What in your eyes would be considered an acceptable record on the current road trip?
Ryan Blackburn (@RyanBlackburn9): For me, it has always been 3-3 or better. They have started 1-2 against the Utah Jazz, Philadelphia 76ers, and Brooklyn Nets, so ground must be made up over the next three games to reach a three win threshold. At this point, the goal goes beyond wins. The team is dysfunctional. The rotations and combinations make little sense, the bench is outperforming the starting lineup, and various players are drastically under performing. In order to go 2-1 over the next three games, the Denver Nuggets have to make some changes to their starting group. All three games or VERY winnable, but if they continue to dig holes with turnovers and poor cohesiveness on both ends, a road trip that was supposed to be positive will become very negative.
Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares): 3-3 is the bottom end of acceptable. It’s a C- grade and would not be anything to be excited about but it also wouldn’t be a reason to get too bent out of shape. 2-4 would be a disaster. 1-5 and it might be time to start blogging about something else. This team needs to start figuring some things out in a hurry or else the entire year will be lost.
Evan Fiala (@eefiala): The way things are going, 3-3 would be salvageable for me but I would love for them to win out and go 4-2. The Nuggets are by no means a great team, but even good teams find ways to win against (theoretically) inferior opponents. I think the rest of this trip will let us know for sure what this team is made of. If they win out or finish 3-3 then there’s still hope, if they keep regressing and finish 2-4 or 1-5 then it might be safe to say this team is a disaster.
Forget 6MOY, is Wilson Chandler worthy of a spot on the All-Star team?
Blackburn: At this point, it’s not about Chandler. He’s been great in his role, but he’s a sixth man on a team with a losing record. There are many other players that are putting up better numbers against starting caliber frontcourts. At this point, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, and Marc Gasol have to be penciled into the roster. That would make up the entirety of the frontcourt spots in the Western Conference except one, and it doesn’t include players like Draymond Green, Karl-Anthony Towns, Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert, Steven Adams, Deandre Jordan, and even Andrew Wiggins or Rudy Gay. I love Chandler, and his contributions have kept the Nuggets above water, but when pitting his production against the aforementioned players, I’d be hard pressed to put him into the All-Star game.
Mares: Chandler is my guy and he is playing the best I’ve ever seen him play but I don’t think talking about the all-star game is realistic. As Ryan points out, the forward position in the Western conference is stacked and as great as Wilson has been, I don’t think he belongs in the all star game. But since you brought it up, I don’t think anyone has a stronger case than Wilson for 6th man of the year. He’s been the Nuggets best and most consistent player. No other 6th man candidate can say that.
Fiala: There’s no denying that Chandler is killing it, but he won’t make the All-Star team. The rest of the prominent forwards in the West are probably better than him on average and to be frank they all come from winning teams. He would never win the popularity contest even if he did deserve it. 6th man of the year is far more reasonable and realistic for him.
The Nuggets 3 point defense has started to look a lot more like last season’s (bad) lately, what do you think is the cause?
Blackburn: As Adam indicated in the Locked on Nuggets podcast, the Nuggets have changed up their scheme to try and help the two players directly involved in the pick and roll. This is because the guard defending the ball handler cannot avoid the screen, and neither of the two big men (Jusuf Nurkic or Nikola Jokic) are both instinctual and agile enough to contain both players as they move to the basket. The Nuggets are taking the perimeter players and sinking them into the paint, which frees up shooters and causes the defense to scramble. That...and some Nuggets haven’t been trying too hard lately to close out.
Mares: There isn’t any one thing. It’s a multitude of things contributing to the team’s dwindling defense. First, the guards can’t contain anybody. Jameer Nelson, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Jamal Murray are all negative defenders right now and that is putting a ton of pressure on everyone else to help out on drives, pick and roll, and isolations. Ryan also alluded to this but the Nuggets have started helping a lot more off of weak side in pick and roll situations. This has been a disaster for their three-point defense. Malone made the adjustment because he was sick of watching the team get beat in the paint but the tradeoff of wide open threes has been much worse, in my opinion.
Fiala: Ryan and Adam covered some of the intricacies of it, but overall this defense is just bad. I think in addition to the schemes a lot of problem just comes from lack of effort on that end of the floor. There are times when the Nuggets are able to “clamp down” and stop the other team, but most often than not the help defense is spotty, easy shots are given up and the team gets visibly frustrated.
Are the Nuggets lapses, we’ll call it that, against the Miami Heat, Houston Rockets and Nets an aberration, or a sign of things to come?
Blackburn: They are on a precipitous edge right now. On one hand, it could be an aberration if Michael Malone continues to attack the problem with the same group causing the problem (Mudiay, Faried, and Nurkic). If just one of those players is substituted and Gary Harris returns as the starting shooting guard, I have full faith that the Nuggets will be back to their “rapidly developing” ways. If, however, Malone takes too long to make an adjustment, it will clearly be a sign of things to come. Looking at NBA.com, the two worst 5-man lineups in the NBA that have played 50 minutes or more have Mudiay-shooting guard-Gallinari-Faried-Nurkic. Can there be anything more obvious than that? Please make a change Malone because CLEARLY that group doesn’t work.
Mares: Nuggets fans have absolutely no reason to think that the Nuggets will right the ship anytime soon. The Nuggets have had a pattern of starting slow and finishing slow all year long. I do think that there are some rotation things that Malone can do better but at this point, there are a lot of things the team needs to figure out before they can be considered a legitimate playoff contending team.
Fiala: Einstein’s definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same results.” These lapses, lack of effort, poor execution or whatever you want to call it fit right into this bill, and like Ryan I think it stems from the starting lineups. The starters right now have been awful, and the Nuggets can’t afford to go down early on and have to claw their way back in it every night. If Malone doesn’t shake things up these lapses will continue to be the norm, but if he changes things then there is at the very minimum room for improvement.