Tonight, we at last get to watch our Denver Nuggets play a meaningful basketball game. Throughout the preseason, we've seen (or not seen, as the case may be) the Nuggets play a lot of the much ballyhooed Balkan Buddy Ball line up of Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic. We've seen (yeah, I know) Emmanuel Mudiay once again struggle with his shot, while still being a net positive on the floor. We've seen (OK, I'm done) Jamal Murray play a whole lot of PG, score pretty well, and not shoot as well as many (and my many, I mean me) had hoped.
And absolutely none of that means a darn thing.
Three things I'm looking for
Nikola Jokic vs. Anthony Davis
All through the preseason, we've seen Niko play a lot of the 4. At times, it's looked very promising, but personally, I'm still not sold. I have a lot of concerns about the defensive end. I am also not sold on Jokic's role on the offensive end. To me, this has more to do with Niko's personality than anything else. He has a wonderful ability in letting the game come to him, to not force the action and make the correct basketball play. With that being said, his personality also means that he really hasn't shown the ability to be an alpha dog. He is too willing to defer. If he would demand the ball, I would feel more comfortable with the line up. As Adam has pointed out, when Jukuf Nurkic is on the floor, the ball tends to find him. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I do think it finding Niko a bit more often would be more positive for the Nuggets.
All this leads me to tonight's match up. If there is a traditional 4, rather than one that stretches out to three, that I expect to give Niko trouble on both ends. The Brow is really good, yo. I think the rise of KAT in Minnesota, combined with Davis' injury history, has made us collectively kind of forget that he was easily in the preseason MVP conversation just last season with good reason. How Niko holds up against Davis is a key aspect on how this game will turn out.
During the 2nd half of last season Mudiay made major strides in his shooting production. I honestly don't think his form made big strides as much as he just made more shots. In his one Summer League game, his shooting stroke looked immensely improved. He didn't have that weird noodle-leg kick out hitch. His release was clean. He shot it confidently. In videos we've seen from practice, his shot mimics what we saw in Summer League.
Then there's the preseason.
Even given that he sat out the last four games with his ankle sprain, I think it's safe to say that we saw enough of his shot to say he suffered a regression in form. The hitch-y kick out was back. He was again releasing on the way down. And, unsurprisingly, he missed - a lot. The Denver Post's Christopher Dempsey asked Mudiay about his preseason struggles. Emmanuel answered as you would expect. Put me in the "show me" camp.
Jamal Murray's minutes
As I pointed out above, we've seen a ton of Jamal with the ball in his hands on offense, ostensibly running the point even when paired with Jameer Nelson in the back court. For me, I would love to see him have more time playing off the ball with Mudiay. My main reason for this is, when he's the primary ball handler, he's mainly probing around the paint. He does have a great knack for getting his shot off in tight quarters, and can score in that area, but for me, what made him such an exciting pick coming out of Kentucky is his shooting. I want to see him running off top of the key screens for catch and shoot threes. I want him taking corner threes from a Mudiay penetrate and kick. I want to see him catching a switch pass from Jokic for a wide open shot above the break. C'mon, Malone! Use that shooting talent!