The Denver Nuggets are looking forward to returning to health (at least as much as they can) and with that one would think that their play will improve. With improved play comes more wins one would think but many have debated as to whether or not that would be in the best interest of the team. Many have argued Denver is better off missing the playoffs and improving their draft lottery chances as much as possible. With the renewed health also brings decisions to coach Michael Malone's rotation and perhaps a trade could be on the horizon to better facilitate the minutes that are available.
1. Who’s return to the Nuggets lineup will be the most impactful: Jusuf Nurkic, Danilo Gallinari or Emmanuel Mudiay?
Russell Hamilton (@rscotham): Gallo, and it’s not even close...let me take that back. I think that Mudiay could have a pretty large negative impact once he returns, simply because he’s still in the learning phase, and is not really that good, yet. But back to Gallo. I expect Nurkic to be on a minutes restriction for a while, at least. I also expect Gallo to come back playing at least as well as he was pre ankle sprain. Like I said above, Mudiay isn’t really ready to make a large positive impact, but that will come.
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): Gallinari. Mudiay still has to work out the rookie kinks, so while getting Foye away from the PG position will be helpful there will still be growing pains for Emmanuel. Nurkic has that minutes restriction that Russ mentioned, but more than that he still needs to figure out how to play without fouling and work all his rust off. Gallinari was already playing at a pretty high level, even with his lower FG% this year. He’s replacing Papanikolaou in the lineup, while our Euro combo of Nikola Jokic and Joffrey Lauvergne is holding down the fort pretty well in most areas even without Nurkic’s ability to be a stout defender and paint presence. Gallo’s impact will be the most immediate.
Dan Lewis (@minutemandan): Nurkic. The Nuggets don't have a rim protector right now, and Nurkic is going to make a big difference for the team defensively. If you've been watching, you've seen the impact a good passing big man can have with Jokic, and Nurkic adds a smaller element of that as well. The Bosnian Beast will be on a minutes restriction to start, but when he's healthy, the Nuggets can finally start to field lineups that they want to see in the years to come.
2. The Nuggets are currently just 2.5 games out of the playoffs in the West, are they better off getting into the playoffs this season or getting the higher draft position?
Hamilton: Since I don’t think there’s really a chance they’ll actually make the playoffs, I’ll go with higher draft position - with a caveat. The Nuggets should definitely continue to play to win games. If they happen to get into the playoffs, that’s fine. Missing is fine, also. What the team shouldn’t do is sacrifice wins for lotto balls. Wins and losses shouldn’t be how the team (or the fans) judge the success or failure of this season. This is a season, as Andy said in the latest CSG podcast, to experiment. Play the young’ns and coach them in the right manner to play in specific situations.
Gross: The Nuggets are probably better off getting a higher draft position, but there’s a limit on how high it’s going to be unless we keep this injury string up all year (and excuse me while I go knock on some wood). I’m not a fan of losing just to lose, and we have too much talent to get a natural top-5 draftpick, much like last year. I’m with Russ on this one as well: I wouldn’t mind finding a way into the playoffs if everything clicks in the second half, but mostly I want to find ways for all the kids to keep succeeding as we get off this injury jag and back on track. The ideal would be for Mudiay and Nurkic to integrate back in perfectly with Gallinari, Barton, Harris and our front-court… and to still lose. But if they integrate perfectly, we’ll win. So I’m resolving this New Year’s to not stress about draft position. Getting a worse pick will be an artifact of the young players we already have improving their games. I would rather have Mudiay turn into a star than move from the 10th pick to the 7th. Just coach em up and let the wins come if they do.
Lewis: As much as I'd like to see the Nuggets get a guy like Dragan Bender in the top of the draft, there are NBA players in the late lottery that can help the team as well. The Nuggets young core is Mudiay, Harris, Jokic and Nurkic. They need to build around those players and hope Mudiay becomes something special. I think the best talent in the draft (Ingram, Bender, Simmons) would mean the front office would have to clear a roster spot for them, and that's easier said then done. Winning is what the Nuggets need to do the most of, and let the draftniks worry about the draft.
3. The Trade deadline is starting to loom in the distance, if you had to propose one trade for the Nuggets, what would it be?
Hamilton: I would trade any thought of a short term move meant to get the team into the playoffs this season for all the patience needed to not make such a move. No trades for me (unless someone knocks our socks off with a proposal).
Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): Since Russ deferred here I'm going to jump in and make a crazy suggestion that people will crucify me for. This trade would absolutely have to come with the caveat that he would state he's going to re-sign with Denver at the end of the season but I have had this idea of a Faried and Gary Harris for Demar Derozan and Delon Wright trade. There may even need to be a pick thrown in for Toronto to pull the trigger but there's reason for both sides to do the deal. On Denver's side it gives them another bona fide scorer to play next to Gallinari without having to take Will Barton away from being your scoring punch off the bench. Derozan is big enough to play small forward as well which can be very useful in the event Gallo gets hurt again. Wright gives Denver the third PG on their roster that they have been missing. Giving up Harris is tough but in order to get a player of Derozan's caliber you have to give something significant back. Harris would instantly start for the Raptors with Derozan gone. Meanwhile the fit of Faried next to Jonas Valanciunas isn't great but Toronto is seriously in need of a starting caliber power forward, currently they are relying on a 35 year old Luis Scola to fill that spot. The trade would also reunite Faried with Masai Ujiri and would be another case of Ujiri shipping out a star player before they leave in free agency and getting a pretty decent return.
Gross: The trade would have to be for long-term significance rather than short-term gain. Our best veteran trade-piece at the moment would be Kenneth Faried since he’s impactful and can stay healthy, but I’m not in a hurry to move him. Faried does so many good things that I have trouble judging him only on his weaknesses. If it’s proven that his weaknesses cannot be overcome by scheme or improved playing companions, that’s one thing. I wouldn’t trade him just for cap space, because we don’t need it. With the emergence of Joffrey and Jokic, however, the front-court is going to get a little crowded once Nurkic gets back. Someone suggested moving Faried to Orlando for Victor Oladipo and Aaron Gordon. That would be an interesting move for the Nuggets with Barton playing so much SF in Chandler’s absence and excelling at that role. Oladipo keeps Foye off the court permanently, and Gordon will take the bench role that Faried may balk at. That gives us more bodies to deal with rather than consolidating our talent in a top-8, however. I’m sure there will be a lot of calls around the trade deadline looking for Gallo or Faried in a deal or even to cast Denver as a facilitator in a major swap, and the Nuggets will have to figure out what the future shape of this team will be. Tim Connelly has done very well at reshaping this team through the draft, but eventually the trade and FA markets will set Denver’s destiny. It can’t all happen in on draft day.
Lewis: Faried is the obvious player for me to have moved via trade. As a smart person once said, it's difficult to see him as a player to build around. He makes good teams great, but he doesn't make a team good. Moving Faried for Zach Randolph is the wagon I've been driving lately. It saves the Nuggets money long term, and Z-Bo could be an excellent model for Nurkic, Lauvergne and Jokic. He's a guy with a long career and has picked up some interesting stories along the way, and I think he'd like playing in Denver. His contract expires after the 2016-17 season, and hopefully by then the Nuggets have a better idea of who will be the power forward of the future by then. I have an idea on one solution the Nuggets could pursue regarding that, but that's for another time.