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Denver Nuggets Ceilings and Floors: Part Two - The Bench Guys

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Previewing the ceiling and floor for each of the Nuggets bench players including rookie Nikola Jokic and second year players like Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Last week I looked at the realistic ceilings and floors for the top 5 players on the Denver Nuggets roster including Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried. Today, I'll take a look at the bench players, where the Nuggets are hoping one or two of their young prospects will emerge as a long-term foundation piece.  The bench has a few veterans who will provide some stability and leadership, especially Jameer Nelson, but a majority of the Nuggets bench will be extremely young and inexperienced as they enter training camp.

Will Barton

Ceiling - 16 ppg, .350 3FG%, 25 mpg, MIP
Barton embraced the city of Denver the moment it was announced that he was traded. With Denver's season off the rails and with a huge hole at SG, Barton knew he had a great chance to come in and play big minutes and he seized the opportunity, scoring 15 or more in 4 of his first 5 games. A healthy Denver team provides a little bit more competition at SG as Randy Foye, Gary Harris, Jameer Nelson, and even Wilson Chandler will play minutes there, but Barton will have an excellent opportunity to build on his great play in 28 games as a Denver Nugget.

Floor - 5 ppg, poor shot selection, <.400 fg>
Before Barton got to Denver he was an end of the bench type player for the Portland Trailblazers, getting DNPs and rarely getting the opportunity to show off his talents. In Denver, Barton played with a lot of heart and hustle but his shot selection and discipline on defense were inconsistent. Malone may have a problem with both of those traits and Barton will have to find the balance between playing loose and staying efficient and in control or he might risk falling behind one of the numerous young SGs the team has behind him.

Adam's prediction - 8 ppg, energy guy, .430 FG%
I think Barton will be much closer to the player he was for Denver last season than the player he was in Portland the two-and-a-half seasons before that. His ceiling and floor is as open as anyone on the team's and with shooting guard being the most up-for-grabs position on the roster, Barton will have a great chance to grab a lot of minutes.  I think he'll be a player that improves as the season goes on but may face an early adjustment period to Malone's more rigid style of coaching.  The biggest variable will be if he can dramatically improve his 3-point efficiency. I'm skeptical that he can improve enough to be a real threat from deep but If he figures out his shot, he'll be in the conversation for most improved player.

Darrell Arthur

Ceiling - 9 ppg, 20 mpg, defensive anchor
Last season, the Nuggets were 9.1 points per 100 possessions better on the defensive end when Darrell was on the court. That was far and away the best on/off defensive rating on the team. Darrell might find more minutes under Malone, even in a crowded back court, especially if he can provide low post protection.

Floor -  5 ppg, 2 3FGA,
The frontcourt is the most crowded positon on the Nuggets roster and Darrell will be fighting with Kenneth Faried, JJ Hickson, and Joffery Lauvergne for minutes. Faried will get the most minutes at the position and Joff may get more minutes based solely on his youth and the Nuggets desire to prepare for the future. Additionally, over the last two seasons, Darrell has experimented as a stretch four but has not been very accurate as a 3-point shooter.

Adam's prediction - 15 mpg, 0.5 3FGA, defensive specialist
Darrell will be an interesting case study in what coach Malone values. I don't see him shooting as many 3-pointers as he did under Brian Shaw and it probably won't be an efficient offense if Darrell is constantly taking shots from the mid range. So it will be interesting to see how he is used in the offense. But Malone is a defensive coach and Darrell is a very good defensive player. My guess is he steals minutes from both Joffrey and Hickson and even slides over to center in short stints.

Joffrey Lauvergne

Ceiling - 20 mpg, 8 ppg, 8 rpg
Joffrey's minutes were wildly inconsistent last season. That may have been due in part to Joff's unfamiliarity with the schemes and speed of the NBA since he arrived in Denver midway though the season. With consistent minutes and a well-defined role, Joff could become a great energy guy off of the bench. He'll probably never put up gaudy numbers, but he can be a grunt work guy that gets two or three 5-7 minute stretches per game, provides a decent post game and knocks down open shots.

Floor - 7 mpg, .400 FG%
The most alarming thing about Joffrey is his low FG%, especially in the spots around the rim just outside of the restricted area where he shot just 38%. It was a fairly small sample size but he'll need to improve his touch on jump hooks and shots at the rim if he wants to stand out among a crowded frontcourt.

Adam's prediction - 15 mpg, 5.5 ppg, 48% TS
A lot of Joffrey's success will depend on what role he is given and whether he accepts that role.  He has some unique skills and runs the floor very well in transition. I think he is used best as a hustle guy and if he can get in to the game and go all out for 5 minute stretches, he'll become a Malone favorite and will have a very successful year.

JJ Hickson

Ceiling - 12ppg, 10 rpg
There isn't a whole lot of mystery to JJ Hickson.  After 7 seasons, you pretty much know what you get with him.  A double double is highly unlikely but it's his ceiling, especially if Malone elects to play him a lot of minutes, rather than giving minutes to some of Denver's younger talent at PF and C.

Floor - 7 ppg, 5 rpg
This is basically his stat line from last season as Hickson saw his minutes get dramatically reduced. I can't imagine it would get much worse than this. If Hickson is on the court, he'll fall into 7 points and 5 rebounds. He's an interesting case because he does some of the things offensively that Malone loves, yet will probably drive Malone crazy on the defensive end.

Adam's prediction - 8ppg, 6 rpg
Hickson is sort of a pivotal guy in terms of telling whether the coaching staff is playing for today or playing for tomorrow. Hickson will be more consistent and, in a sense, more reliable than most of our younger players. However, Hickson probably isn't a part of the long-term future in Denver and probably shouldn't get  20+ mpg unless the goal is to win 35 games. That'd be an awful goal and I'm hopeful that he plays somewhere around 15 mpg off the bench.

Gary Harris

Ceiling - 20 mpg, .360 3FG%, 1 spg
SG is both the most open position on the Nuggets roster. The lion's share of the minutes are ripe for the taking if either Harris or Barton can make a leap.  As a rookie last season, Harris didn't get very many minutes and when he did play he struggled with his shot from the perimeter.  These things are to be expected from rookies but I still think the ceiling on his 3-point shot will be somewhere around league average.  One of the things that stood out the most at summer league was how quick Harris's hands are. If he is guarding a player in isolation he is almost certain to get his hand on the ball at some point.  Malone will love that and Gary might get minutes even if his shot isn't falling based solely on his defensive instincts.

Floor - 10 mpg, .200 3FG%
I have reservations about Harris's confidence from beyond the arc.  Often times he'll look to drive to the lane even when he is wide open on the perimeter. He shot an eye popping 5 of 33 from the corners last season.  And while he can be a great on ball defender, he still gets lost on rotations at times and at 6'4" he is a bit small to guard some of the taller shooting guards in the league.  His floor would be a lack of improvement from last season which may place him on the bench behind Barton, Nelson, Foye and even Nick Johnson.

Adam's prediction - 15 mpg, .330 3FG%, up and down performances
Harris will be an interesting one because there are plenty of minutes up for grabs at SG and I am really hoping he plays well enough to earn a lot of them.  However, there are real concerns about how he fits into the league as a somewhat undersized shooting guard who prefers dribble drives to catch and shoot shots.  I'm hopeful that Malone has patience with him and can find ways to put him position to become an efficient outside shooter. That may happen over time, but I think next season will see very mixed results.

Jameer Nelson

Ceiling - Solid leadership
It's hard to quantify Jameer's ceiling since his biggest contribution this season will be his role as a leader of the team and a mentor to Emmanuel Mudaiy. Jameer will be the oldest and most experienced player on the team and he seems to have embraced the role of leader, having recently invited several players to his home in Philadelphia to work out and prepare for training camp.  His on-court production has been fairly consistent throughout his career and we know what we'll get on the court with Jameer. It's his ability to lead a team that desperately lacked leadership last season that will be his biggest responsibility.

Floor - Poor leadership
It's not even so much about poor leadership as it is allowing the team to get away with some of the things that happened last season. Players quitting on the team or giving half effort shouldn't happen with a strong veteran presence.  Do you think the Nuggets would've been blown out at home game after game if Kevin Garnett was on the team? Jameer will be graded this season in part by how he keeps the team focused and working toward a far-off goal.

Adam's prediction - Solid leadership
A team can have several types of leaders.  Danilo Gallinari will be the team's best player and will hopefully step into the on-court leader, the player that demands the ball in big moments, and who sets the intensity on the court. Jameer can be the locker room leader, the player that makes sure guys are getting their rest, working on their game, and focused on the right things throughout the season. He can also be the guy that picks a player up when that player has been struggling or shows up early to go over film with him. Jameer chose to be in Denver this summer when he could've signed with almost any team. My guess is that he is excited about the opportunity to be one of the Nuggets leaders.  Possibly as a segue into a post-playing career as a coach?

Randy Foye

Ceiling - >.400 3FG%, 10 ppg
Foye might be the best 3-point shooter at the SG position and shooting is the skill that the Nuggets will need the most in the upcoming season. After missing 32 games last season, Foye may be able to step in and contribute big minutes right away, spacing the court and even providing some ball-handling.

Floor - 6 ppg, 15 mpg
Foye had the least productive season of his career last year, in part due to injuries but possibly due also to the scheme. The team as a whole shot very poorly from beyond the arc so Foye's .357 3FG% shouldn't be too shocking. However, do Malone and the Nuggets front office really want to give the 31-year old Foye heavy minutes when they have three young prospects competing for minutes at SG?

Adam's prediction - Traded
At 31 years old, Foye's prime is probably behind him and as he plays out the last year on his contract, he'll probably be anxious to play for an extension or one final contract next season. That puts his motivation at odds with the team's motivation in that he'll be trying to grab minutes over young prospects who will need minutes in order to improve. The Nuggets may look to move Foye in a trade although it is highly unlikely that they look to add long term salary without taking on additional picks or prospects.

Nikola Jokic

Ceiling - 15 mpg, 70 GP
Jokic is such a skilled player that I could easily see him knocking down three 3-pointers one night and then dishing out six assists the next night.  His per game numbers don't have to be very high for him to have a successful year. All he needs to do is contribute consistently enough to earn 15 minutes per game, night in and night out.  Experience is the best teacher but the only way he'll get on-court experience this season is if he earns them by showing he can handle 15 mpg.

Floor - 5 mpg, 40 GP
The speed and strength of the NBA will be a huge adjustment for Jokic and it could take at least one season before he is able to make any kind of impact. If Malone wants to bring him along slowly, he'll likely see a fair amount of DNP's and play extremely limited minutes. There is also the chance that players like Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin just abuse Jokic in his rookie season and it will be hard for Malone to find 5-minute stretches where he can let Jokic test the waters.

Adam's prediction - 10 mpg, 55 GP
As I've written here before, I am incredibly high on Jokic and I think he has the unique skill set to become a very good NBA player. However, even I think he is a multi-year project and will likely be a liability this season when he is on the court.  He'll have flashes of brilliance, tossing incredible passes and showing off some solid footwork in the post but for the most part, I don't expect to see very much out of Jokic this season. If he looks better in March than he does in November, that alone will be a victory.

Nick Johnson

Ceiling - Breaks into the rotation, defensive specialist, .350 3FG%
Nick enters the team in kind of a tough spot.  He and Gary Harris have very similar strengths and weaknesses and as rookies last season, neither player played very many minutes. Harris will likely get the edge on Johnson since he's been with the team longer which means Johnson will be 4th on the depth chart at SG to enter the season. I expect he and Harris will have a lot of battles in training camp and it will be interesting to see who, if either, emerges from that battle.

Floor - Out of the rotation
It's that simple. If he doesn't play well, I'm not sure the coaching staff is going to invest a ton of time into him and therefore his numbers will be irrelevant. His floor for this season is being stuck on the bench.

Adam's prediction - Probably in and out of the rotation
Johnson will get minutes in a Nuggets uniform but he has a heck of an uphill battle to fight. If the Nuggets move Foye then he'll have a better chance but as it stands now he'll probably be an afterthought unless he really impresses in training camp. The one thing that he can do to increase his chances is shoot lights out from three and outperform Harris on the defensive end.  However, in a very small sample size, Nick scored just 20% on 29 spot up attempts last season.  That level of inefficiency will make it difficult for him to get minutes.

Erick Green

Ceiling - Breaks into the rotation
Last season, Green had a hard time finding minutes, appearing in just over half of the team's games.  He's stayed in town for much of the off-season, working out with Nuggets trainer Steve Hess and the rest of the Nuggets training staff. He also had a decent summer league where he was able to get acquainted with rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay.

Floor - Out of the rotation
Despite losing Ty Lawson, the Nuggets backcourt got a little bit more crowded with the additions of Mudiay, Johnson, Barton, and the return of Foye. Green is likely at the bottom of that pecking order and it is unclear what role best suits him.  He is listed as a point guard but only injuries would open up minutes for him at PG.  He is more likely to get minutes as a SG but he carries many of the same deficiencies as Johnson and Harris, namely, size and shooting.

Adam's prediction - Out of the rotation
I like Green a lot and will be rooting for him to take advantage of the minutes he gets this season. The harsh reality is that he is fighting an uphill battle against several other players that are all slightly better than him and who share his same strengths and weaknesses. He's been around the team and at Pepsi Center a lot this summer and that is certainly worth something.  But I'm not sure he can stand out enough to earn consistent minutes.