What were your impressions of the first pre-season game?
Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): Jusuf Nurkic is back. He did have a few unnecessary fouls, and he missed some shots he would like to have back, but he is amazing when he is healthy and on his game. His ability to defend the rim really helps the Denver Nuggets, and he is able to get points in the post. He had some fantastic passes as well, a part of his game that hasn't been on display often.
Evan Fiala (@eefiala): I was very impressed with not only with how the rookies played but with how much fun they were having out there. Malik Beasley killed it on 4/4 shooting, Jamal Murray showed off his offensive prowess and ability to finish at the rim, and Juan Hernangomez is clearly a skilled big man. I loved how after Hernangomez made that sick 360 pass in the fourth quarter him and Beasley high fived and were laughing about how insane that play was. I'm definitely a big fan of the camaraderie this team has.
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): That I would like it better if Altitude televised it. Beyond that, Nurkic made a strong showing, but I'm still not sure how much the Nikola Jokic/Nurkic lineup (referred to affectionately as Jurkic in these parts) does for either Jokic or Danilo Gallinari. We have time to work out the kinks, but I still don't expect that to be a 20 MPG combo. Maybe 10. I loved the kids getting to ball out at the end of the game, and Gary Harris's explosiveness was very interesting (prior to the groin injury). Emmanuel Mudiay still seems to need work on his handle but was aggressive getting to the rack. Once he learns how to operate effectively at that speed things will get very interesting for the Nuggets.
Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): I might just be wrong about this Jurkic thing. I've always said that Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic will struggle when on the court together because neither is very effective at stopping penetration at the perimeter. While I still think this is true, it didn't come up much on Monday night and when those two were on the floor with Danilo Gallinari, Gary Harris and Emmanuel Mudiay man does that make for a long and powerful defensive lineup. I think Nurkic is the key, he was excellent defensively monday night and can clean up those perimeter defense mistakes with his imposing paint presence.
How concerned are you about Gary Harris' groin injury?
Lewis: On a scale of 1-10, about a 4. The Nuggets have other two-guards that need time on the court. That position is the one the Nuggets have the most options at, and while none of them are as good as Harris, at least there are options.
I will add that I think the Nuggets shouldn't rule out starting Malik Beasley while Harris is out. If the Nuggets do start with Jokic and Nurkic in the frontcourt, they need a shooting guard that is more of a shooter than a slasher, which is what Will Barton does well. The coaches can tell Beasley to defend like crazy, and then go stand behind the 3-point line on offense. They can always swap in Barton when needed, and that doesn't force Murray into a role he's not going to fill later. It also gives Beasley some minutes, something that will be hard to come by once Harris returns.
Fiala: I'm definitely concerned. It seems a lot more serious than initially reported, and I think the Nuggets need to exercise extreme caution with it because Harris will be valuable near the end of the season if (when!) the Nuggets are in the playoff hunt. It sucks cause the first stretch of the schedule is already brutal enough as it is and to already be down a starter will hurt. While it does present an excellent opportunity for both Murray and Beasley to get some quality burn in preseason, it could also mean the Nuggets start off the season in a hole.
Gross: If Harris is gone for 4-6 weeks then that's concerning, but the Nuggets are better equipped to deal with that absence than they have been in recent memory. If this was the first game of the regular season instead of the first preseason game I'd be even more concerned, but we are suddenly deep at SG with Barton, Murray and Beasley all available for minutes. None of them are the defensive presence that Harris can be (as was obvious in that first preseason game) but from a manpower and offensive production perspective we're okay there for the next few games. Groin strains can linger and will make it hard for Gary to get into game shape, but even if it bleeds into the regular season it's not a death blow in the early going. They just need to make sure he's healthy before putting him back on the floor.
Mikash: With the news dropping that it's a partial tear and he's going to miss 4-6 weeks color me fairly concerned. Groin issues are tricky, if you've ever had a groin injury you know that its pretty difficult just to walk, let alone sprint at full speed. Years ago the Denver Broncos Champ Bailey dealt with a groin tear that plagued him throughout the season and ultimately ended with him getting shut down for the year. Gary's doesn't sound as serious as Champ's was but basketball also requires a lot more consistent running at top speed. The Nuggets need to be extra cautious with this one and not send out Garris until he is 100% healed.
Emmanuel Mudiay and D'Angelo Russell go against each other in the next two preseason games, will this ever become a legitimate rivalry?
Lewis: I think that teams need to meet in the playoffs for a true to develop, at least for teams that aren't geographically pitted against each other. I don't see the Lakers making the playoffs any time soon, so I don't think a rivalry will develop.
Fiala: I hope Mudiay feels and plays like it's a rivalry because Russell has quickly become the fanboy for future point guards, while a lot of folks outside of Denver have already written Mudiay off. If both teams were to meet in the playoffs it could certainly develop into something more heated but I think for now it won't be much more than "talk" of a rivalry rather than an actual rivalry.
Gross: Mudiay went at Russell HARD last year, gunning away with something to prove. In his mind he obviously feels like he should have gone ahead of D'Angelo in the draft and has a chip on his shoulder about it, which I like. But rivalries require both teams to be good, so the Lakers need to get about building a real team again for their personal grudge match to matter.
Mikash: I think we as writers and fans really want the Mudiay-Russell rivalry to be a thing, but I don't really feel like either guy has the same feeling. I'm sure there's a bit of a chip on Mudiay's shoulder because Russell was picked ahead of him but I don't think it goes any farther than that. Until these guys are going shot for shot against one another in a playoff game or a regular season game with playoff implications I think there's more style than substance with this "rivalry."
Will Kenneth Faried be the starting PF on opening night?
Lewis: Yes, I think he will be. With Gary Harris getting hurt, the Nuggets need to do some tinkering with the opening day starting lineup, and having an old hat in the lineup should help. His rebounding and quickness should help him match up with Anthony Davis (as if anyone can truly match up with Davis).
Fiala: I don't think so... I expect Malone to play around with the starting lineups a bit more in preseason, but I would expect Faried to start only if Arthur still isn't back or if the Jurkic lineup completely fails between now and then. I think the time has come that he will be coerced into a bench role, whether he likes it or not.
Gross: I would not have said this 10 days ago, but no. Malone bringing Faried off the bench in the first preseason game was a strong way to underscore the PF quandary he himself raised at media day. There's no way to tell if Darrell Arthur will be ready for the opener, but Malone can absolutely start with the Jurkic lineup and bring Faried off the bench halfway through the first. Regardless of what option Malone goes with, I would not put money on Faried getting that starting call in game one, even though it's still an option.
Mikash: No. I feel like the organization has give EVERY indication that it will not be Faried starting at power forward. I used to think that because Darrell Arthur was injured Faried would have to be the starter but there are two very telling things in my opinion that now make me think otherwise. First, Coach Malone is quoted on the power forward position as saying "Decision on (PF) will be made upon who has the best camp but also who we think is going to be the most important for us moving forward and big picture"...not exactly a ringing endorsement for Faried. Second, coach followed that up by starting Jokic at power forward and that looked pretty good. I'd say Jokic will start at PF come the beginning of the regular season.
Which was better, Wilson Chandler's reverse throwdown or Juancho Hernangomez's spinning no look pass?
Lewis: Juancho's pass. This was his first preseason game, and he's only known Jarnell for a few weeks. For him to have the awareness that Stokes would A) be cutting to the basket in this situation and B) know that if he bounced a pass Stokes would be able to catch and finish is remarkable. There are a few players capable of doing things on the court where my only reaction is just awe, and that was one of those moments. It was incredible.
Fiala: This is tough... Juancho's pass pretty much blew my mind and Chandler's dunk made me leap up and fist pump because it's so refreshing to see him back like that. I'm going to have to go with Juancho though, if only because the skill required to make such a pass is not something I would have expected from someone who hasn't even played a real NBA game yet.
Gross: Hernangomez's pass is already submitted for pass of the year, so that's a hard one to top. I had to watch the replay several times to make sure he really meant to make it (and he definitely did). But seeing Chandler get back out on the court and show some athleticism as well as pinache has to cheer Nuggets fans everywhere. Hernangomez showed he can pass (perhaps spectacularly well for his position) but Chandler showed he's healthy, which a is big deal for the potential of this team. Give it to Chandler.
Mikash: In sheer difficulty factor I give it to Hernangomez who somehow saw Jarnell Stokes while doing a 360 and found him with a sweet behind the back pass. However, as far as overall feel good it has to go to Chandler. After missing the entire season it was great to see him back and looking like he hasn't missed a step. Big things are coming this season from Ill Will, I just know it.