The Denver Nuggets easily handled the Chicago Bulls on Thursday, 112-94 in a game in which both sets of starters played limited minutes. The Nuggets bench took over the game in a 37-point second quarter explosion, while the Bulls found that these Nuggets play defense out to the three-point line and took away many of the open looks that the Bulls were feasting on in their opening game. Chicago started slowly in that game as well but were too far behind in the second half in Boulder to contemplate a serious run.
While there was another slow shooting start for the home team and some lapses after halftime especially as the end of the bench hit the floor, Denver got a combined 32 points and 13 boards out of their young center combination of Joffrey Lauvergne and Nikola Jokic while Mike Miller and Gary Harris dropped in six 3-pointers to pace the outside attack. We can only hope for that much inside-out balance when the regular season arrives. So many players did so many good things that it deserved its own post to discuss.
The quick recap for this game is over here, but here is an extended overview of the individual efforts by the Nuggets since it still wasn't televised in the Denver market.
Emmanuel Mudiay - Marginal scoring night for the big point guard, but he did some other things well. His 7:2 assist-to-turnover ratio was where Malone wanted it, even though it felt like he was leaving plays out there. The bench led by Jameer took more chances and was better rewarded for it, but after two high-turnover games it was nice to see him take care of the rock.
Mudiay had a terrific play where he blocked a shot out on the perimeter and ran all the way under the hoop to also collect it. He does a few things every game that let you know he's the real deal, but pulled the reins back a little too much in this game. He was told to play under control so he did - but the lack of risk-taking didn't help the starters all that much. He still had his flashes with the block, some nice passes and body control, but he was walking the ball up a little too often and didn't push for plays that could have been made. Too controlled is not better than too loose. He's still trying to find his happy medium.
Randy Foye - Foye had 4 points on a couple of second half buckets, 2 rebounds, and one assist. And if the stat-line didn't say that was so I'd say he had exactly as much impact as Will Chandler (DNP - rest reasons). This was Foye's third consecutive game playing the invisible man, while Barton and Harris both came off the bench to do good things. Randy's putting his starting job in jeopardy if he doesn't step it up.
Danilo Gallinari - Danilo got to the rim nicely and had some terrific passes, particularly a pass around the back of his opponent to Faried, who streaked to the hoop. His hands are everywhere in the passing lanes and on defense, to the point of frustrating Mirotic into a foul at one point. He quietly put up double-digits in points but did his job and helped keep things together in the first quarter when shots weren't falling for the starting lineup. Gallo's gonna be a key to a lot of our seasonal success, even on his quiet days.
Kenneth Faried - a quiet night for Kenneth, as he hit the half with 5 points and 5 boards and finished the game with just 7 and 6 in 19 minutes. He was pretty invested when Joakim Noah was in the game, showing off a block and a tip for control on the same play even, but once Noah left the floor a lot of Faried's energy did too. I don't mind him conserving the majority of his fire for when the games matter, but I'd love for him to be a little more consistent - even if it is just preseason. His bear-wrestle with Noah for a rebound that wound up with Faried landing on Noah's leg was an excellent bit of regular-season energy, though.
Joffrey Lauvergne - the beastly Mack truck that is Joffrey Lauvergne rolled on tonight, with a game-high 18 points and 8 rebounds in only 18 minutes of court time. He was basically unstoppable on offense by anyone on the court, whether he was running the high pick-and-roll with Jameer Nelson to perfection or leading his own break down the court and slamming home the dunk. Sooner or later teams are going to start game-planning for him, and that is exciting in and of itself. He still has work to do defensively as he got schooled by a Mirotic drive and Noah backed him down early, but those are in-game lessons. Based on the rest of his game, those lessons are absolutely worth paying for.
Nikola Jokic - He is casually skilled, which is strange for a rookie. He gets good rebounds with no apparent urgency, his shot is practically solemn, but man it's all pretty when it comes together. Jokic needs to get stronger, but he's got a great nose for the ball, good hands and awareness, and gets tall out there without having to flail and jump around. He doesn't throw himself off balance, using only the athleticism he needs to (like Mudiay in that way). Not all big men properly use their reach but Jokic - not the most athletic big yet - reaches up for passes and boards as well as any.
The dropped jaws of the Bulls announcers when Jokic took his fourth quarter three was funny. "We don't know if he has effective range out there..." Spoiler alert: he does. There's a lot to like in the Adriatic MVP, even as you can see how much nuance he has to learn. Hess will get him in shape - his basketball IQ and good hands are a delight in the early going.
Jameer Nelson - Ran the point pretty much to perfection in this one. He took shots when he needed to but orchestrated a beautiful series of plays with his teammates young and old. He and Miller played together like old friends, and he ran some nice pick-and-roll sets with Joffrey and Jokic, as well as getting Jokic involved nearer the rim. He took care of the bench guys and was whipping passes fully across the court, initiating a ton of ball movement that Malone was very fond of in his post-game presser. Jameer looks every bit the contributing vet and mentor that we're paying him to be.
Gary Harris - Gary had a rough stretch in the second half with a ton of fouls, but he went 3-for-4 from beyond the arc, gave as good as he got from Butler when he had to defend him, rebounded well and played with some more of that confidence he was lacking all of last year. It was another nice performance from Gary, and the third game in a row he outplayed Foye. I don't want to play Harris next to Mudiay a lot against starters due to the combined lack of experience in that backcourt, but if Harris wants to make that a hard call then so be it.
Mike Miller - What a breath of fresh air. Playing the stretch-four role for much of his time on the court, he did his job with 3s, good passes, and even some useful defense. He helped drive that 2nd quarter with his shot-making and passing, and he seems as aware of where he's supposed to be and what he's supposed to be doing as any Nugget, which is impressive since he's only been with the team for 10 days or so. Everything Foye hasn't been, Miller was in this game. I'm looking forward to seeing more.
Will Barton - Will logged the most minutes of any Nugget in the game, and filled up his stat-line doing it. He had some calls go against him early, picked up a tech for arguing, and was generally out of sorts in his first few minutes. Barton loosened up in the second half, found his rhythm and played with nice bounce and going right around defenders to the rack. Good shots, good drives, good passes, all with his signature energy. Barton is gonna get a lot of minutes for this Nuggets team. He and Harris both keep notching the little victories under the new coaching staff.
Nick Johnson - got 3 fouls in just a couple of minutes of playing time, lost his man around screens multiple times, didn't rebound, shot poorly and had one good play - a pass to Mudiay as Nick was leaping out of bounds. He didn't make a great impression if he's trying to make this roster. I'm sure we don't want to cut his guaranteed salary, but if he's not gonna do anything of note then it's hard to keep him. Erick Green had a better night just sitting on the bench... not that it seems to be helping Erick.
Oleksiy Pecherov - Wow... 7 shots in 7 minutes, 4 of them threes that he botched, couldn't box out or jump over a shoelace and couldn't grab a defensive rebound to save his life. Pretty convincingly played himself out of extra playing time this preseason.
Matt Janning - He got in the game, but did precisely nothing. I wouldn't hold out hope for a lot of return engagements with the way others are playing.
Erick Green - DNP - CD, which pretty much says it all in a blowout. Either that, or we have a super secret plan to stash him and are working out the details. Let's hope for that.
I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about Mike Malone. He's definitely got buy-in on defense, and is living up to his word on letting the players run the floor after playing it. Malone had his guys playing with energy and focus for large swaths of the game, but wasn't afraid to call timeouts like Denver was down 4 instead of up 20. I love him using the teaching moments to keep the guys focused and get it right in the moment rather than in the film room later.
He called a timeout with 90 seconds left in the game because the scrubs, most of whom will never be NBA regulars, weren't doing what he wanted. As he said after the game:
"There were some great spurts where we played really good basketball, where the ball moved and didn't stick." That was the second quarter he was talking about. But the teaching timeouts? "I'm never satisfied...and I want us to be great. And to be great you can't develop bad habits."
Malone refuses to settle, even in the preseason, for less than everyone's best effort and focus. That's a single-mindedness worth appreciating. Malone, to use a Karl phrase, never cheats the game. That will serve the Nuggets well going forward.
Overall? I'll take another quote from Malone's post-game presser:
"Great effort, good spurts, a lot of room to grow."
Can't argue with that.