The Nuggets are off to a tough start. Are we just dealing with a chemistry problem that will correct itself over time, or is there a bigger issue at play?
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): A little from column A and a little from column B, I think. Jokic and Millsap were going to take a little time to get comfortable with each other, but the Nuggets are also putting way more pressure on the guards with their current gameplan which is causing a raft of turnovers and bad shots. Not getting anything out of Wilson Chandler and Juancho Hernangomez isn’t helping matters. Nobody seems to be on the same page, and last year that lingered until Jokic was given the reins. For some reason he doesn’t have them to start this year either and similar problems are cropping up.
Evan Fiala (@eefiala): A lot of it does stem from chemistry and poor shooting which should correct itself, but the larger looming issue remains the tweaking of the offense instead of letting Jokic take control. The offense looks awful and forced and it’s not working. Until that adjustment is made, I can’t remain optimistic about the season.
Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): I think the big issue boils down to this: the Nuggets are incorporating three new starters and then don’t have the “offensive coordinator” from last season. The Nuggets are trying to do all of this with
Trevor Siemian and Brock Osweiler Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray at point guard. That position is traditionally the one that stabilizes and leads the offense, and the Nuggets have two players ill-equipped for that task. It ultimately falls on the coaching staff, who haven’t done an adequate job preparing their team to succeed. We’re asking the players to do the coaching staff’s job - that’s never a good thing.
It’s also too early to really panic. There are things to be concerned about, but things can get better! Lots of teams struggle after big changes early in the season. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Take a deep breath, beat the snot out of the Nets and Knicks, and things will feel better at Chopper Circle.
Jeremy Poley (@jeremypoley): To call the Nuggets' shortcomings purely chemical would mean that the principles and strategies are sound, and the personnel’s abilities to execute them are sound. Let’s take a closer look: The strategy has de-emphasized Jokic. And management replaced a seasoned all-star* point guard with a 20 year old shooting guard. Last year’s lineup +/-’s including both Jokic and Murray were far from Denver’s best. This year the lineups with those two are looking much worse. Murray is shooting less and trying to control more - playing away from his strengths. Shaking the starters up with the addition of Millsap and loss of Gallo was a bad time to try training Murray into a point guard. So, there's more to it than chemistry. But chemistry is part of it. I expect to see the chemistry improve. I hope to see the strategy and lineups improve.
Ashley Douglas (@AshleyNBAHoops): I will agree and say it’s a little of both, but I think the issue swings heavier on being a bigger problem at hand. The Nuggets have fixed what wasn’t broken by de-emphasizing a Jokic centered offense, and it’s causing serious problems. The adjustment period of adding new players to the roster will be something every team has to deal with every year, but instead of one player adjusting to a new system they’ve been brought into, the Nuggets have changed the somewhat established system putting everyone back at square one learning a new offense.
How will losing Juancho Hernangomez for several weeks impact the Nuggets?
Gross: Denver was already thin at small forward, and with Chandler’s struggles they now have very few options to look for a hot hand. It forces Barton to play more at the 3 or Denver to go with three-guard lineups, neither of which are optimal for the design of this team. Small forward looked like the problem area to start this season, and right now Denver doesn’t have a lot of options to patch it. Chandler just needs to play better, and soon. 7 points on .360 True Shooting in 32 minutes per game doesn’t work anywhere.
Fiala: As thin as Denver is at the three I don’t think losing Juancho will impact the Nuggets too much. It didn’t seem like he was going to have as big of a role as many of us thought with Barton getting 30+ minutes on a few occasions already this year. I’m more concerned about Juancho not being in shape after this bout with mono is over.
Lewis: How many minutes were they playing him anyways? The Nuggets don’t even have a finger on the pulse of a good rotation, this just has them scrambling for another option. It’d be nice to see them play Richard Jefferson, since he’s the reason they waived Jameer Nelson. They’ll probably end up playing Malik Beasley, because after one week, they’ve decided it might be useful to play some smaller lineups. You know who could help small lineups? OG Anuno — (get’s dragged out of the room by security).
Poley: Losing Juancho turns out to be much more critical than I could have expected. Chandler is not working in the starting lineup. Barton is playing amazingly well off the bench and needs to stay there. This leaves a huge hole on the wing that Juancho could have helped with - maybe even shined in. His spot-up shooting and growing aggressiveness to drive (and potentially get to the line more) would have better replicated Gallinari's presence in the #1 offense that the Nuggets ran last season. At 1-3 it’s hard to imagine that minutes Juancho would’ve been getting at the wing would be worse than Chandlers. I could very easily see Jauncho being a starter at this point as a quick patch. Juancho getting minutes with the starters and Chandler going back to his effective role off the bench? Makes sense to me.
Douglas: Losing Danilo Gallinari in free agency put the Nuggets in a bad position heading into the season. Wilson Chandler isn’t cut out for a starting role, and Juancho is still developing so Denver was already having to compensate for the lack of options at the 3. Losing Juancho just adds to the problem, and that problem can’t really be solved by pulling from the collection of forwards on the bench. The Nuggets will be forced to use Will Barton much more which might work out alright if Barton can temper his tendency to try to win games on his own by throwing up ill-fated threes each possession.
The Nuggets are among the interested teams for Phoenix’s Eric Bledsoe. What would be the ideal trade situation to bring him to Denver, and what will his impact be for the Nuggets?
Gross: I don’t know about the ideal trade situation, but clearing up some of the roster confusion would help Denver enormously. Mudiay / Beasley / Arthur works, as do any number of combinations. The impact of having a point guard who can score and defend and isn’t overwhelmed by the league would be huge. How well he can fit into a Jokic-oriented offense with no training camp is another question entirely - it took Jameer Nelson quite a while. But since Denver currently isn’t running a Jokic-centered offense anyway, it would only help what the Nuggets are currently failing at.
Fiala: The ideal scenario is to clarify some roster positions while keeping the players that maximize Jokic’s strengths. In reality, I don’t think the deal gets done without Kenneth Faried being involved, which might not be the best idea given how well he plays with Jokic. Bledsoe would certainly be an improvement over Murray and Mudiay, but he might also stunt Jamal’s growth and make things harder for Jokic to facilitate.
Lewis: It’s too bad Bledsoe couldn’t demand a trade in January when Plumlee is available to get moved so the Nuggets could try to upgrade at point guard and get rid of an albatross contract. Since Plumlee can’t really be moved, I think Denver ought to move Faried and Mudiay for Bledsoe. That would at least open up a roster spot for a G League player or one of Torrey Craig, Monte Morris, or Tyler Lydon. The Suns GM and Tim Connelly have a good relationship, it’d be nice to see Connelly leverage a good relationship into another win, like he did with Will Barton.
As for Bledsoe’s impact with the Nuggets, I think it would make a huge difference on the team. Bledsoe can be an impact defender, and is a bear to defend in the pick and roll. There are concerns he’d take the ball out of Jokic’s hands, but the coaching staff already took care of that, so I think that is a strawman argument at best. Ideally, he is a player that can stretch the floor, finish in the paint off cuts, and when the offense starts to get off the rails, he can make the right play and restore order. Unfortunately, this is a stretch of the Nuggets schedule when they need wins, and changing the starting point guard almost guarantees losses that should be wins. It wouldn’t be the first time the Nuggets seriously upgrade their starting point guard early in the season — it’s not an unprecedented move in Nuggets history.
Poley: The goal of this season is starting to veer from "making the playoffs" to "signing Jokic long term". The ladder is going from assumed, a byproduct of making the playoffs, to being of serious concern. Jokic is visibly frustrated right now. Eric Bledsoe represents the control-crutch that Jokic used to lean on Nelson for. But Faried represents one of the last working components from last season’s success. Faried and Jokic are still clicking this season. That being said, I think Faried's chemistry is just a stepping stone to the next level of a Jokic offense. So, I say Mudiay + Faried for Bledsoe. And let's keep our pick too - is Phoenix really going to find a better deal?
Douglas: Ideal, but not entirely realistic, it would be great if Denver could just do an even swap of Mudiay and Bledsoe. I’ve been convinced as we’ve gotten through a few games that Faried’s presence on the court with Jokic is really something the Nuggets can use to their benefit as the season progresses. I also think moving Faried after losing Juancho would really make it tough for the starters to sustain the season since the bench options just aren’t viable yet.
Bledsoe’s presence for Denver would bring some much needed stability to the point guard position given his 7 years experience in the NBA. A lot of responsibility rests on Jamal Murray’s shoulders, and while I think he’s far more prepared for that than Mudiay, it’s not good to bring him up too quickly lest he fail to take off like Mudiay did.