Mike Malone may know what the Denver Nuggets rotation will look like, but the rest of us are still in the dark. Three of Dig In Denver’s writers enter the reckless speculation zone.
At the beginning of Denver Nuggets training camp, head coach Michael Malone announced position battles for both the starting point guard and the role of back up power forward. With the regular season fast approaching, Brendan Vogt, Brandon Ewing and Danny Kay offer some educated guesses as to how this depth chart will shake out.
Starting point guard
Vogt: It’s got to be Jamal Murray. It appeared, at least to me, that the Nuggets wanted Mudiay to win this job. He has the highest defensive upside, he has the best passing ability of the three and his lack of shooting is less of an issue in such a high powered offensive unit. Despite wasting numerous opportunities to prove himself the rightful starter, Denver has gone out of their way to give him more. But he hasn’t kept his turnovers down, something that has plagued his young career. And he failed to do enough to convince us that he’s a catch and shoot threat of any kind.While Mudiay has the tools to become an impact defender, he’s hardly developed into a shutdown player on that end.
Jameer Nelson was incredibly important to this team last year. But he doesn’t have the offensive ability nor the upside of Murray. Malone told us he knows who the starter is, but not the back up. I think we can assume then that Murray is our starter. There’s no way he falls to three in this depth chart.
Kay: Emmanuel Mudiay. Let me get one thing straight: I do not think Jameer Nelson has a realistic chance of being the starter. Nelson is arguably the least talented player amongst the three competing for the starting role. His veteran presence on the starting rotation has lost significant value with the addition of Millsap. So for me it comes down to a two man race between Mudiay and Murray.
Mudiay improved both his shot and his passing, allowing him to post strong +/- numbers this preseason, aside from the loss to San Antonio. He can flow properly within the starting rotation’s offensive scheme and not he’s not a liability on defense. Although Murray had flashes of greatness this preseason, he also appeared to be a potential weak point on defense. The effort is there but the results are not. Malone said he wants his starting guard to be an impact defender. Only Mudiay can fill that role.
Ewing: Jamal Murray needs to be the Denver Nuggets starting point guard when they open the regular season in Utah next Wednesday. Murray had a strong preseason and has shown the ability to run both the first and second units with effectiveness. The aggressiveness Murray brings on the defensive end of the floor is something neither Jameer Nelson nor Emmanuel Mudiay bring to the table. Murray’s playmaking ability—and the fact that he’s 100 percent healthy to start the year—vaults him over his competitors. If Murray can cut down on his turnovers and remain an adequate defender, he has the potential to be a key part of this Nuggets core for many years to come.
Back up point guard
Ewing: Emmanuel Mudiay had a strong start to camp and looked to be in contention for the starting point guard spot just a couple of weeks ago. Now, Mudiay may be on the outside looking in.
Veteran Jameer Nelson sat out most of training camp and the first two preseason games, allowing the youngsters to show what they can do. Murray played well and Mudiay continued to make the mistakes that have plagued him throughout his career. Turnovers and defensive woes are still what haunt Mudiay. Those factors alone are why I think Jameer Nelson should be the Nuggets back up point guard. Nelson isn’t flashy, but he does things the right way and plays with an effectiveness that the Nuggets second unit will require in order to be successful.
Kay: Jamal Murray. Murray’s passes look smooth, his shot silky, and his hustle admirable. This led to some big time scoring by the sophomore in the third preseason game against the Lakers where he put up 20 points. He has gotten the most time with the starting rotation and used this opportunity to show his ability to move without the ball and space the floor. Nelson is more of a traditional point guard, where he prefers the ball in his hand and to be making the pass.
The way I see the rotation working out is Emmanuel Mudiay starting, Murray coming in for Mudiay, and the Nelson coming in for Garry Harris and having Murray slide to the two. Will Barton and Juancho Hernangomez will get minutes at small forward, freeing up minutes for Murray at shooting guard. Plus, I feel confident that Murray can play effectively with either Nelson or Mudiay. I feel much less confident with Mudiay sharing the court with either Nelson or Barton.
Vogt: I think it’s going to be Jameer Nelson. The Nuggets are an abysmal defensive team that much we all know. And they don’t help themselves any with their propensity for turning the ball over. It was a problem for this team last year, it was a problem in the preseason and there’s no player for whom it is a bigger problem than Mudiay.
Whatever he does provide with his defensive upside and slash and kick ability is neutralized by his tendency to brick open shots and give the ball to the other team. Moreover, Mudiay’s lack of range results in a lack of ideal spacing. If he’s out there, Trey Lyles may have to be the four. It’s hard to envision a line up with Mason Plumlee, Kenneth Faried and Emmanuel Mudiay out there at the same time. Nelson is a safer pick and he gives them more options in the second unit.
Back Up Power Forward
Kay: Kenneth Faried. The Manimal is both a leader of the team and a Denver Nugget icon. Both players and fans love the guy. We all want to see him playing the minutes he deserves, and dammit, he deserves them. The guy has insane hustle. He always fights for rebounds and he brings a level of energy off the bench that no one else on the Nuggets roster can match. He led the team in scoring in the Nuggets routing of the Los Angeles Lakers in the third preseason game and blocked three shots in the loss to the Thunder.
Sure, he has his offensive and defensive limitations, but can you put a price on hustle? Trey Lyles hasn’t shown himself to be a significant improvement over Faried, so he’s yet to earn the overthrow of the fan favorite. Overall, the energy and enthusiasm that comes with playing Faried far outweighs whatever Lyles brings to the table.
Vogt: I think it will be Trey Lyles. Kenneth Faried is an absolute beast and a longtime favorite of Nuggets fans. But unfortunately, with the way this depth chart is shaking out, he appears to be the odd man out as well. This isn’t an assessment of Faried’s ability but rather his fit with the roster as it’s currently constructed. Faried does many things well but he doesn’t space the floor.
The back up power forward will be holding down the frontcourt alongside Plumlee. Plumlee is also very talented, and also void of any ability to stretch the defense. That may be a little easier to survive with guys like Juancho at the three, but the spacing isn’t ideal. Especially if the plan is to play Mudiay with the second unit. I like Trey’s ability to stretch the floor. Plus, Malone has emphasized an apparent budding chemistry between Lyles and Plumlee.
Ewing: This one’s tricky. Given his age, I feel as if Lyles has the most upside between the two. But Faried performed well in the preseason and has proven himself as an NBA starter. The back up power forward needs to have a strong relationship with center Mason Plumlee, and Lyles appears to be ahead of Faried in that department.
Give me Lyles as the back up, but really I wouldn’t use either of them too much if I didn’t have too. A nine man rotation may be what’s best for the Nuggets moving forward and that would leave both Faried and Lyles on the bench. Denver could stagger Millsap and Jokic, using Mason Plumlee and Juan Hernangomez as the stop gaps.
Malone has flirted with staggering his two stars and we may see that during the regular season.
Traded at the deadline
Vogt: Kenneth Faried. Faried wants to start. He won’t. The Nuggets need to shed a big contract to help free up some room for the inevitable Jokic extension. His contract fits the bill. It’s never easy to say goodbye to a fan favorite and Faried certainly has been one for quite some time. But it appears as if his expectations no longer match reality. Plus, this team simply has one too many power forwards. Darrell Arthur is a suitable candidate as well, and one that provides far less on the court than Faried. But he hasn’t declared himself worthy of starting while fighting just to secure the back up job. The Manimal could easily be gone by the deadline.
Ewing: This player has been at the center of trade rumors for a while now, so I’ll stick with Kenneth Faried. He survived the George Karl era, the Brian Shaw era and is entering his third season under Malone. The fact that Faried isn’t starting, isn’t likely to see minutes with Nikola Jokic and is fighting for back up minutes is troubling. Faried has insisted that he should start and that’s not going to happen here in Denver. If Faried is unhappy with his role then the Nuggets should move him sooner rather than later. There’s no telling what kind of return the Nuggets may get for Faried. But nonetheless he is the most likely Nugget to be moved by the NBA trade deadline.
Kay: Kenneth Faried. This one hurts. This one really hurts. Faried is everything you want in a basketball player. He’s a great guy in the locker room. He works hard. He contributes a ridiculous amount to not only building the Denver community, but the global community at large through his international philanthropy with NBA Cares. I love the guy and so does the rest of Denver. But it’s time to face the facts.
He simply does not fit with where the Nuggets are and where they are headed. The Manimal lacks the upside of the younger guys. Plus, his contract could be a major detriment to the process of building a championship level team. He deserves to finish his career with a team that would give him a chance to start.