Welcome to this week’s Roundtable! There could have been a dozen questions with how the week has gone, but we settled for just four.
1: Can the Nuggets make a lineup featuring Nikola Jokic as a point-center actually work as legit contender and not just a cute oddity?
Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares): As emphatically as I can say this - YES! Like most championship teams, the roster would have to be constructed very nicely around him but Jokic absolutely can be a featured player on a contender. And more to the point of the question, playing through a “point-center” may seem odd right now, but I actually think in 5 years it will be a bit more common. Centers that can pass change the way a team has to play defense, so it’s no surprise that the Nuggets are the league’s 2nd best offense over the last 7 games. The Nuggets are still a ways away from being contenders, but Jokic is absolutely a serious piece to a championship puzzle.
Ryan Blackburn (@RyanBlackburn9): Absolutely. Ever since the Nuggets drafted Nikola Jokic, I have been a fan of “inverting the offense” by placing big men on the perimeter and allowing guards and wings to drive unabated into the paint. So far, that plan seems to be working pretty well, with Jokic acting as the facilitator from the perimeter and guards like Mudiay and Harris used as drivers and cutters as opposed to facilitators. As Jokic grows and learns various facets of offense at the NBA level, he will get even better through time. What must happen next though is for Michael Malone and the rest of the coaching staff to become creative with the offensive principles and sets.
Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): While Adam and Ryan are measuring Jokic for championship rings, I’ll be over here saying I’m not totally sold. I think the Nuggets offense can get to a point where they are playoff caliber, but the team will need to also find capable defenders to play around Jokic as well. In my opinion, Jokic will never be a top-tier defensive center, and he plays a position where defense is such a high priority. Outscoring opponents can help make the Nuggets contenders, but Nuggets fans have seen how far prolific offenses can take a team into the postseason. In order to be a championship-caliber team, they’ll need to find or develop one or two elite two-way players to play alongside Jokic. These will be players that benefit from Jokic’s playmaking ability while helping cover his defensive limitations. I think that’s one of the reasons I’m in favor of adding a player like Otto Porter in free agency or drafting a defensive wing like Josh Jackson (I can dream).
2: How does Denver get the most out of its theoretically-deep bench the remainder of the year?
Mares: There is no perfect answer to this but there are things that I’d like them to explore. Jusuf Nurkic needs to play. He’s good. He has lots of really serious flaws that he may or may not ever work through, but he’s good enough right now despite those flaws to warrant minutes off of the bench. I think the 9 man rotation is smart which means someone has to be cut out or have their minutes reduced. The safe bet is to cut Faried’s minutes and hand those over to Nurkic but perhaps the best option is to slowly work toward that by playing both 10 mpg until Nurkic figures out how to vacate the paint. If Nurkic can learn how NOT to clog the lane, he immediately becomes more impactful.
Blackburn: I agree with Adam. I believe that slowly phasing Nurkic into the rotation and replacing him with Faried is the right move. I would also look to accomplish two more things: explore more options with Murray at point guard, and increase Juancho’s opportunities slightly. For the first point, I see Murray being a solid secondary distributor in his future, especially with someone like Jokic shouldering the load most of the time. He has to work on his off ball movement and feel for this new offense, and I’d like to see him get 5-10 minutes a game with Jokic on the floor. As for Juancho, I’m afraid of what will happen if (knock on wood) one of our starting forwards sustains an injury. Juancho is the only player with the size and shooting combination that Gallo and Chandler possess, and I would feel more comfortable if he was getting at least some occasional game minutes. I don’t want to open up the bench to an 11-12 man rotation, but 11-12 players need to stay ready at all times for this team to remain successful.
Lewis: Are you asking me to make trade proposals? Wait, I’m getting word from Adam that is NOT the direction I should take. At the beginning of the season, I thought the Nuggets were deep in the same sense an above-ground pool is deep. Sure, it may look like there’s a lot of water, but we’re basically talking about a massive cattle tank. I’m fine with Coach Malone giving Jameer Nelson and Kenneth Faried minutes this season. Jamal Murray and Juancho Hernangomez are young enough that it’s understandable for their minutes to be limited. The Nuggets young players aren’t going anywhere, and they aren’t needed at the moment. I like the theory of sticking to a 9-man rotation, and I think it will be successful in the long run. To get the most out of their “deep” bench, they should stick with a consistent rotation.
3: Was the Jusuf Nurkic sighting in the last game a signal that more minutes at backup center for him are on the horizon, or just a blip on the radar?
Mares: Anyone that tells you they know the answer to this is lying through their teeth. Malone has come out and said that the rotation is set and the proceeded to change things up just hours later. So I’m cautiously optimistic that Nurkic will slowly work his way back into the rotation but the only legitimate answer is “who knows?”
Blackburn: Malone hinted at the team needing Nurkic to be ready for Philadelphia and Sacramento, but he did not say Golden State, who the Nuggets play in the middle of that. My guess is that Malone continues to use him situationally rather than regularly. I expect Faried to take the bulk of the backup center minutes, but Malone will likely deploy Nurkic when the need for size arises. I am about six percent confident in that.
Lewis: I asked my Magic 8 ball if Nurkic will be part of the rotation, and it replied “Very doubtful.” I suppose that means Malone will just play him in the matchups he deems are best for the Nuggets talented young center.
4: With the fires still raging around the league after the latest round of excerpts from his book, it’s fair to ask: will George Karl, the 5th-winningest coach of all time, make the Hall of Fame?
Mares: He deserves to. The Hall isn’t for good people, nice people, or even polite people. It’s for the best and most influential basketball people. George is outing himself as a terrible person in a lot of ways and, after reading his book, I am glad that people are seeing exactly what made him such a difficult personality for years and years. But he was still a very good basketball coach. His ceremony will be bittersweet and the honor won’t take away from the damage that he’s done to himself and his legacy, but the Hall acts as a sort of history of the game. No history will be complete without George Karl, warts and all.
Blackburn: Karl’s situation feels very “Pete Rose” esque for my baseball people out there: a wonderful addition to the sport who deserves to be in the Hall of Fame based on actual contributions, but extenuating circumstances prevent it. I hope that’s not the way it goes, because it would be nice to have another Denver Nuggets representative go into the Hall. With that being said, it certainly feels tainted.
Lewis: I’m a religious guy, and I believe in the healing power of forgiveness. But with Karl, man, screw that guy. What a tool. Any Nuggets fan that pines for Karl to come back to Denver should immediately change their opinion. He is a not nice person. He can kiss the Hall goodbye.