With the holidays in full gear, there's a lot to look forward to. This is especially true if you're a fan of the Denver Nuggets. Jusuf Nurkic and Emmanuel Mudiay are nearing their return to the court, and fans are excited to see both of those players back in the rotation. But will they be able to help the team right away? Regardless of whether or not they can, their return will make for a great present this holiday season.
Q: Will Mudiay’s return make a negative or positive impact on the team? Will the Nuggets have a better chance to win games with him, or will they falter a little once he comes back?
Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): His return will definitely be positive for the organization as a whole. He’s the face of the franchise and it’s always better to have the face on the court rather than not. I imagine having him back will have a positive impact in the locker room as well, he’s part of that family and I would assume his teammates will embrace his return. I do think they also have an increased chance of wins. No one is denying that Mudiay has been going through rookie growing pains and sometimes that hurts the team, but with no true 3rd point guard on the roster Mudiay is still much better at the helm than the alternatives.
Gordon Gross(@GMoneyNuggs): Mudiay and Nelson is a better combo than Nelson and Foye. Mudiay has a lot to learn still - and considering his eFG% is .341 he’d better learn it - but he still has bits of magic on the court. It should positively impact the team both in the wins column and in future considerations as well. There are other point guards who would help the Nuggets win more immediately, but none of them are available to Denver. Ride with your future; best case he improves and the Nuggets win, worst case he stagnates this year and Denver gets another high draft pick.
Kayla Osby (@nuggetchica): I agree with Zach and Gordon. The fact that we had to play last night with no real point guard (although Randy Foye did fill in exceptionally) is reason enough to count down the days until Mudiay’s return. Although he may not always play well, he seems to have great chemistry with a number of players and that alone improves the team. His vision and passing ability will help the Nuggets tremendously, and hopefully his turnovers will decrease as the season goes on.
Q: What’s the best Christmas present the Nuggets can give you this week?
Mikash: An announcement as to the exact game Jusuf Nurkic is going to return, or at least is aiming to return. He’s been cleared for contact, and has been participating in shootarounds but as coach Malone told us in the latest CSG video, he’s still having his minutes restricted in practice and they still need to see him go through a full out practice with no ill effects before they will let him play. I’m not asking for him to start tomorrow but I would like to know what the actual target date is for piece of mind.
Gross: Zach’s sounds good to me. Telling us when Nurkic is actually going to see the floor in a real game would be a nice present. I’d like Mudiay to get back on the court, myself. Nurkic is going to have to round into form but Mudiay needs to get back out there and learn. He has the hardest job on the court, and is the youngest guy on the team. He needs all the reps he can get. I hope this time off has been good to him and he learned something sitting beside Malone for several games just watching the action. His learning curve along with Nurkic’s will determine the course of the Nuggets for a very long time. I want to get back to climbing that curve as soon as possible.
Osby: Winning at least two games on this road trip. I know, it’s a lot to ask. But it really would be an amazing present, considering the Nuggets have yet to win against an elite team in the league. They’ve beaten the Rockets (15-15) three times and the Toronto Raptors (12-8), but their other wins came against teams that currently have losing records. A win against either the San Antonio Spurs or the Oklahoma City Thunder would be huge for this young team, and perhaps instill enough confidence in them to make a big run in the new year. Hey, it’s possible.
Q: With Jusuf Nurkic nearing his return, what are you expecting from him when he takes the court again? Dominance right away, or a bit of an adjustment period?
Mikash: I expect two adjustment periods. The first is adjustment to getting back into the rhythm of things, the typical shaking off the rust type of thing. Nurkic has been out for more than half a year so no doubt he’s not going to be full speed. His minutes are almost assuredly going to be restricted which will prevent him from falling right back into the groove. The second adjustment period is likely to last all season and that period is related to the fact he is still an extremely young player with a limited amount of NBA exposure. I don’t think it would be fair to expect him to be truly dominant at all this season, or at least to see consistent big time performances out of him until perhaps the last twenty games of the season. It’s likely that half the season will have already passed before Nurkic is back to full speed so his second season is bound to be a bit of a let down. Nonetheless if at the end of the year he has shown improvement on where he was at the end of last season it will have been a successful year for him.
Gross: Nurkic wasn’t gone as long as Gallo, but I expect it to be a similar curve: struggle fitting in and finding a role early, then turning it on later in the season. Nurkic has another problem that Gallo didn’t, however. He needs to learn how to defend without fouling (as much) and hasn’t gotten the contact drills with his new coach to learn his place in the defensive schemes. I expect him to struggle with a lot of early fouls the first month he’s back, as he’ll have to learn on the fly. Between him, Jokic and Lauvergne, though, we’ll have positional coverage. It’s not vital that he plays 30 minutes a night, which is good because I expect more like 22-25. The sooner he gets back and knocks the rust off, though, the sooner he can make that impact. If nothing else, he’ll change the path to the rim for 20 minutes a game.
Osby: I’m definitely expecting a bit of an adjustment period, as it’s hard to get right back into the groove of things after being out so long. His conditioning alone will need some time before it’s up to par. However, I am expecting him to improve the team pretty soon, if not immediately, after he returns. He will make opponents think twice before entering the paint, just by standing there and being an intimidation. It may take him a little while to get used to the offense and to really dominate like he will in the future, but I think he will help us win games fairly quickly. And once he does go through that adjustment period, I think he will be improved from last season. I’m so excited to see how he plays with Mudiay and Nikola Jokic, and I think both players will make him even better.