It's been 173 days since the Nuggets last played a (non summer league) NBA game. That's over 4,000 painful, awful hours of Nuggets basketball-less time wasted. Fortunately, the long wait is almost over. The Nuggets begin their 2016-17 campaign Monday night against the Toronto Raptors and oh my god there is so much to be excited about!
Sure, it's just a preseason game and real, meaningful basketball games don't start for another four weeks but this year's preseason should be especially interesting for Nuggets fans. First of all, there is a tremendous battle going on for the final spot on the Nuggets roster. Secondly, the Nuggets have one of the most interesting trio of rookies in the league, all of whom are expected to play a lot of minutes throughout the preseason. And thirdly, the Nuggets have a pair of second-year guys who are poised to make a leap toward stardom. So while the usual preseason buzz about players making leaps and adding new skills will be there, the Nuggets preseason will also feature plenty of story-lines to talk about, and for the Stiffs, plenty to write about.
Who: Denver Nuggets vs Toronto Raptors
When: 7:00 PM MT
Where: Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary, Canada
How to watch: Not Altitude
Rival blog: Raptors HQ
|SG||Gary Harris||DeMar DeRozan||Raptors|
|Key bench guys
Terrence Ross, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl
10 story-lines for this game and for the rest of the preseason
1. The (powder) Blue Arrow
There are three rookies on the Nuggets roster but Murray enters the 2016-17 season with by far the highest profile. Although Jamal Murray hails from Kitchener, Ontario just outside of Toronto, Murray said at media day that he had never been to Calgary. So this isn't exactly a "home coming" for the Canadian phenom. Nonetheless, it will be our first look at him in a real Nuggets jersey. Murray is likely going to play a lot of minutes throughout preseason so expect him to be a key factor in the game.
2. Juancho, Juancho Man
Juancho was a bit of a surprise at summer league and was rumored to be one of the standout performers in the pre-training camp open gym workouts at Pepsi Center. Nuggets fans are going to love this guy. Lots of energy and hustle and a unique skill set that gives the young Spaniard a very high ceiling. With Darrell Arthur recovering from off-season knee surgery, Juancho will probably get a lot of minutes as the backup power forward.
3. Malik Beasley makes his Nuggets debut
Unlike Juancho and Murray, Nuggets fans haven't seen Malik Beasley play for the powder blue and gold. Beasley missed summer league due to a minor leg injury he sustained in college so we haven't actually seen how he looks against NBA-level competition. Beasley is chomping at the bit to get on the court and while his minutes will probably be very limited in the early part of the regular season, he'll get plenty of opportunities to shine in the preseason. I'm very curious to not only see how well he plays, but also how he plays. His scouting report lists him as a dynamic jumper and solid shooter so hopefully we'll get some dunks and some buckets from Beas.
4. How many touches will Nikola Jokic get?
Last season, head coach Michael Malone was given a very new roster with a lot of youth. This season the Nuggets have a lot of continuity and Malone has had an entire summer to come up with ways to best utilize the skill on the roster. I'm most curious to see how many touches Nikola Jokic gets in the offense and what type of touches he gets. It might take until well into the regular season to really notice the ways in which Malone is utilizing Jokic differently than last season, but we may get a taste of just how often the coaching staff believes that Jokic is ready to be the focal point of the offense.
5. Wilson Chandler is back!
I've been waiting a year for this! Wilson Chandler is finally back on the Nuggets bench and ready to take the court alongside Jokic, Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, and of course Danilo Gallinari. I expect that the coaching staff will ease Wilson back into the swing of things so Chandler may only play 10 or fewer minutes, but it'll just be great to see him back out there. Will Malone play him alongside Gallo for stretches of small-ball?
6. Has Emmanuel Mudiay made a leap?
This isn't a question that will be answered tomorrow by any means. Rather, tomorrow is our first look at how Mudiay stacks up now that he has a year under his belt. Last year, in Mudiay's first preseason game, he committed eight turnovers and was hounded up and down the court by Chris Paul. Mudiay looked overwhelmed by the speed and physicality of Paul and was flustered throughout the night. Emmanuel has already made huge strides since then but Nuggets fans will be hoping to see signs of major improvement from Mudiay, starting with tomorrow night's game in Calgary.
More Malone on Mudiay: "I love the pace at which he's playing with. He's in great shape. He's been very impressive after 3 practices."— Chris Dempsey (@chrisadempsey) September 28, 2016
7. Will "Jurkic" get any run?
Malone has dropped hints over the last week that he is at least interested in giving the Jokic-Jusuf Nurkic lineup minutes this season. With Arthur out and the games not mattering in the win-loss column, tomorrow is a perfect opportunity to give "Jurkic" a try. I've been fairly vocal in saying that I do NOT think that lineup has much of a chance at success but I certainly don't mind seeing it tried during the preseason.
8. Speaking of Nurkic...
The Bosnian Beast had an up-and-down year last season and an up-and-down summer in a lot of ways. He got healthy and rested and dropped 30 lbs but also had a fairly disappointing and chaotic experience with the Bosnian national team. By all accounts, he is in phenomenal shape and ready to make a statement this season as he aims to remind Nuggets fans why they were so excited for the 7-foot rim protector back in 2014. Nurkic will probably get a lot of minutes against Toronto, hopefully signalling the beginning of a bounce-back year.
If Jusuf Nurkic plays w/the immense fire that is burning within him, he'll have a big season. Man has a HUGE chip to prove critics wrong— Chris Dempsey (@chrisadempsey) September 27, 2016
9. Does Gary Harris have another leap in him?
This is another question that won't be answered tomorrow but my guess is Harris is going to be the breakout Nuggets star of this season. He already made one giant leap between his rookie season in 2014-15 and last season. Now with more confidence and trust from the coaching staff, Harris is primed to take things to a whole other level. He'll be guarding one of the most dynamic back-courts in the league in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, each players that can put up 30 points on any given night. This could be a big year for Garris and I am here for it.
10. The fight for that final roster spot
The Nuggets probably have the most interesting training camp battle in the NBA for a final roster spot. Jarnell Stokes, Nate Wolters, Robbie Hummel, D.J. Kennedy, Axel Toupane, and Jakarr Sampson all have shown at one point or another that they are NBA-level talents. The first game of the preseason will probably provide a great look at all of those guys. Unlike most years when preseason garbage time becomes unwatchable, the Nuggets will have guys fighting for their spot in this league.
Basketball is back, Denver. Rejoice!