What do you think of Coach Malone’s postgame comments from Tuesday when he said “Why is there a cap on making the playoffs as just an eight seed?” Do the Nuggets have a realistic chance at a higher seed?
Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares): I don’t think there’s a great chance they make the 8th seed, let alone higher so I’m not sure Malone’s comments were too wise. The Nuggets are just 2 games ahead of the 13th seed in the West, and 6 games behind the 7th seed. So while it’s fun to hear some confidence and exciting that he personally has some lofty goals, I think Malone is putting the cart way ahead of the horse. It’s possible that the Nuggets climb higher than the 8th seed, but much more probable that they will have to fight tooth and nail just to hold onto their current position.
Ryan Blackburn (@RyanBlackburn9): Like Adam above, I definitely think it’s premature to look ahead of where the team is at the current moment: 6 games below .500. Any other normal year, the Nuggets would be treading water and looking to sell off veteran pieces. They still might do that before the trade deadline if the direction of the current group is questionable. I’m a fan of lofty goals, but the 7th seed will likely win at least 44 games, meaning Denver would have to post a 25-13 record the rest of the way. Even with the current lineup change, the Nuggets aren’t performing anywhere near that pace. If the Nuggets do make the playoffs, it’s a low probability the seed will be higher than 8th.
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): There’s nothing wrong with optimism and setting big goals. If you aim for the 6th seed and still hit the 8th seed, that’s still a playoff berth. If you aim for the 8th seed and miss, it leaves you in the lottery. Malone’s just shooting for the moon so he can land among the stars (go self-help books!). That 8th seed is still the reasonable goal, sans a lot more roster movement than I’m currently expecting. Setting expectations and goals is part of Malone’s job, and not wanting his roster to be satisfied with where they are is fine.
Evan Fiala (@eefiala): I love the optimism, but at this point of the season it’s a bit out of place. The Nuggets are barely hanging onto the eight seed, and to surpass one of Memphis or Oklahoma City it would take a miraculous run from Denver coupled with a catastrophic injury to Russell Westbrook or Marc Gasol to happen.
What are your impressions/takeaways from Jamal Murray running the point in the past few games?
Mares: That he’s really skilled and will be a very good player before too long. I’m not ready to anoint him the point guard of the future, but it’s clear that he has a lot of ability and even more upside as a playmaker with the ball in his hand. The key will be figuring out how to get him the ball more regardless of whether he’s playing point guard or shooting guard. Most important of all, the three-man rotation of Mudiay, Harris, and Murray should be exciting for every Nuggets fan.
Blackburn: The last couple of games have shown me that a Murray-Barton backcourt pairing is at least viable right now. Both players are comfortable handling the basketball, while creating for themselves and others. I’m at least intrigued enough to see at least 5 minutes at point guard every game from Murray, and I believe that’s a rotation that Malone should work in at some point. Giving him the opportunity to develop is essential for this team to hit its maximum potential in the future, and like Adam, a Mudiay, Harris and Murray rotation is incredibly intriguing to me.
Gross: I still don’t consider what he’s doing to be “running the point” just yet. That’s all right - there are plenty of PGs in the league who are score-first guards, and Murray doesn’t have to be a great distributor in order to be a good point guard for this offense. Murray was a scoring machine without playing next to Jokic much and directing the offense into his own hands worked well, but was more of a passer with just one bucket (and some foul shots) against Utah. He’s finding his range as a point guard, and knowing when to pass and when to take control is going to be a work-in-progress. I consider Jamal Murray to be a Kyrie Irving type, which would fit in very well next to Jokic - but right now he’s not playing next to Jokic, and when he was playing next to Jameer he wasn’t getting the ball. Getting the ball in his hands more right now is a good first step. Running the point is something very few teens are ever good at, so he needs the practice.
Fiala: I think it’s a great step for him and for Malone to evaluate his ability to play that position. I was one of I’m sure many who scoffed on draft night when Murray said he was a point guard, but I can see him taking the reigns sooner rather than later. If anything, it’s good experience.
What is your ideal trade destination for Jusuf Nurkic? (Not necessarily asking for trade ideas, just ideal destinations for him)
Mares: I’m one of Nurkic’s biggest critics and I think that he has some mental blocks that he has to get over before he can start to tap into his potential. But ideally he’d land in a place that desperately needs a rim protector and rebounder, and a place that has smart player development coaches to work with him on some basic big man skills like low post footwork and pacing.
Blackburn: There are several places that he could go as a backup center if he’s willing, but very few places he could go and start immediately. If the Chicago Bulls are willing to throw in the towel, a Robin Lopez-Jusuf Nurkic swap of sorts would be beneficial for both teams. The New Orleans Pelicans come to mind as well, as they could formulate an Anthony Davis-Terrence Jones-Nurkic front court trio, while the Nuggets get a guard in return. Calling the New York Knicks about reuniting to Hernangomez brothers while sending Nurkic to the Big Apple is intriguing as well. Those are the only places where I could see Nurkic going and starting, but it’s a good start.
Gross: The best places for him, in my mind, would be Portland or Boston. I like those coaching situations for him as well as their current and future needs. I’m not sure that Denver will be able to perfectly match his future needs with their own in those cases, though.
Fiala: Somewhere far away from Denver, ideally in the Eastern Conference. It’s clear he’s not a fit in Denver anymore but I still love his game and think he’s going to be an impactful player wherever he goes.
Who are you most looking forward to seeing in the Rising Stars Challenge, both from the Nuggets and from other teams?
Mares: I actually think it’s a game designed for Jamal Murray. The World squad doesn’t have a ton of guards that should play ahead of him and his great one-on-one skill set should showcase nicely in the all-star style of play. He could also run alongside Buddy Hield and Nikola Jokic in an exciting spread offense. I think Murray will be one of the stories of the game.
Blackburn: I agree with Adam that Murray could potentially be the star of the show, but seriously, who doesn’t want to see Kristaps Porzingis, Joel Embiid, and Jokic on the floor at the same time for the world team? I might glaze over and stare at my TV until the end of time. It may not be successful, but it would sure be fun. Mudiay deserves a shoutout too though, as he played very well in last year’s showcase. We will see if he comes ready for this one.
Gross: This will be the most interesting set of big men to all take the court at a rookie-sophomore game in quite a while. Just remember that defense isn’t big at these things, and last year was a guard duel between Mudiay and Zach LaVine, who both put up 30. Show up for the bigs, but realize that in most years it’s a guard-friendly game. This year may be the aberration before the guard infestation begins again with next year’s rookie class, so if you ever wanted to see Jokic playing the 4 throwing oops to Embiid who’s stuffing it over Karl-Anthony Towns, this may be the game for you. I hope the coaches go crazy in an exhibition game and show us some outrageous lineup combos.
Fiala: I’m salivating at the thought of watching what Jokic will do with Embiid and Porzingis, but I’m dying to see Murray light it up. I think he’s made for games like this and will have a huge showing, as did Mudiay last year.