on out, Malone’s probably going to lean heavily on his starters until seeding and a first-round matchup are secured.
How many of the current players are rentals? And how many do you think the Nuggets sign for the next season?
— Luka Matic, Australia
The Nuggets are going to have an interesting offseason with free agents Paul Millsap, JaMychal Green (player option), Will Barton (player option), JaVale McGee and other significant roster decisions on deck. As for the newcomers, Harrison and Rivers both have made a significant impression in a short time. Harrison has fantastic defensive upside, and Rivers might be useful next season while Murray rehabs his ACL. I wouldn’t be surprised to see both stick around.
Any update for the Marquette faithful on how Markus Howard’s experience in the league has been in Year 1? Rapid Report it for us 🙂
— Marky S., Chicago
Appreciate the question, Marky. Due to the nature of Zoom calls, I haven’t been able to talk with Markus but in watching him interact with his teammates on the bench it’s clear he has the respect of his guys. Also, in watching him during warm-ups, his professionalism is obvious. Now if he can start connecting on a few more 3-pointers, maybe Malone will trust him a bit more with real minutes.
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