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Stiffs Roundtable: Media Day, Training Camp, and Preseason

In this week's Roundtable, the Stiffs discuss their takeaways from Media Day, the upcoming preseason opener against the Los Angeles Clippers, and their biggest questions going forward.

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The Denver Stiffs Roundtable is a new weekly series where members of our staff share their thoughts on the latest Nuggets buzz. 

This was a busy week for the Denver Nuggets.  The team began the week with Media Day, right here in Denver at Pepsi Center.  From there the team traveled down to Colorado Springs for a remarkably short, 3-day training camp.  The team added former rookie of the year and NBA champion Mike Miller on Wednesday. Lastly, they'll finish up the week tomorrow with the very first preseason game.  Lots to talk about in this week's Denver Stiffs Roundtable.  Let's get to it!

  1. What stood out to you the most about the Denver Nuggets Media Day?

Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): The Kenneth Faried interview.  I thought his interview was a combination of excited about Coach Michael Malone and subtly noting his displeasure with former Coach Brian Shaw. It probably was more difficult to pick up on if you were just reading his comments, but for those of us who got to hear the tone is his voice, the relief he is feeling to not have to play under Shaw was very evident.

Dan Lewis (@minutemandan): The Nuggets were excited about this season. I also think it's a sign of maturity that many of the veterans acknowledge their role on the team. The last two seasons, I think the players felt like they were supposed to be competitive, but they were so miserable playing for Brian Shaw that they couldn't get it done on the court. Now that the team has clearly shifted into a quasi-rebuild, veterans seem to realize they can find a place on this team if they can weather the burden of losing a few games due to inexperience in exchange for a better future. The veterans seem to have a "Hey, we might just surprise you, nobody believes in us but us" attitude, and the young players have a "I'm ready to prove that I belong in the league" attitude. Excitement doesn't put points on the board or get stops on defense, but faith is a powerful agent for change. If the Nuggets players have faith in themselves, the coaching staff, and the front office, that could go a long way in determining future success for this organization.

Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): Michael Malone.  Every time I see Malone speak he's got good insights and a ton of polish.  He's aggressively precise, which is why his gaffe about Nurkic being delayed more than the Nuggets have officially announced made me smile. The Nuggets themselves seem to enjoy him already and feel supported (a tenet of Malone from the Sacramento Kings as well, even though he has a reputation as a tough coach to go along with it).  There was no mention of our former offense being "cute," no denigrating of team members past or present.  Malone reiterated that he wants to play defense, which may or may not work with this team's current construction, and build an offense around the other team's misses.  As long as he can convince this team to play their best version of defense and run a better (and more up-tempo) offense than he gifted the Kings with, I expect to enjoy this Nuggets team - growing pains and all.

  1. What are you most looking forward to seeing in Friday night's game against the Clippers?

Mikash: Obviously getting another look at Emmanuel Mudiay is definitely worth looking forward to, but I've been fascinated with Nikola Jokic ever since he started tearing up Europe last year.  His passing ability is especially intriguing.  From the comments made by Coach Malone on media day it doesn't seem likely that Jokic will get a lot of minutes in the regular season so I'm looking forward to getting to see him play while the games don't count.

Lewis: By far and away my answer in Emmanuel Mudiay. So far the only time we've seen him in a regular season jersey has been for photo opportunities. Mudiay was one of the best players in all of Summer League, but now it's time for him to get action against actual NBA starting lineups. I want to see how Mudiay responds to bigger, faster, stronger, and smarter players, guys that have been around the block a few more times. We're still about a month away from games where the outcome actually means something, and Mudiay will need every minute to prepare and improve. Here's hoping Mudiay gets at least one good play in against Chris Paul, and doesn't get embarrassed by his counterpart on the other hand.


Gross: I'm sure it's got to be Mudiay, but mostly I want to see how we play.  What does our embryonic offense look like? How are we going to fill the center spot without Nurkic for a while?  The Clippers have a lot of really good players and are a nice measuring stick for how much we've processed in a short amount of time.  Installing new plans of attack on both sides of the court and washing away the stink of the last two years in Denver is a large task.  I don't expect our first game to be perfect, but watching the way in which we approach the task is what I'm curious about.  This is the first step in the next phase of Nuggets basketball, and if things go well it's also the first step in putting our title contender on the court.  Who wouldn't be psyched to see that?

  1. What one question do you have about the team (or a player) that you hope gets answered before the season begins?

Mikash: Along with I think the vast majority of Nuggets fans, I want to know who's going to be starting at the center position while Jusuf Nurkic works his way back from surgery.  J.J.Hickson seems the most likely candidate (and yes, I just heard the collective groan of Denver Stiffs readers all the way from my apartment in Loveland) but Coach Malone also gave us a hint that Joffrey Lauvergne is in the running for some minutes at the 5.

Lewis: If Gary Harris can earn a spot in the starting lineup. Harris looked like a bust last season, and if he has a sophomore slump, it will be hard to justify playing him at all. It's nice that Harris was able to show some degree of comfort driving to the rim during Summer League, but there is no way that Michael Malone can ever play Harris and Mudiay together if one of them isn't able to knock down shots from the perimeter at a league average rate. If Harris is able to be successful against starting guards in the preseason, then there is a case for him continuing to start during the regular season and learning against the best the league can offer. If his jumper is shaky and he shrinks on defense, then he'll have to spend a season in development, studying game film of limited minutes against backups in blowouts. It doesn't help the Nuggets organization to start Randy Foye at the beginning of the season, but if Harris isn't ready, what other choice will the coaching staff have? Gary Harris needs to be capable of starting alongside Emmanuel Mudiay on October 28 against the Houston Rockets.

On that note, can't think of a much better model to go against in the first preseason game than J.J. Redick. If Harris was able to become 80 percent of the shooter that Redick is, the Nuggets will have themselves an extremely reliable player at shooting guard. I would be more than pleased if that was Harris' future level of production.

Gross: Whether Malone is just paying lip service to offense and intelligent-running to take full advantage of our home court. Shaw talked about combining those things too, and we know how that went. Watching Shaw draw up offensive plays apparently by twisting the knobs on an Etch-A-Sketch until they fell off was miserable for me, and I wanted an offensive coach who actually understood how to get his players to do more than just heave up ill-conceived long twos with 15 seconds left on the shot clock.  Malone is not an offensive coach, but the guy who is running our offense will be Chris Fleming. I happen to like a lot of his concepts, and if anybody would know how to use a roster stuffed with guys from Europe it should be a European coach.  But whether what he wants to do can be enacted efficiently in the NBA out of the gate - by this roster - is a huge question.

Grinding guys on defense can work at altitude, but I'm not really interested in a Nuggets brickfest on the other end.  How well we can transition from defense to offense, and whether we can fix our previous half-court woes, will determine whether we are fighting for the 8th seed or home court in the next couple years.  Malone talks a great game, but the pre-season will hopefully put some weight behind his words.