1. Does Juancho Hernangomez deserve regular minutes?
Evan Fiala (@eefiala): In short: yes, he does deserve regular minutes. He’s been pretty impressive in the preseason and has shown that at the very least he can hold his own. The question is if he’ll actually get them. Darrell Arthur will get playing time when he’s healthy, and with him, Nikola Jokic and Kenneth Faried that’s already three quality guys at the four (not to mention if Malone goes small with Danilo Gallinari or Wilson Chandler there). Juancho deserves some minutes for sure, but I’m not expecting him to play much this season - maybe five or ten minutes a night.
Zach Mikash (@Zach Mikash): He definitely deserves some regular minutes, somewhere around 15. The problem though is that the Nuggets have a log jam at both forward spots with Chandler, Gallinari, Faried and Arthur. I think he’s going to get some minutes right away if Arthur isn’t ready to go but after that it’s going to be tough for Coach Malone to find some time for him. Regardless, the kid deserves to play and in my personal opinion I’d rather have Juancho out there than someone the organization doesn’t view as part of their long term future, whomever that may be.
Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): No, Juancho doesn’t deserve regular minutes. There’s a big difference between having success at Summer League and in the preseason and having success in the regular season. The Nuggets should be giving Arthur minutes at power forward, and he played well enough last season that there is no reason he shouldn’t be playing. There are minutes at the forward positions for a lot of other players that can help the Nuggets more than Juancho. He’ll get some minutes here and there, and if there’s an injury, I don’t think he’d be too lost on the court, but I don’t anticipate him getting regular minutes.
2. On a scale of 1-10, how excited are you about Jamal Murray?
Fiala: 9. I was happy when Denver drafted him, then I went through a phase where I was unsure of how he’d actually fit in, but now that I’ve seen him play with the team I absolutely love him and can only imagine how good he’ll be down the road. My only reservation is that I still really like Emmanuel Mudiay and Gary Harris, and I want all three to succeed for the Nuggets, but I still can’t really fathom Murray replacing either of them even though it’s likely he will at some point down the road.
Mikash: I’ll go a full bore 10. You can put me on record, the Blue Arrow is going to be a star in this league. Everybody knew about his shooting, but his ability to score in different ways, his body control, his movement off ball, it’s all spectacular. I’d go as far as to say he’s going to win Rookie of the Year but much like Juancho, I’m not sure he’ll get the minutes to do it. The one question mark is his defense, which looks as advertised, mediocre at best, but you have to look no further than James Harden to know that a player can still be a star and keep his team in the playoff hunt even when he is a bad defender.
Lewis: I’ll hedge a bit and go with an 8, although what I’ve seen so far from him has been really exciting. He has an ability to get himself open looks either on or off ball, he’s showing off athleticism that some doubted he possessed, and he’s shooting a high percentage on 3-point attempts. There is room for improvement on defense, with his ability to get through screens and defend on-ball. But he looks to be better than promised on offense.
3. Can the Nuggets legitimately make a run at the playoffs?
Fiala: There have been times this preseason, like against the Golden State Warriors, when I have thought to myself that the Nuggets have a shot to surprise everyone and grab a playoff spot in the West. But then there have been other times, like against the Oklahoma City Thunder, when nothing went Denver’s way and it was evident how young this team is and how much growing they still have to do. I think at best the Nuggets will be in contention for the 8th seed, but a lot of things will have to go their way to ultimately get in.
Mikash: As I wrote a few weeks back, it all depends on the health of the veterans because as excited as I am about Juancho and Murray and Malik Beasley and Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic and Harris and Mudiay, it’s Gallo, Chandler and Faried who are going to have to lead this team through the down times that every team experiences in a season. The good news? Gallo has quietly looked better than he ever has this preseason and Wilson is fully healthy. If just those two guys can stay healthy (big if) then this team should hang right around playoff contention all season long.
Lewis: I think so. I have a feeling that the Northwest Division will be the most competitive division in the NBA, and it’ll be nearly impossible for them to win the division title. I think some of the teams that made the playoffs last season - Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City - won’t be there this year, and that means that some teams that missed the playoffs - Minnesota Timberwolves, Utah Jazz, Denver - will be. They’ll need a huge season from Nurkic to be contenders, but I have a positive feeling that he’ll be up to the challenge.
4. Do the Nuggets need to replace Jameer Nelson as the backup PG?
Fiala: This is a resounding yes for me. I’ve never really liked his game since he joined the Nuggets. I don’t think he’s good at defense and I don’t think he’s nearly as good of a shooter as he thinks he is. I don’t think he has a spot on this team even in the near future, and I think Murray has done enough in the preseason to warrant those minutes instead. I’d much rather see Murray develop more and get quality playing time than see Jameer go out there and take contested three after contested three.
Mikash: Yes they absolutely need to. I feel like Jameer doesn’t fit what they are doing. He’s been chucking it a lot in the preseason and his defense has been bad. I get that you want veterans in the locker room but I think Jameer has made it pretty clear he has no interest in mentoring anyone. So if he’s not effective on offense, a liability on defense and not willing to help the younger guys then what benefit is he bringing to the team? We already saw last year how D.J. Augustin was a more effective player, but the Nuggets let him go and elected to keep Jameer who’s under contract. Here’s the rub though, Denver is still $7 million under the floor so they could have let Nelson walk and gave Augustin the same contract he got from Orlando and it basically would have washed out with the salary floor penalty they are going to end up paying if they don’t add someone. Why Jameer is in the NBA and a guy like Norris Cole is not baffles me.
Lewis: No, not immediately. He’s not a plus on defense, and his offensive game is waning. But he’s still a veteran guard, and the team knows he’s going to be there day in and day out. Playoff teams don’t rely on two point guards that have a combined one full season of experience under their belts. The Nuggets need Nelson on the roster to hedge against an injury to one of Murray or Mudiay. But, if they’re working their way through the season, and they feel good about their point guard rotation without Nelson in it, I think there’s a trade out there with an Eastern Conference team that the Nuggets could make.