With four-time All-Star Paul Millsap out for the next three months, the Denver Nuggets need to find ways to win without him.
Denver Nuggets power forward Paul Millsap underwent surgery this week to repair a torn ligament in his left wrist. The operation was a success, but Millsap will still be sidelined for several months while he recovers.
The injury is a big blow to a Nuggets team that signed the star 32-year-old over the summer with hopes of becoming a playoff team. Millsap’s veteran presence, leadership and defensive capabilities all complemented Denver’s young, talented core.
Now, Denver will have to rely on its budding stars, Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris, to keep the team’s record afloat while Millsap is out. More importantly, the Nuggets need to correct several recent trends that have been losing them games.
Here are some of the biggest keys for Denver to survive while their star player is on the mend.
1. Take care of the ball
Both before and after Millsap got hurt, turnovers have been a major issue for Denver this season. The Nuggets are currently third-worst in the NBA when its comes to coughing up the ball and have averaged a league-worst 20 turnovers per game in their last three contests.
— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) November 29, 2017
The problem lies with Denver’s young guards, who are too often caught sleeping by sneaky defenders. Murray, Mudiay and Barton all need to be smarter with their dribbles and not let the ball get poked away so often. They also need pass the ball cleaner; Denver sports fans see enough interceptions on Sundays, they don’t need more from the Nuggets.
Because the Nuggets offensive scheme has an emphasis on ball movement, not turning the ball over is essential for consistent scoring. Not having Millsap means having one less smart, facilitating big man to help run the offense smoothly. Luckily for the Nuggets, they still have Nikola Jokic, who’s only turnovers come from passes that outsmart his own teammates.
All the opposing fast breaks are also hurting the defense, which is already weaker with Millsap’s absence.
2. Toughen up on the road
Maybe the Nuggets have an uncomfortable charter plane, maybe they eat too much In-N-Out when they head west. Maybe they didn’t stay at Holiday Inn Express.
Whatever the reason is, the Nuggets have been performing substantially worse this year playing in cities not named Denver. The team is currently 3-7 on the road and has dropped five of its last six away games.
The most notable difference is a lack of energy on the court. The Nuggets seem a lot more sluggish in opposing arenas, failing to fight for rebounds and not pushing the pace. They also don’t shoot as well, dropping from a 49.8 field goal percentage at home to a 42.6 on the road. Denver will have to find a way to fix these issues if it wants to succeed in hostile environments.
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) November 23, 2017
The Nuggets don’t have to become road warriors, but they do need to pick up some key victories to keep their win total in check while Millsap is out. If Denver can continue to dominate at home, that’s great, but road wins will be the key to avoiding the dreaded 7 or 8 seed.
3. Use the depth wisely
One of the biggest storylines for the Nuggets coming into this season was their log jam at the power forward position. After trading for Trey Lyles, drafting Tyler Lydon, and signing Millsap over the summer, the team suddenly had six guys at the four spot.
Millsap was the obvious starter, but without him, its not very clear who should get the most minutes. So far, Malone has experimented with Kenneth Faried, Juancho Hernangomez and Lyles in the starting role. He’s also toyed with a variety of different lineups, trying to find one that compensates for the lack of Millsap.
Malone has a lot of different skill sets to choose from here. Hernangomez is the best shooter while Faried brings more strength inside. Lyles does a little bit of everything, but doesn’t really excel in any specific area. None of them are outstanding defenders.
The key for the Nuggets will be to do their homework and think hard on how to utilize these different players in different situations. Unfortunately, that might mean more experiments from Malone. But if Denver can figure out a good formula for when to play who, they’ll be a lot better off than they are now.
In other words, the Nuggets need to replicate what they did late last season, when they had the number one offense in the league without Millsap.