"So that's my challenge: how do I clearly define roles, get these guys to accept their roles, come up with the rotation that I think is going to give us the best chance to win on a consistent basis, and then deal with the fact that I don't expect 15 guys to be happy. But at the end of the day, my job isn't to keep 15 guys happy."
"When you look at our roster right now, you look at each position. At the point guard position, you have three guys that are all capable of playing in Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray, and Jameer Nelson. At the two-guard position, you have Gary Harris, Will Barton, and Malik Beasley. At the three, you have Gallinari, Chandler, and Mike Miller. At the four you have Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, and even Juancho Hernangomez, if we decide to keep him here. At the five you have Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic, and Joffrey Lauvergne. So, that's 15 guys, and if you take out Malik and maybe Juancho, still 13 guys that are going to expect to play."
-Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone
Were it not for this summer's Olympics, the August NBA news feeds would be drier than a popcorn fart. But believe it or not, NBA training camps are less than 50 days away, and we can finally start watching the latest version of your Denver Nuggets. In his recent chat with Denver Stiffs, coach Malone gave a few early clues as to what he expects the names on the roster to be, give or take, as contained in his quote above.
Malone also made it obvious that the full roster will not typically see the floor, and his history tends to back up the idea. Going back through last season's game-over-game lineups, Malone most often gave meaningful minutes to 10 guys in a game, occasionally cutting it back to nine or even eight, even having one injury-riddled moment where only eight guys even saw the floor. On rare occasion, 11 guys saw meaningful minutes. 12 with meaningful minutes? Never happened. 13 players never saw the floor in a single game under Michael Malone last season, if I counted correctly.
Both extremes of that spectrum were influenced by last season's high injury count, as Malone surely didn't want to be as scant as eight on any given evening, and never had a consistent enough makeup to ever be tempted to empty the bench. But even so, Malone strongly favors a ten-man crew in his rotations, and injuries aside, that means five guys will spend most or all of the night riding pine. Yes, I am aware that "benches" are typically made up of padded chairs in today's NBA. I beg your colloquial forgiveness.
With that being the case, who are the five guys most likely to be an early cheering section for the ten-or-so men eating up the lion's share of minutes? Malone gave some easy clues to start.
"...If you take out Malik and maybe Juancho..."
Not the toughest early assumption to read, with Beasley sitting behind two young and talented two guards in Gary Harris and Will Barton. Juancho Hernangomez gets a "maybe", though it seems highly likely that Darrell Arthur's talent and consistency will give him the early nod backing up Kenneth Faried.
Beyond those two, who else seems obvious, barring any shifts in the current Nuggets talent pool?
Mike Miller seems an obvious choice, given that he's backing up the Nuggets best two two-way guys in Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler. Pair that with Miller's typically scant minutes-per-game totals last season when both of the aforementioned gents were down with injury, and you have to assume that Miller's role will continue to be one of guidance and veteran savvy.
Joffrey Lauvergne also seems a likely candidate behind an Olympic-revved Nikola Jokic and a svelter-but-still-sturdy Jusuf Nurkic, and Lauvergne is quite probably the early candidate to be seeing scant minutes.
Only one more position to shave from, and this one a bit tougher to call. The point guard slot very much assumes Emmanuel Mudiay at starter, as he had grown noticeably by last season's end. Jameer Nelson was a rock for the Nuggets before his injuries last season, and likely projects as the early season backup with a young team needing some steadying out of the gates. But that Malone's assumption didn't immediately lump Jamal Murray with his fellow rookies could be telling. I could easily see scenarios in which Murray is the primary backup point early in the season. I can just as easily see scenarios in which Jameer's veteran presence is a key to the Nuggets trying to step forward in the Western Conference next year.
And since I'm already reading too much into everything, all of the other easier calls were also the third player Malone named in each triad. Murray just so happened to precede Nelson in that line of thought. A thin connection to make? Maybe so.
Malone was also so smart as to say that nothing is set in stone as they've not even entered into training camp, but if these are the 15 guys the Nuggets are sending out to the floor that first night, who are the players most likely to be getting most of their exercise sitting and standing more often than the congregation at a Catholic wedding Mass?