We’re only two games into the preseason and already the hot takes are, well, coming in hot regarding this Nuggets team.
Two games is not enough of a sample size to accurately forecast or identify all of the potential problems or solutions that make up a basketball team, especially one that is so young and facing so much unknown. But two games is a good place to start the discussion.
With that, here are my thoughts and reactions to what I’ve seen and heard about the preseason thus far.
Emmanuel Mudiay is not the future PG of this team. I understand where a lot of people are coming from, but this is about as big of an overreaction as you can get at this point. Let’s take a step back for now. Mudiay had a mostly disappointing rookie season which highlighted his severe weaknesses in shooting and turning the ball over, and most of us (myself included) had hoped that work in the offseason would be able to correct these errors.
Two games in, it doesn’t appear so - yet. Yes, Mudiay had a pretty awful game last night against the Lakers. He shot 2-10 from the floor, only scored four points, had four turnovers and looked like a peasant compared to D’Angelo Russell who at times torched the Nuggets in every way imaginable. Earlier this week against Toronto he shot 3-11, only scored seven points and turned it over three times. Those numbers certainly don’t instill confidence for your franchise point guard, but they are also just from two games. Two meaningless, shake-off-the-rust, preseason games.
It’s easy to get frustrated by the kink in his jump shot that’s still there or by his silly (and sometimes terrible) turnovers. But this is what the preseason is for. It’s one thing to practice your form in the offseason but it’s another to implement it perfectly at game speed right away. And while his turnovers do raise a red flag, that doesn’t change that he’s a good playmaker and passer. I’m confident the turnovers will reduce with time, like they did last season.
Mudiay is still going to be a damn good basketball player, just not as quick as fans want him to be. If he’s still putting up poor stats like this in December or January, or even by the end of the season, we can start to question his ability to improve and fine tune his game. But for now, let’s not call for his head.
Jurkic Lineup. When at media day Michael Malone wouldn’t give a definite answer about who was starting at power forward this immediately became the biggest storyline of the preseason. And then Malone started Nikola Jokic at PF and Jusuf Nurkic at C for the past two games, officially christening the "Jurkic" lineup as a real possibility for the Nuggets this season.
But has it worked so far? There is no definitive answer. Nurkic has looked pretty solid, putting up double-doubles and showing a renewed sense of energy on both ends of the floor after his sophomore slump last year. But he has also looked erratic on offense and has nine turnovers in two games, which to me means he might be getting the ball a little too much on offense. Jokic has also impressed, but defensively I’m concerned with him guarding the perimeter instead of the paint where he was a very underrated rim protector as a rookie.
I’m also concerned with how playing Jokic and Nurkic together can stagnate the rest of the offense. Danilo Gallinari, the Nuggets best scorer, thrives off of taking his man off the dribble and going for an easy bucket or drawing the foul. Mudiay also attacks the basket often with the intent to pass or finish at the rim. With two big men in the front court, however, the spacing is a lot more congested, making it difficult for these two to make their plays. I also don’t feel that the Nuggets are a good enough three-point shooting team yet to really take advantage of this lineup.
The preseason is a great time to experiment and tinker around, but I’m not sure Jurkic is the way to go in the long run. I haven’t seen enough to convince me that it wouldn’t be better to start Jokic at center and have Nurkic come off of the bench. Darrell Arthur can start at the four and Faried off of the bench, or vice-versa. I could be wrong, but I would rather utilize both Jokic’s and Nurkic’s strengths, which are both at the 5.
Jamal Murray is something special. We all knew Jamal Murray was a good scorer, and he’s done a fine job of scoring in his two games in a variety of ways. But what impressed me the most was the poise and leadership he showed at the end of the game last night. Let’s look at the last few minutes of the fourth quarter:
2:05 - Jarnell Stokes sets a high pick, Murray dribbles right and pulls up off the dribble at the top of the key for an easy two. Nuggets 94, Lakers 93.
1:13 - Stokes sets another high pick, Murray drives left then hits Stokes on the roll for a layup. Nuggets 96, Lakers 93.
:46 - Stokes sets yet another pick, Murray drives left and nails a pull up three to put a dagger in the game. Nuggets 99, Lakers 95.
:23 - Juancho Hernangomez knocks the ball out of Travis Wear’s hands, Murray picks it up and takes it down the court then hits a slashing Malik Beasley for a layup in transition. Nuggets 101, Lakers 95.
Really, Murray won that game for the Nuggets. He took control those last few minutes and with his five points and two assists Denver put the Lakers away. There have been a lot of questions regarding what position Murray will play or where he will find minutes, but if he can show poise and confidence like that on a continuous basis I would have no problem with him as a backup point guard for now. He’s looked impressive thus far, with some flaws, but very impressive.
Who gets the 15th roster spot? Two games into the preseason and out of the six players vying for the last roster spot, only two (Robbie Hummel and Jarnell Stokes) have actually gotten playing time. Does this mean anything? Probably not, as there are still six more preseason games to be played. I like Stokes a lot and if Malone is intent on utilizing Jurkic for large amounts of minutes this season then the Nuggets will need a serviceable backup center. Stokes has done a fine job running the pick and roll and rebounding in his limited minutes thus far. Hummel has yet to really do anything, so maybe it’s time for Malone to let some of the other players get some burn in his stead. In the end, I’m not too invested in who gets the last spot - hopefully whoever it is won’t get playing time this season anyways.
Tim Connelly is the best thing to happen to this franchise in years. Overreaction? Maybe. But you can’t deny that Connelly is a freaking wizard. In my mind he’s like the Gandalf of drafting. I get that you can’t really judge a draft until a few years down the road when the players have panned out or not, but with this Nuggets team I look at all of the young’uns and can’t help but feel excited about the future. Not all of them will become star players by any means, but I look at this roster and can’t see anyone where I might think "hmm… this guy probably won’t be in the league five years from now." Down the road I can realistically see each one of these guys being contributors to the team and I love it. Well done, Tim.