Can the new starting lineup sustain their early success?
Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares): Not only can they, but they will. Maybe not to the tune of a 146 ORTG like they had through their first three games, but I do think that they will be a big net positive most games. More importantly, starting those five guys allows Malone to have a very nice rotation later on in the quarter and throughout the game. He hasn’t always done that properly (Clippers and Mavericks) but it’s a giant step in the right direction.
Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): I think this lineup is good enough for the Nuggets to win half of their remaining games. I'm concerned about their ability to rebound, defend the rim, and stay healthy. It's a nice concept to play Gallinari and Chandler together as combo forwards, but Gallo is a poor rebounder and Chandler can't protect the rim. They will need to outscore opponents, and if the guards can't knock down shots, it'll be trouble.
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): For as long as they’re together I do expect the starting lineup to be much more successful than they were to begin the year. Daniel’s .500 prediction sounds about right. I’m not expecting rebounding troubles (Denver still hasn’t had any with that lineup and with Faried coming off the bench to help) but I do wonder how long all the pieces will be here. A call needs to be made on Gallinari by February if not sooner, and Faried has been available for the right price for a while - it’s just that no one can agree on what that price is. I like a lot of what’s happening for the Nuggets right now and it begins with that improved starting 5. I’m enjoying it while it lasts.
Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): I'll go with no. I think lost in the good feelings of a three game win streak that the team desperately needed was the fact that they played three pretty mediocre teams. Also lost in the three victories is the fact that the Nuggets played some pretty lousy defense along the way. Giving up over 113 points a game on average is fine when you're playing the New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks of the world, especially when you're at home, but consistently being a sieve on D as Denver has been is not a recipe for success.
Do you agree with Jusuf Nurkic’s benching and apparent removal from the rotation?
Mares: This is the toughest conundrum the Nuggets have going right now. As a player with tons of talent and upside, Nurkic is good enough to warrant minutes on almost any team, especially a sub .500 team like the Nuggets. But he plays the same position as Jokic who is much, much better. So the most important thing for Malone to think about is how to maximize Jokic. Statistically speaking, Kenneth Faried and Nikola Jokic are the team’s best two-man combination so Faried has to play. And Nurkic-Faried are among the team’s worst combinations, as is Nurkic-Jokic. Which means Nurkic can’t play with Jokic (who MUST play) and Nurkic can’t play with Faried (who must play, at least some minutes with Jokic), so either Denver has to play both Faried and Nurkic 15 very fragmented minutes per game, or Malone just has to pick the one that fits best. Sadly, that is NOT Nurkic.
Lewis: Sort of? The Nuggets want to make the playoffs, so they are going to play their current best players in an attempt to do so. However, I think in the long run, it would be better for the Nuggets to develop Nurkic. This isn't some scrub - he started nearly every game this season before getting totally removed from the location. Jokic is a better player - that much seems evident. If Nurkic can't accept that he isn't the starting center, and won't accept a backup role, then the DNP-CD makes sense. Maybe it's time to consider trading him for a more natural backup and wing help.
Gross: It’s hard to say without knowing the whole story. Right now Malone has limited the rotation to 9 men on a team that is very deep, so several guys are going to be limited to a bench cheerleading role when they could get productive minutes if allowed. As the other guys have stated, Nurkic’s effective fit on this roster hasn’t been found (or at least utilized) yet but it’s not in the starting lineup. Simply benching a talented big on a rookie contract doesn’t help him grow, though, or improve his trade value. Nurkic has to play at some point to both show the Nuggets how he can fit with this team effectively or show other teams that he might be worth something in trade.
Mikash: Not really. I mean I get it, if you're going to play Barton, Gary Harris and Jamal Murray that means Wilson Chandler is sliding to the four which leaves you the choice of Kenneth Faried or Nurkic in that backup center role and coach Malone has chosen Faried. I like Faried at power forward next to Jokic where his skill set is maximized, Faried at center is where his weaknesses are magnified, especially lack of Post game on offense and his inability to guard the post on defense. Nurkic can be incredibly frustratin, don't get me wrong, but when it comes to backup center I'm going with Nurk.
Will Barton’s name popped up in trade rumors this week, what kind of return would the Nuggets have to get for him for you to say it’s a good trade?
Mares: Barton’s contract is among the most team-friendly contracts in the league. He’s also a very good bench scorer and tough shot maker. Denver needs his playmaking off of the bench but could sacrifice in the short-term if they can get something with a more long-term value. I don’t see Barton being traded 1-for-1, but I could see him being the selling point of a larger deal. For example, Darrell Arthur, Danilo Gallinari, and Will Barton for a star player like Blake Griffin.
Lewis: Wing players are incredibly valuable in the NBA, and few are on as friendly of a contract as Barton. I'm a huge fan of Barton, but would be open to packaging him with Nurkic in a trade for a big that can protect the rim and a wing defender. The Nuggets have plenty of players on the second unit that will shoot - they need someone to play defense. I would be ecstatic if the Nuggets moved Barton and Nurkic to the Spurs for Dewayne Dedmon and Danny Green, for example.
Gross: As Adam said, I think Barton is the league’s best sweetener to any deal. His low pricetag means he can easily fit into most trades and the year and a half that remains on his contract gives a playoff team 2 shots at getting value from him in the postseason instead of just one. Barton is too good to sit (the guy was a sixth man candidate last year after all!) but is probably still better as a bench weapon. I’d expect a first-round pick for him if he’s traded by himself (likely to a playoff team without much payroll flexibility) or I’d try to pair him and Faried (plus a pick) for a player like Derrick Favors. The Nuggets have to consolidate their roster, and packaging multiple good players (like Barton) to add one really good player should be the goal over the next 8 weeks.
Mikash: Its hard to find a one for one deal that makes sense. Sure the Nuggets could trade Barton for a power forward so they could move Chandler back to the three but Chandler has actually been excelling in the power forward role. Whether it's Barton or any other rotation player, if the Nuggets are going to make a deal they are going to have to make a big one, a star trade type deal. Anything else is just shuffling around deck chairs. Barton is a great piece for a deal like that because he's good, he's got the best contract in the NBA and the Nuggets have a surplus of wings.
The Nuggets are 5-6 in the month of December and have four games to go, will they close out December with a winning record for the month?
Mares: No, but barely. I think the Clippers are the toughest matchup for Denver in the NBA so that game is another lopsided loss. They can win all of the home games which include, ATL, MIN, PHI but I doubt that they win all three. However, if they can manage to win out at home and sit at 15-18 heading into the new year, that’d be a lot of momentum and probably good enough to be in sole possession of the 8th seed. Should be a fun home stand to close out 2016.
Lewis: No. I think they'll lose two more games, which will make it impossible to have a winning record for December. Atlanta is a tough matchup for Jokic, and the Clippers will beat Denver again. First January game is against the Warriors (fake fans, that's your cue to buy tickets to the game and cheer on Golden State).
Gross: I’ll say yes. They still have some kinks to work out with their new lineups, especially on the defensive side, and I think that will hurt them against ATL and the Clips who love to move the ball and put pressure on the weak spots of a defense. But if they can snag one of those games (and the the Clippers rematch is the day after Christmas on the second half of a back-to-back for L.A. this time) and handle their business again the Wolves and Sixers that would be a winning month (and wins in 6 of their last 8). I’m feeling optimistic today.
Mikash: It sets up like they should end out 8-7 on the month but color me skeptical. It's hard to convince me that they can beat the Hawks, even at home or that they won't put up a dud against the Timberwolves or the 76ers (who the Nuggets needed a buzzer beating half court shot to beat last time Philly was in Denver). If you can't tell by my responses to this roundtable, I'm pumping the brakes on Nuggets optimism right now. I think they're still that team who is prone to mental lapses and one of the three winnable games they have left in December (they won't beat the Clippers) will get dropped due to lousy effort.