1. Jarnell Stokes won the 15th roster spot at the end of preseason. Do you think he was the right choice, or should the Denver Nuggets have gone with Nate Wolters or Robbie Hummel?
Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): Over Wolters or Hummel it’s definitely the right choice, the only argument I could see making is whether or not it was the right choice to take Stokes over Axel Toupane or JaKarr Sampson. That argument would be purely talent based and on that front I think it’s still pretty even. Given the Nuggets traded away Joffrey Lauvergne in the offseason which created a hole at emergency center, Stokes wins out over those other two guys based purely on need and no appreciable talent gap. This is not to say the guy didn’t earn it, because he did, out of all the deep bench players he far and away had the best preseason.
Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): I do think he was the right choice to make. With Darrell Arthur still recovering from knee surgery and the decision to start Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic, he's next up off the bench behind Kenneth Faried for the Nuggets. His ability to score and rebound match what the Nuggets want from their big men. There are always players like Wolters and Hummel floating around available for a 10-day contract if the Nuggets need someone like that.
Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares): Probably the right call but ultimately won’t matter much. Stokes is insurance if Nurkic or Jokic go down to injury, I suppose, but even then, he’s an undersized center. But he played the best in the preseason and certainly looked like the most talented guy of the bunch so I suppose he earned it.
Ryan Blackburn (@RyanBlackburn9): Based specifically on need and play, Jarnell Stokes won the roster spot for me, and he was the right choice. With as many bigs as the Nuggets have, he likely won’t see the floor much, but if injury issues happen or Jokic/Nurkic get into foul trouble, I would rather see Stokes take some of the center minutes than forcing Faried to play heavy minutes.
Evan Fiala (@eefiala): In terms of preseason play he definitely earned it above anyone else. And with Malone intent on playing both Nurkic and Jokic together, a backup center is needed anyways. In the end the decision doesn’t hold a ton of weight since he won’t play much but it was fun to see him in the preseason.
2. Will the Nuggets roster be the same at the end of the season as it is now at the beginning of the season?
Mikash: Saying no is kind of like betting the field so that’s what I’m going to do. I will say I’m far more perplexed than I was in August as to what move actually makes sense. It could be something minor like moving Nelson for a player that better fits Denver’s direction or something bigger. Before the preseason it seemed like Kenneth Faried was almost sure to be on his way out but he’s responded surprisingly well to being asked to come off the bench. The issue is just what type of deal will make the team better? The Nuggets have so much good young talent that the only trade that can make a marked difference in their overall record has to be some sort of disgruntled superstar because anything below that is just creating a bigger logjam than they already have. For this team to really take the next step via trade Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic, Gary Harris or Emmanuel Mudiay, one of those guys, if not a combination of them, is going to be on his way out.
Lewis: No, they will not. I think the Nuggets will make at least one trade this year, even if it's for a second round pick they'll never see. This is a rebuilding franchise with a couple veterans that don't fit in the long term plans. If a trade is available and the front office is comfortable executing it, it'll happen.
Mares: I don’t think so. But I’m not sure who is the most likely to be traded. Faried is a much better player off of the bench and his trade value isn’t very high at the moment so it’d seem weird to part with him now. Perhaps his value will climb by February and he’ll be dealt. Outside of him and Jameer, I don’t see who the Nuggets would be looking to deal.
Blackburn: Absolutely not. The Nuggets are overstuffed with playable talent, yet they lack seasoning in some areas or a consistent game changer for 35 minutes a night. Yes, the star trade is unlikely to happen, and selling off veterans makes little sense for a team with playoffs on the brain, but something has to give at some point. With multiple first round draft picks next year as well, the roster will have the same problem next year too. There aren’t many deals that make perfect sense for all parties, but if a consolidation deal comes across Tim Connelly’s desk, I expect him to really think about it.
Fiala: For the most part I think it will. Faried’s name has been thrown around for what seems like forever now, but if he continues to excel off the bench and accepts that role then I don’t see him being moved. I can’t really see why anyone else would be moved, either. I think this year the Nuggets will ride out the season with everyone currently on board and then if any major moves will be made to consolidate or attract a star player they will be made during the summer.
3. What are your initial reactions to the Nuggets season opening victory over the Pelicans?
Mikash: Jusuf Nurkic cannot be stopped. Last night we saw just what Nurk is going to provide. Defense, putbacks, boards and domination in the post when facing inferior opponents like Omer Asik or Alexis Ajinca. Nurkic’s 23 points and 9 rebounds in just 26 minutes is impressive, but perhaps what's most encouraging is he had just three fouls. If he can stay out of foul trouble it's going to be a big year for the Bosnian.
Lewis: I don’t see Emmanuel Mudiay losing his starting point guard role any time soon, but finishing with 3 assists and 6 turnovers in a game where the opposing point guard is Tim Frazier is not a good start to this year. Mudiay wasn’t accurate with his passes, and he was too careless with his dribble. He had his pocket picked by Anthony Davis in the fourth quarter in a situation where the team could not afford a turnover at the top of the key. Thank goodness for Jameer Nelson.
Mares: It’s only one game and plenty of foolish takes are written on a small sample size but I really hate that Malone is playing Jokic so few minutes at center. He was one of the best centers in the NBA last year by every advanced metric and at power forward he looks lost. It’d be one thing if it was a 4-10 mpg thing, but Malone is using it as his primary role and may have even benched him for under-performing at PF against Anthony Davis and the Pelicans. I don’t like where this is headed.
Blackburn: My biggest take is that Will Barton may be earning the starting shooting guard spot. Ever since Gary Harris went down, the Nuggets have entrusted Barton with the starting spot, and he’s certainly rewarding them for it. 22 points on just 12 shots balances out some of the inefficiencies the Nuggets may have in their starting lineup right now, and his ball handling takes some pressure off of Emmanuel Mudiay.
Fiala: I thought the game pretty much went as expected. The Nuggets seemed really rusty but they did enough to get the win despite Anthony Davis. I will say I was surprised at Malone not using Nurkic or Jokic in the fourth quarter when Nurkic was having the game of his life, but Faried played like a real Manimal in the end. He defended well, took a couple of charges, rebounded and just hustled a lot. I like Bench Faried.
4. The Nuggets play at home on Saturday against Portland, then go on a five game road trip to Toronto, Minnesota, Detroit, Boston and Memphis. Which of these games will be the toughest matchup for the Nuggets?
Mikash: Got to be the game against the Celtics who are widely considered a top four, if not top two, team in the Eastern Conference this year. Add onto that that this game is the fourth on the road trip, on the second day of a back to back and has a fairly early start time and everything adds up to it being a schedule loss for the Nuggets. Pure matchup wise though I might lean towards the T-Wolves game. Karl-Anthony Towns is so quick for a player of his size and has such excellent range that neither Jusuf Nurkic nor Nikola Jokic present a great matchup for defending him.
Lewis: Boston. Horford helps the Celtics a ton, but they can also stick Avery Bradley on Emmanuel Mudiay. That's a bad matchup for Emmanuel. The Nuggets will have to rebound well, not turn the ball over like they did against New Orleans, and make shots.
Mares: They play Boston on the 4th game of a road trip, 2nd night of a back-to-back, and with travel in between. Throw in that Boston plays fast and small and you have both a schedule loss and a match-up problem. I think that one will be nearly impossible for Denver.
Blackburn: Has to be the Boston game because of their style of play and the matchups, but I will go a different route and say Toronto. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are one of the best backcourt tandems in the NBA, and while Jokic and Nurkic are developing here, Jonas Valanciunas just posted 32 points and 11 rebounds against Andre Drummond. They are one of the teams geared to beat the Nuggets given their advantages in the backcourt. While the Nuggets played them well last year, I’m not sure I expect that to continue.
Fiala: The Boston game for sure will be tough for all the reasons listed above, but the Memphis game at the end of the trip will be difficult as well even with the rest in between. The last game on an extended road trip against a physical, grind-it-out team is just a bad situation for Denver and will be a little too much.
5. What will be Denver’s record during this five game road trip?
Mikash: I’ll go with 2-3. I’m seeing losses in Toronto, Minnesota and Boston and victories in Detroit and Memphis. I have to say though I feel like I’m being optimistic with that number, I could easily see 1-4 or even 0-5. There’s little doubt that the schedule makers did the Nuggets no favors in the early part of the schedule so it’s important for fans and the organization to temper their expectations early. This year is just like the 2012-2013 57 win season in respects to schedule. The 2012-2013 team just needed to hover above .500 come January and then they made their run once the schedule eased up. This team just needs to hover within striking distance of .500 through January and then they will have an excellent chance to make the playoffs with a good majority of winnable games in February and March
Lewis: I think they’ll win one game on the road trip. I would like to see them win four games on the trip, but that seems highly unlikely. I thought they played well in their first game, against New Orleans, with the only troubling part of the game being the amount of turnovers. If they can take care of the ball, they were getting good looks at the rim and open shots on the perimeter. The Balkan Buddy Ball could be the change that helps the Nuggets become a threat to win each night they take the court.
Mares: 2-3 seems doable. Toronto, Minnesota and Detroit are the most winnable. Denver will probably be underdogs in every game of the 5-game road trip but those three are probably the best bet. As I mentioned above, Boston is a schedule loss and Memphis is the final game of the long road trip. Hard to see them winning those ones.
Blackburn: In my breakdown of the NBA schedule with Daniel, I penciled them in at 1-4 on this road trip. I also penciled them in with a win against Portland, so maybe they simply go 2-4 over that stretch of six games. That being said, Toronto, Minnesota, Detroit, Boston, and Memphis are all good teams, and if the Nuggets can steal two, that’s a successful road trip.
Fiala: 2-3 is realistic, but I think they will ultimately end up 1-4 for the stretch. For such a young team, starting off on the road like this will be a tough challenge that will ultimately get the best of them. I think they’ll steal a win in Minnesota or Detroit but lose a couple of close games on other nights, learn from the experience and come back strong later in the year.