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Roundtable: Emmanuel Mudiay's Progress, Nuggets Playoff Chances, Starting Center

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This week's roundtable is all about the future

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets have played pretty well on this homestand, in your eyes are they a legitimate playoff contender?

Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): Legitimate in what sense?  In play for the eight seed with the Jazz, Trail Blazers, Pelicans and Kings?  Sure. But a 7 or 8 seed just guarantees them a playoff shelling by Golden State or San Antonio.  The Nuggets can absolutely make the playoffs even though they’re 10 games under .500 halfway through the season, but that just speaks to the falloff in the West after so many years where 45 wins was not enough to make the playoffs.  Making the playoffs would indicate some incredible growth and health for all our young players, though, so I can’t really be against that outcome.

Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): Definitely a legitimate playoff contender. Like Gordon says though, it’s more to do with the fact that the West is pretty poor on the back end than it is to do with Denver’s basketball prowess. For the record I think a series with Golden State would be excellent for the team. Denver actually matches up with them pretty well (save for the fact we have no one to cover Draymond Green...but who does?) and if you could make a 6 game series out of it I think it would do wonders for the psyche of the young guys. Even a 5 game series would be good. Playoff experience is valuable, there’s really no way to understand how the game ratchets up in the playoffs without being a part of it (I know from my elementary three on three tournament experience).

Dan Lewis (@minutemandan): Absolutely not. The Nuggets should want to make the playoffs - that's a good goal. I want lots of things in life - I'm smart enough to know that I can't get them right away. The Nuggets aren't better than Utah, Portland, Sacramento or New Orleans. That's okay! They can get there next season.

Who should start at the center position if everyone is healthy?

Gross: Jusuf Nurkic. His defensive presence alone helps this team hold down a team early on, and his pick-and-roll game with Mudiay should get very strong.  I want those two to be working together a lot.  Nurkic still isn’t going to be a 30-minute player this year, though, so Jokic will get plenty of time with Mudiay as well.  Jokic’s passing skills off the bench will be extremely helpful if Foye and Nelson continue to struggle with injuries and ineffectiveness, so I’d rather see him deployed there for now.  I’d certainly like to see ONE of them closing games for us soon, though, and I don’t much care which one. That’s needed experience for our young Euro centers.

Mikash: Nurkic should be the starter, he’s the most talented of the bunch right now. However, A lineup that features Mudiay, Faried and Nurkic is setting Denver up for some pretty bad spacing. Jokic is definitely a better pairing with Faried and Darrell Arthur pairs better with Nurkic. With the way Arthur is playing this season you might think about putting him in a starting role. Faried would be great off the bench and you can still give him plenty of minutes by pairing him with Nikola Jokic or Joffrey Lauvergne or even Danilo Gallinari in some super small lineups. The Nuggets are working their way into an excellent problem at the center position where they could have two young talented guys who both demand starter minutes with their play.

Lewis: Nurkić easy. He's a dominant defensive player, and his offense will gradually get better and better. If the Nuggets under Malone want to be a defensive team, than Nurkić is the man for the job. Jokić is a fine center as well, and can be great off the bench. When appropriate they can play together, but that's not something they should be expected to do their first season together. Malone believes in proving something works in practice, and during a season he doesn't seem like he wants to experiment too much.

What do you think of Emmanuel Mudiay’s play since he returned from injury?

Gross: Much more aggressive.  I love his angry dunks but the kid has to figure out how to make a layup or finger roll.  Sinking some free throws would be good too, but he’s getting to the line which is the first step.  His passes are still a thing of beauty, and the Nuggets function much better when he’s being aggressive, even when he turns the ball over.  He’s still giving defensive effort as well.  His desire to press the action helps the Nuggets avoid settling for isolations and junk fadeaways on the perimeter, and I’m grateful for that.  He’s figuring out how to attack bigger men, and more consistent scoring will come.  His shot may be ineffective but he still screams "special" to me, and the second half of the season should continue to show his growth in utilizing that specialness. And I consider that to be true despite his truly abysmal winshare rating.  His is a game that has to be watched in this infant stage to be truly appreciated for what it can turn into.  Hopefully we reach the toddler stage soon.

Mikash: I think he’s slightly improved. There is still a lot of work to be done. He’s gotten better at finishing at the rim but still is pretty poor. I think what’s been encouraging is that he seems to be playing within himself more. We’re not seeing as many turnovers and we’re not seeing as many contested step back jumpers. Honestly I have such a hard time reading Mudiay, his shooting numbers are abysmal but he flashes some of that transcendent talent almost every game. It’s hard to find a precedent for a guy like Mudiay, John Wall, who seems to be the player many draw Mudiay comparisons to, was a far better shooter in his rookie year and produced at a higher clip. I really am hoping to see Mudiay close out the season very strong, otherwise it might be time for Nuggets fans to start tempering their expectations for him a bit.

Lewis: Mudiay has always been able to show flashes of greatness. Since returning, he's been more consistent, which is a struggle for every player. His defense has been incredible for me. It seems like he has a better idea of angles to take, where to position himself, and how to guard players with his size and speed. Mudiay has a high defensive ceiling, and if that's where most of his growth is this season, I'd be okay with that.


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REMINDER: STIFFS NIGHT OUT WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 3RD

Join us at Jake's Sports & Spirits (3800 Walnut Street, Denver, CO 80205) as our Nuggets take on the Jazz in Utah at 7pm.

Attendees can win Denver Stiffs T-shirts and Nuggets tickets and Jake's will be serving 50-cent wings for us all night long.

We hope to see you there!

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