The Denver Nuggets are nearly half way through the 82 game grind that is the regular season. It's been a roller coaster to say the least. In our weekly roundtable we hand out grades for how they've done so far. We also will get into a discussion on what we should do with the rotation now that everyone is back healthy, excluding Wilson Chandler of course (early reports on Jusuf Nurkic's ankle are sounding pretty good FYI). Finally, we'll discuss the newest member of the team, Sean Kilpatrick.
Q: What do you think of the signing of Sean Kilpatrick?
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): I think it's great for Kilpatrick. He's worked really hard to get another look by the league and he's getting one. He said that Malone used to come watch him play as a prep kid in New York, so the call between him and Erick Green may have been Malone's and not Connelly's, or at least heavily influenced by Malone. I don't have a problem with that. Kilpatrick can shoot, and even better he can catch-and-shoot. Malone says he'll use the kid, so I hope he gets some minutes, but his role is pretty much a duplicate of Foye's. I'm not sure how many minutes are to be had if the roster does indeed get healthy and stay that way. But as insurance? We can always use insurance policies in a season as rife with injuries as this one has been. Welcome to the Nuggets, Sean.
Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): I read it to be the same as virtually all 10 day contract situations. The Nuggets have an open spot at the end of the roster and could use some guard depth in the event of an injury, especially considering Will Barton will spend a good portion of time sliding into the small forward position. Kilpatrick by all accounts has been tearing up the D-League and his best skill, shooting, is something that translates at any level so he's a great pick up for that 15th man role. I do not expect him to have any sort of meaningful contributions to the team except garbage time however, and I don't think this signing is indicative of any sort of long term plan of the Nuggets. It's basically an extended tryout to see if the Nuggets want to fill that final spot on the roster with him for the rest of the season. In the end it's still a win win, the Nuggets get an extended look at a guy who can flat out shoot and Kilpatrick gets to essentially double his D-League salary in a week and a half, which is huge because D-league salaries are terrible.
Dan Lewis (@minutemandan): I like the idea of it. As I wrote about when the report came out of his reaching an agreement with the Nuggets, he's been an excellent catch-and-shoot threat from the perimeter. I still remember the Nuggets Summer League teams that put a heap of shooters around Mudiay with a center to set screens and let Mudiay create. Hopefully Kilpatrick can provide a scoring threat from the perimeter off the bench. I don't see him getting a ton of minutes unless Randy Foye or Jameer Nelson are more hurt than they've been letting on. He shouldn't be a point guard backup, he should just be playing shooting guard.
Q: With the Nuggets roster as fully healthy as it's going to be this year, what do you perceive as the best rotation to utilize?
Gross: Starters - Emmanuel Mudiay / Gary Harris / Danilo Gallinari / Kenneth Faried / Jusuf Nurkic. Bench - Nelson / Kilpatrick / Will Barton / Darrell Arthur / Nikola Jokic. But I think Foye will poke his head in off the bench plenty of times and Kilpatrick will ride pine. Still, we have lineups that can give people fits, and our end of game lineup choices with Barton at the 2 and Gallo at the 3 (or those guys as the 3 and 4 with Harris or Mudiay at the 2) will make life very interesting. I expect a lot of lineup mixing and matching as Malone refines what he wants to do and who gets pulled at what minute marks. He likes his routines when it comes to lineups, so he'll definitely want to polish those up with everyone healthy.
Mikash: I like Gordon's starting lineup for now, though I am an advocate of moving Faried to open up more minutes for others. My bench is different though. I'm not a fan of a ten man rotation, too few minutes to divide up between 10 guys so I'd drop Kilpatrick from the equation. You can do a lot of things based on matchups to cover that 2-3 position including playing Nelson and Mudiay at the same time. If I had to pick a guy to be the 10th man in the rotation it would be Mike Miller. I like his consistency better than Foye and he has more versatility with being able to play the two through the four depending on what the opponent is doing. I wouldn't let Miller play more than 15 minutes max though.
Lewis: I think the best rotation is a starting lineup of Mudiay-Harris-Gallinari-Faried-Jokić with Barton and Nurkić coming off the bench first for Faried and Jokić, then swapping out the starters for Nelson, Foye and Arthur. The second unit would consist of Nelson-Foye-Barton-Arthur-Nurkić. As long as Mudiay-Harris-Gallo-Arthur-Nurkić are closing games I'm fine with the rotations working out that way.
Q: As we approach the halfway point of the season how would you grade the season thus far?
Gross: Incomplete. Mudiay missed a month with injury, Nurkic missed two. The best players have had trouble playing together long enough to have full impact. I think Malone gets an A though for getting the most out of the players who've been able to play, especially Gallo, Barton and Harris. All three are playing the best basketball of their careers and all three are projected for huge impact in our future seasons, so that development is crucial. Jokic is learning quickly, and Arthur is blossoming as well (so much so that we may not be able to retain his services after the year). The record isn't good, but being that ravaged by injury I just wanted to see us compete and grow. Mission accomplished. With the miraculous win over Golden State, Malone is proving he can get a healthy lineup that buys in to do quite a lot even as they learn each other. The second half should be a much fairer assessment of the team. Look out for us post-midterm. We're gonna ruin the curve for everyone else.
Mikash: Thus far I would give high marks for the team, probably an A minus. The injuries have been the drawback but otherwise look at the results. Harris - much improved, Barton - much improved, Jokic- better than expected, Arthur - better than expected, Lauvergne - solid, Nurkic - much improved in limited time. Emmanuel Mudiay has been great sometimes and taken his lumps at others but that's pretty much what we all expected. The Nuggets have done exactly what they set out to do, they've focused on development and getting minutes for their young players, they've made a concerted effort to change the culture of the team which I think we have seen happen and Gallinari has established himself as a consistent go to guy for the team. Are they still struggling with some things, specifically consistent effort? Yes, but that's to be expected with a team as young as they are. To top it off, thanks to the lackluster 8th seed in the West, Denver is right in the playoff mix. Honestly if there wasn't the injury bug to deal with I'd say the first half has been a smashing success for the team.
Lewis: C minus. It's been a tough season for Mudiay, who has been a historically bad shooter and missed time with an injury. The other Nuggets rookie, Jokić, has been stellar, and looks like a franchise piece. The losing streaks have been tough, and the team is winning enough to be in limbo between lottery contention and playoff contention. I do think the second half will be better, especially now that Nurkić is back and able to help the defense round into shape. I'm fine with Mudiay coming off the bench for a while, with the goal to improve his shooting against second units while learning how to defend.