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Roundtable: Denver Nuggets road woes, leadership holes and Nikola Jokic’s perfect teammates

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NBA: Denver Nuggets at Utah Jazz Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Mason Plumlee said the players need to hold themselves more accountable, who should lead that effort?

Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): Jameer Nelson. These are the things that happen when you fire your locker room leader right before the season. Paul Millsap is not a vocal leader, Mason Plumlee himself obviously wants someone else to do it, Wilson Chandler doesn’t lead that way, Kenneth Faried can barely get off the bench... it’s not a long list of players with leadership experience and opportunity. Most of the kids only got through their freshman year of college, if that, and so weren’t leaders even at that level. Plumlee might want locker room leadership, especially on the road, but it’s likely going to be a long, painful process to get there.

Ashley Douglas (@AshleyNBAHoops): This is a complex question. Ideally, each player needs to lead the effort for themselves, but someone needs to be the one to light the fire that unifies the group in this effort. Typically, this person is the most vocal on the team. I’ve said this for a while now, but the Nuggets need someone who has passion not only for his own game (like Kenneth Faried), but someone who has the ability to light that fire within his teammates. In time, I think that person could be Jamal Murray. However, right now no one fits that bill—not even Paul Millsap. If the Nuggets want a model for this type of leader, they need to study how Draymond Green works to motivate his team. The Nuggets need to get, or develop, a player with a similar skill set to his.

Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares): I don’t think it’s any one guy, I think it is going to take a group effort. Jokic has to be one of the leaders of this team but they need Gary Harris and Jamal Murray to speak up as well. Same with Will Barton. This team doesn’t have one guy that is clearly the leader so they need everyone to hold each other accountable.

Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): It sure isn’t going to be Mason Plumlee, filling that $1 million per minute played role for the Nuggets. Plumlee comes from a basketball background with strong leaders - Coach K at Duke, Damian Lillard at Portland. Denver doesn’t have that player that sets the tone for the rest of the team. Jokic and Millsap are quiet, preferring to let their performance speak for them. The most vocal player on the team appears to me to be Kenneth Faried, which I think is one of the reasons there is a major leadership void on the team.

Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): We were told on Media day that coach had formed a sort of leadership council with Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris and Wilson Chandler. Those guys need to be the ones to step up and help hold the players accountable. I thought Mase had a good point, it can’t just be the coaches, players have to hold each other accountable but they have to have the star level talent, or the experience with the organization to get guys to listen and Plumlee has neither.

Why are the Nuggets so abysmal on the road?

Gross: The Nuggets are rolling out there with eight players age 23 or under on the 15 man roster. The road brings new experiences and a different routine, and it doesn’t look like all the young players Denver have are ready for it. The team also doesn’t respond well to being punched in the mouth, neither players nor coaches, and teams have come out amped up at home with an energy and aggressiveness Denver is not matching. Since it’s been a four-quarter problem, though, it’s not just slow starts - Denver is not adjusting on the road when teams feed off their own crowd’s energy and get up into the Nuggets. That’s gotta be fixed.

Douglas: This problem ties in pretty closely with the problem that’s happening with question #1. And, like Gordon mentioned, there’s a certain experience level that’s needed on the team to have success on the road. The person who leads the effort for everyone taking accountability for themselves also needs to be the one who get the team hyped for heading into opponent territory. The energy and aggression that it takes to win at home is a lot easier to muster up when you have an arena full (well full-ish) of your fans cheering you on. Long answer longer, the Nuggets still need to develop that game-day aggressive mentality that produces the environment for momentum and wins.

Mares: Because they rely on two very young point guards and consistency is among the most difficult things for young guards to master.

Lewis: Adam said what I was going to say. NBA teams are only becoming more and more prudent in their game preparation, and the Nuggets decided to tackle some of the most advanced defenses the league has ever seen with two very young, very inexperienced point guards. This is Murray’s first time playing point guard since high school (Tyler Ulis ran point for Kentucky) and Mudiay never played college ball, and wasn’t really running a complex offense in China. I’d barely trust young adults their age to run a Wendy’s, and they’re trying to be NBA point guards. That’s the reason, in my opinion, why they’re so abysmal on the road.

Mikash: As what everyone has already said, they’re incredibly young and young teams tend to struggle on the road. It hurts even worse that Millsap is out and not traveling with the team because you’d expect him to be the one to keep everyone on the up and up.

Torrey Craig is currently up at the NBA level, what has to happen over the season for him to earn a spot permanently on the NBA roster?

Gross: Wilson Chandler has to get traded or injured. The Nuggets are playing Juancho Hernangomez and Chandler at small forward, and with this year’s smaller rotation and Craig’s availability for 45 days scattered across the year they can get by with him as a two-way player for a few games here and there. For him to have his two-way contract shredded and a full NBA contract given, the Nuggets need a 15-man spot and they need a reason to have Craig around for every game.

Douglas: In my naivety, I would like to think that getting out there and showing some good old-fashioned hustle would get him noticed, but unfortunately it’s not that easy. Wilson Chandler’s role with the Nuggets has waxed and waned over the last year or so, and perhaps this year will be the year the Nuggets make a trade for him. However, simply getting rid of Chandler doesn’t necessarily make a spot for Torrey Craig. He needs to show the Nuggets that he can fill a role that they need, and that might be hard with limited minutes. However, time in the G-League will do him good, and perhaps he’ll be noticed by a team that will want to trade for him. Ultimately, I definitely think Craig has a great career in the NBA to look forward to.

Mares: My biggest question with Torrey Craig is whether or not he can fit in as the 5th option on offense. He has some elite defensive tools and can knock down shots and cut but the key for him will be to NOT get too aggressive on offense. He can score 35 points in the G-League, I don’t think he can do that in the NBA. But if he can fit in as a 3 and D type guy who doesn’t hurt you by taking bad shots then he’ll be an NBA player.

Lewis: I think the only way he stays this season is due to an injury. Wilson Chandler hasn’t played well, but you have to hope he breaks out of his slump. Juancho Hernangomez is going to need time to physically recover from mono, which will be more difficult because the NBA season doesn’t provide for a lot of rest.

Mikash: Basically he’s going to have to make the most of his opportunities, rare though they will be, at the NBA level. He’s currently about 5th on the depth chart for small forward minutes so unless EVERYONE gets mono, it’s hard to see him getting much of a shot this year. However, if he shows he can play when given the opportunity and follows that up with a good summer and camp then it seems fairly reasonable to think he could have a guaranteed contract come next year.

If you could pick any four CURRENT players to make a lineup with Nikola Jokic, who would they be?

Gross: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Steph Curry, LeBron James and Luka Doncic.

Douglas: OH BOY! This is fun. Kyrie Irving, Gary Harris, Kawhi Leonard, and Draymond Green.

Mares: I’m going to get bold since both answers above me are pretty solid and I don’t want to be redundant, so I’ll pick 4 guys that could compete for a championship, maximize Jokic’s talents, and realistically fit into a salary cap. Klay Thompson, Joe Ingles, Robert Covington, Al-Farouq Aminu.

Lewis: I love that you accidentally framed this question without including the “compete for a championship” condition, but I’m going to answer towards that direction instead of listing a lineup of Jokic and four Tyler Lydon clones. At point guard, I’ll go with Ben Simmons. At shooting guard, I’ll go with Zach LaVine. At small forward, I’ll go with Paul George. At power forward, I’ll go with Anthony Davis.

Mikash: The fact that no one has mentioned Kristaps Porzingis is criminal. If I’m picking a group I’ll go with Patrick Beverly, Klay Thompson, Paul George and the Zinger.