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Roundtable: swapping Emmanuel Mudiay and making room for Balkan Buddy Ball

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The weekly staff conversation: is there any better young point guard option in the league than Mudiay and how do the front court minutes split out to accomodate Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic?

Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic on the court together terrorizing opponents
Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic on the court together terrorizing opponents
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

1. What are your impressions of the Jurkic (Jokic/Nurkic) combo after another week of games and should it be the starting lineup for Denver in the regular season?

Ryan Blackburn (@RyanBlackburn9): That both players now deserve at least 25 minutes per game and some of it has to come together. Given that this season is still a developmental year, according to Michael Malone’s comments about the fan base, it makes sense to start both of them and have them learn to play together. As for their effectiveness together, they fill up the stat sheet, and they are both skilled enough to do it, but I see them occupying the paint far too often for it to work long term. Both players will need to be okay with taking shots consistently from outside of the paint, because in order for Emmanuel Mudiay to operate properly, the paint cannot be clogged with #Jurkic shot attempts.

Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): I advocated for #Jurkic in my Monday column this week, which is a large departure from my previous sentiment that it wouldn't work well. There's definitely still questions regarding spacing and defending the perimeter but I think the pairing has looked good enough to give it a go to start the season. I'm not as worried about how it affects Mudiay though, I think we’ve seen on more than one occasion this preseason that he can co-exist on offense with the two big men.

Evan Fiala (@eefiala): We’ve seen enough of Jurkic now that I think we can say it “works” but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best option for the Nuggets in the long run. I wouldn’t mind seeing it every now and then in limited minutes, but I think the team would be better off as a whole making sure that one of the two is on the floor at all times. Both players can be so dominant on their own that it would be a mistake to not utilize at least one of them at all times.That said, I do think that Malone will go with that lineup to start the season.

Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): I think it’s an interesting wrinkle, but not something I’d be trying to maximize time on. It seems to severely hamper interior spacing and lane penetration, taking away Danilo Gallinari’s awkwardly-galloping drives and removing space for Mudiay to operate. It’s something I would do when Mudiay needs a breather, honestly. Facilitating the offense through Jokic takes some of the pressure off Jamal Murray as the backup point guard while still allowing him to fill up the bucket from deep. I still don’t see it as more than a ten minute a game option, but more wrinkles are always possible. As Evan said, I’m more concerned with keeping a true big man on the court for 40+ minutes a game.

2. Who is the most replaceable Nugget (by someone else on the roster filling their position and minutes) and who is the most irreplaceable?

Blackburn: I would say Jameer Nelson is the most replaceable. His contributions are merely of the “steady the ship” variety, and the days of him elevating the play of players around him are over. The Nuggets have a 19 year old in Jamal Murray in desperate need of seasoning on the court, and while he may not be incredibly effective, he will likely be just as good as Nelson with potential to exceed expectations. As for the most irreplaceable, I would say Nikola Jokic for his ability to make everyone around him better, but given the presence of Jusuf Nurkic, he can be replaced in part. I will go with Danilo Gallinari, because no player on the Nuggets could average 23.5 points per game over the course of a month, which Gallo did last year in January.

Mikash: Nothing against the guy, but Will Barton might be the most replaceable. There's a glut of 2 guards on the roster, and enough small forwards too. With Jamal Murray and Wilson Chandler in the fold there's plenty of punch off the bunch. The only question would be could Murray create for himself and carry the scoring load like Barton can. As for most irreplaceable I'd say Nurkic. He is the only defensive presence they have to keep opposing players from driving into the lane at will and he's the best defensive rebounder as well. Throw in the fact that Jokic is the only true center on the roster and losing Nurkic would be a huge hit to the Nuggets chances this season.

Fiala: The most replaceable is Jameer. I’m still struggling to figure out his role on this team, because if it isn’t to be a mentor to the younger guys he’s not doing much on the basketball side of things. He’s looked pretty awful this preseason (2 assists in 24 minutes last night? Come on) and even though he’s a veteran and has experience, I think we all know he doesn’t really belong here. The most irreplaceable in my mind is Gallo. He’s the best and most versatile scorer on the roster and the Nuggets desperately need him to stay healthy. Whenever he goes down, the Nuggets always seem to go down with him.

Gross: As far as role, the bench chucker role that Barton fills seems to be the most replaceable. Murray and Beasley are both available for that, and with Wilson Chandler back Barton’s swingman capabilities at the 3 aren’t as crucial either. That said, Beasley isn’t ready to assume the minutes and shots that Barton has taken yet and Murray has some backup PG duties still on his plate. Most irreplaceable would have to be Mudiay. If Mudiay goes down and we hand the point guard duties off to Jameer Nelson and Jamal Murray it looks like this thing will get ugly fast.

3. I know no one saw the Minnesota game, but some of the 15th-man candidates finally got some decent run. Has anyone taken the lead for that last roster spot yet in your mind?

Blackburn: I would say Jarnell Stokes is the clear leader based on both his play and the fact that he’s played. He’s been pressed into a role because of an injury to Darrell Arthur and the trade of Joffrey Lauvergne. Without Stokes, the Nuggets have four true big men available as of now. By sheer necessity, Stokes is the guy in the lead for the 15th spot, but it helps that he’s been a finisher in the pick and roll and a solid rebounder.

Mikash: To put it plainly? No. Coach Malone has said the final three games of the preseason will be more representative of their regular season rotation so I'm not going to make any conclusions until then. I don't read too much into Stokes and Robbie Hummel getting the lions share of the minutes so far, I think that's coach seeing what he's got in those two guys while he was still experimenting early in the preseason. My money's still on Axel Toupane snagging the last roster spot for the time being.

Fiala: Not really. I think Stokes is likely to get the spot just on a need basis if Malone decides to run Jurkic a lot this season, but I also think JaKarr Sampson or Axel Toupane are high in the running based on their play last year. The added depth at wing would also be nice given Gallo’s and Chandler’s injury history. But overall, I’m not too invested in who gets the last spot for now.

Gross: It was good to see JaKarr Sampson and Axel Toupane get some run last night, but I don’t think anyone really has gotten a leg up that we can see from outside the building. The logistical nightmare of losing either Jokic or Nurkic to injury and being left with just one center would seem to give Jarnell Stokes the advantage from a roster makeup standpoint, but I don’t think playing time (or playing outcome) has made a bit of difference yet. It’s all about practice and things we as fans are not seeing right now.

4. Mudiay took a lot of internet grief for getting the worst of it in the two matchups with D'Angelo Russell. Other than Russell, is there a young (22-and-under) point guard you would trade Mudiay for right now?

Blackburn: There are two players that come to mind in this exercise: Marcus Smart and Dennis Schroder. Both players have a lot to prove, but like Mudiay, both have shown an exceedingly high amount of potential. Yet, Schroder’s rookie season looked a lot like Mudiay’s from an advanced metric standpoint (horrid), and there are questions about Smart running an offense. At this point, I would rather have Mudiay over every other point guard prospect except Russell, who I believe is a star in the making.

Mikash: Might sound a little crazy because he hasn't played a real NBA game yet but I'd take Kris Dunn over Mudiay. Dunn’s going through a lot of the same struggles in the preseason that Mudiay experienced (and continues to experience) early in his career but I just think Dunn ends up being the better prospect. It's not a knock on Mudiay, I'm just really high on Dunn and I think his early struggles have a good chance of working themselves out quicker than Mudiay’s have.

Fiala: I don’t know if I’d even trade for Russell to be honest. I’m still really high on Mudiay and even if Russell is a better scorer right now and overall, I think Mudiay still has the potential to be a better overall player than D’Angelo. I’ve come to terms with the idea that Mudiay is more of a long-term project, but at this point so is the whole Nuggets team so I’d rather ride it out with him. As far as other young guards, I’m keeping my eye on Dante Exum. I think he’s got a pretty high ceiling too and it will be good to see him play after his injury.

Gross: For what Denver needs, Dennis Schroder is really the only one I can realistically give weight to. Mostly the exercise just illuminates how hard it is to be a really young point guard in the NBA. Mudiay may not fully get it until his second contract but Denver is invested in making that sort of long-term investment pan out. Mudiay’s ceiling is still sky-high in my book and I’m not interested in limiting that to have fewer growing pains this season. It’s still Mudiay-or-bust for me, even with the other young prospect options.

5. With Darrell Arthur potentially out to start the season, how should the power forward minutes be distributed in the first few games?

Blackburn: If I had to put a number on it, then I would give 25 minutes to Kenneth Faried, 15 minutes to Juancho Hernangomez, and the rest to #Jurkic. Denver should be doing everything it can to win games during the first few games of the season, and while I would rather not play Juancho so much time, I believe he gives the team its best chance to win over extended minutes for small ball lineups featuring Jameer Nelson and Malik Beasley. The lineup must do some balancing in order to make up for the injuries to Arthur and Gary Harris, but I believe the above rotation gives the Nuggets its best chance to win.

Mikash: Jokic will get about 10 minutes, Faried about 20 and those final 18 minutes will go to a combo of Gallinari and Chandler. If Nurkic and Jokic are getting around a total of 25 minutes a piece then that means Faried’s probably getting about 8 minutes of small ball center. I don't think you want Faried going more than 28 minutes total in a game so the rotation sets up for Gallo and Chandler to get some time at the four playing next to Faried and to either Nurkic or Jokic. For the record I like the idea of a Gallo/Jokic front court, there's an intriguing amount of possibilities with that combo.

Fiala: Faried will get his 20-25 minutes, Jokic 10-15 minutes in the Jurkic lineup and the rest will go to the small ball lineup. I think the beginning of the season is a bit too early for Juancho to get extended playing time, and I love the idea of either Gallo or Chandler at the four. I think it would do creative wonders for the offense and could provide some good results.

Gross: Chandler and Gallo have to get time at the 4 early this year right? Faried can even play some more 5 just to make that happen. I’ll say Faried for 20-25, Jokic for 10, and then Chandler getting some significant run at power forward next to both Gallo and Barton at the 3. Hernangomez’s minutes will likely come later in the year - the next time Arthur’s balky knees act up.