What was the most alarming part about the Nuggets losing streak?
Ryan Blackburn (@RyanBlackburn9): For me, the complete lack of intensity and focus has been disconcerting. In high pressure situations, certain players on the team have either decided that they don’t want to give full effort. This has led to open shots for the opposing team and jump shots on the other end. The Nuggets aren’t a good jump shooting team, so they can’t get away with it. As for the lack of focus, turnover numbers speak for themselves, and while many will scapegoat Emmanuel Mudiay, he’s not the only culprit. He, along with the rest of the team, need to clean up the sloppiness with the basketball.
Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): Two things in particular have stood out to me: the lack of action for Nikola Jokic and the continued struggles of Mudiay. Neither makes sense. It seems as though the things that have haunted Mudiay in his young career, poor finishing and turnovers, have gotten even worse during the losing streak, almost to the point where one has to start wondering if he’s never going to figure it out. Jokic being relegated to the bench is also alarming. I think it really highlights that Nurkic and Jokic working together on the court, or even on the same roster, might be a pipe dream and eventually the Nuggets’ hand could be forced and they’ll have to move one of them.
Evan Fiala (@eefiala): Aside from Mudiay’s struggles and the injuries that keep piling up, my biggest concern would be the play from both Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic. Malone made the right call to disband the Jurkic lineup, but ever since their separation neither player has really done much. Like at all. Considering that Nurkic was turning heads around the entire league just a few weeks ago, and that Jokic coming off the bench to get more minutes at center was for his benefit, I’m a little concerned at the lack of production from that position. Luckily, Kenneth Faried has learned to play basketball again so it’s kind of working out.
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): Lack of fight for the whole game. I can understand lineup confusion, or simple poor shotmaking, but when I would expect a team to rise up and say “no more” they simply seem bewildered that they cannot get it done while playing with an utter lack of energy and effort. If you’re the less-talented and/or less-experienced team you’d better bring some heart to that fight, but I would not characterize this team over this stretch as scrappy by any means. They lack that 4-quarter effort Malone is harping on, and they need to find it going forward.
2. Who should be starting at center, Nikola Jokic or Jusuf Nurkic?
Blackburn: I’ve been very vocal about my desire for Jokic to start. Not only was he one of the most impressive rookies in the entire NBA last season, but he simply makes everyone in the starting lineup. His versatile offense and positional defense make him a great complimentary piece for a starting lineup featuring Mudiay. Great pick and roll combinations can attack the defense in different ways, and while Mudiay likes to go to the paint, Jokic can work at all three levels.
Fiala: I think Jokic should be starting at center. He fits the rest of the starting lineup like a glove and provides a lot better spacing for Mudiay to work with, and Nurkic off the bench would be a force to be reckoned with. I’m not sure if this will happen in the near future or if Nurkic will ever agree to a secondary role, but I do think this switch needs to be made and that it’s in the best interest of the team to do so.
Mikash: I prefer Jokic. Even if he is not the greatest pairing with Faried he still is too talented to let sit on the bench. Nurkic has slowed since his hot start to the season and Mudiay continues to struggle. Jokic will give Mudiay more room to operate in the paint as well as provide another playmaking option on the floor. Unfortunately, with Faried also starting, pairing him with Jokic leaves the Nuggets lacking defensively. Still, Jokic has shown that when not asked to defend the perimeter he is serviceable on that end. Bottom line, Jokic is the most talented center and he should be starting.
Gross: Jokic. I like him better with Mudiay, although Nurkic’s willingness to pass against the Phoenix Suns when he was on the block netted him immediate assists and some praise from Malone even though he didn’t score. Jokic just makes the passing game easier for Mudiay (as long as Nikola’s not trying behind-the-back passes to a wing in transition anyway) and I want Jokic to get his confidence back at the 5. There are very few backup 5s in the league who can stop Nurkic from doing anything he wants to do and that should help him get back to steam-rolling as well. I have no idea what lineup Malone feels like running game-to-game though.
3. What are your thoughts on the release of Jarnell Stokes and the subsequent signing of Alonzo Gee?
Blackburn: It’s the classic “hey, we have injuries in the backcourt, so let’s release the 15th man who rarely plays and sign a player for insurance” move. I don’t make much of it at all. Gee played with the Nuggets a couple of seasons ago, and I’m not expecting anything different from what he provided then. He likely won’t see much of the court, but if the Nuggets need an aggressive wing defender and others are unavailable, he could get some burn.
Fiala: Meh, it’s nice to see Gee back I guess. Given the circumstances I’m not surprised at all that this move was made, especially considering Stokes has also been injured. I do wish, however, that Gee would not come ahead of Malik Beasley on the depth chart like he did last night against Phoenix. He only got four minutes, but that was four more minutes than Beasley and Beasley clearly has the higher upside.
Mikash: Its a shame that Stokes had to be let go because I thought he had really earned his roster spot in the preseason. Such is the life of a the 15th man on the roster though, with Will Barton and Gary Harris hurt the Nuggets needed to make a move. However, I'm with Evan, I'd rather not see Gee getting minutes over Beasley.
Gross: Tough luck for the hard-working Stokes, but it was a numbers game. By its very nature, removing the only true backup 5 on the roster should limit the Jurkic lineup, which may be a positive - unless Malone refuses to run them together at all due to foul trouble which would then limit both Jokic and Nurkic to a little over 20 MPG. We’ll see; by itself it means very little, but it could have some ripples in the everyday lineups.
4. Do the Nuggets need to start aggressively pursuing trade options or should they stay patient with their roster?
Blackburn: Now, I’m always thinking of trade options and share my thoughts frequently, but they don’t NEED to do anything. What’s nice about the situation the Nuggets are currently in is that they can wait until a team with a disgruntled star calls them. The Nuggets will pick up, listen to the options, and make an assessment on if the proposal is good. Until then, they shouldn’t be aggressively going after anybody until the trade deadline. The team has too much youth and too much depth. If the team makes the wrong deal, it could leave a mark for years to come. They must be patient.
Fiala: This is a question I’ve been toiling with recently. Earlier in the year (before the season) I would have said no, they need to ride this season out with what they have and evaluate after who fits and who doesn’t. But even eleven games in it is obvious how a lack of consistent lineups and playing time can mess with the team, and this is even with several players always being injured. Now I think that a consolidation trade would behoove the Nuggets IF the right trade is made. They don’t need to go out and make a deal just for the sake of making a deal, but like Ryan said they need to be patient with it. Fortunately Tim Connelly seems to be pretty good at that.
Mikash: I'll come right out and say it, I think they should trade Nurkic. This is not a criticism of Juka, it's just I don't think having two 22 and under starting caliber centers on a roster works. At best it's excessive and at worst it hampers the development of the players and the team. In an ideal world Paul George becomes disgruntled in Indiana and the Nuggets center a package around Nurkic and Gallinari, but I’m not holding my breath.
Gross: The Nuggets don’t NEED to do anything. They can absolutely ride it out with the kids, take their two expected first-round draft picks next year and continue the rebuild apace. They also have the ammo to swing almost any deal that would be available. I’m not sure all the pieces they have now work together, and they almost certainly have too many similarly-talented players which makes rotations and lineups hard to juggle, but when you trade players early you take the risk that the one you give up is the one you should have kept. On the other hand, trade value drops if you won’t play a guy and therefore can’t showcase him. I’ll say they should be pursuing trade options - they just don’t have to bite at the first offer. It has to be a consolidation trade, though, not a one-for-one. Denver has a big decision to make on Gallo since he can be a free agent after the season, but I’d say Nurkic, Barton and Faried are atop my list for that sort of trade (even though two of those guys create most of the hustle energy on the team).