Tomorrow is December 15, or for Nuggets fans, International Nikola Jokic Appreciation Day. Any plans for the special day?
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): To watch Jokic return to the starting lineup, of course, as has long been prophesied in the night sky and heralded by portents great and small.
Ashley Douglas (@AshleyNBAHoops): I will be lighting a candle under my signed Nikola Jokic jersey in hopes of some huge blowout wins to come like we saw last season around this time.
Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): As is the custom, I plan on going into work and outperforming my colleagues so badly that they just quit halfway through the day and leave the building.
Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): I’ll probably begin the day with some exercise, a nice breakfast, then drive into work. I’ll enjoy an adult beverage at lunch (Sprite), then head home to enjoy the game from the comforts of my abode. I’ll definitely be wearing my Denver Nuggets scarf whenever I’m outside, and I’ll be throwing water bottles at my coworkers pretending I’m Jokic for a majority of the day.
December 15 is also the beginning of trade rumor season. What is the best fake trade out there for the Nuggets?
Gross: There was a George Hill for Kenneth Faried / Darrell Arthur trade floated on Bleacher Report that caught my eye. The Nuggets would send a protected 2018 first round pick, but I’d probably send their 2019 pick instead. It makes sense to get a point guard in who can stabilize the bench production when Jokic is out and still find a way to work with Jokic and Millsap when they’re both in the game later in the season. Of course, it made sense this offseason too and instead the Nuggets traded Jameer Nelson, so who knows what the front office would consider sensible. With Harris and Murray balling out, though, any trade for a point guard would probably have to move Emmanuel Mudiay because he won’t see any time if another point is brought in, and who knows whether Denver is prepared to do that.
Douglas: Can we finally part ways with Emmanuel Mudiay please? Jamal Murray and Gary Harris are holding down the fort for the starting lineup, but the bench needs to improve dramatically in order for the Nuggets to be able to be a healthy post-season team. I’d also throw in Wilson Chandler if need be. Perhaps the Nuggets can trade for a solid draft pick and avoid trading down in the draft next season.
Mikash: I’ll have a piece out tomorrow with 5 fake trades I’d like to see the Nuggets pull off so I’m not going to ruin the surprise but it suffices to say this: the Nuggets need a veteran backup PG and a lengthy defensive wing so those are they types of players I’d most like to see them go after.
Lewis: I think the Nuggets might look at moving Will Barton, despite how well he’s played for them. I’d be interested in a trade with OKC sending Barton and Darell Arthur to the Thunder for Andre Roberson and Jerami Grant. The Nuggets would pick up two quality defenders for this season, and really gear towards an 8-man rotation for the playoffs. They’d need Mudiay to be able to play 15 minutes a night though without completely destroying things, and so far, it doesn’t seem like he can do that.
Gary Harris and Jamal Murray have stepped up in the absence of Jokic - have the Nuggets found their backcourt for the next seven years?
Gross: Only if one of them turns into an even passable point guard or defender. Playing with Jokic will help the first problem (though for at least the next couple of years I’d like to see the Nuggets still add that point for all those times Jokic is not on the court) but terrible guard defense has been one major reason for Denver’s poor overall defensive performance. Murray especially is still so young, though - they have time, and I expect Denver to bet on Harris and Murray as that scoring back-court tandem.
Douglas: Offensively, yes. However, I will second what Gordon said and say that they must improve defensively if they’re going to be anything worthy of post-season glory. As we’ve seen with great guard combos like Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, offensive prowess is great for attracting a great fan base, but it doesn’t do much in the way of making progress in the playoffs.
Mikash: Part of me still believes that Murray will end up being the super scoring combo guard 6th man of the year type off the bench (like Will Barton is right now), but with the way he’s been playing I think for right now you have to assume the answer to this question is yes. That means the Nuggets shouldn’t be looking for trades that push Murray back into a bench role and should be comfortable not reconsidering this question until the offseason at the earliest.
Lewis: I think the Nuggets are comfortable starting both Harris and Murray together for many years. They’re both talented shooters, burgeoning playmakers, and outstanding individuals too. I don’t think you can ever have too much shooting, especially with your guards. The Nuggets will just need to find a defensive ace to play small forward and they’ll be set.
The season is a third of the way complete, and the Nuggets are 15-13. The next few questions will be based off that. First, who is the MVP of the team so far?
Gross: It’s still Jokic, despite him missing a quarter of the season so far. The MVP in Jokic’s absence would probably have to be Gary Harris, though.
Douglas: It’s a toss up between Jokic and Murray for me, and to be honest I don’t think one is as effective without the other. Murray has taken some of the passing burden off Jokic, but together they magnify everyone else on the team so I hope to see them both play for the Nuggets for a long time.
Mikash: Jokic. Despite playing fewer games than Harris or Murray (who are really the only other options here) he still leads the team in winshares and every other catch all stat there is. That of course is not the be all and end all of the debate but it does highlight the magnitude of impact Jokic has on this team which still surpasses anyone else.
Lewis: It’s Jokic. His injury only highlighted how valuable he can be for the team. They’re going to be okay without Millsap (not great, but not bad) but they really need Jokic back. He just elevates the game of everyone else around him, and is ridiculously talented.
Second, who has been the most surprising player on the team so far?
Gross: Surprising in a good way would be Trey Lyles. Going from a towel-waver to a 20 PPG scorer is a nice jump for one of Denver’s more controversial additions this offseason. Hopefully he can sustain his scoring touch, but he’s definitely forced his way into the rotation.
Douglas: I hate to keep copying Gordon, but I will also say that Trey Lyles has really captured my attention. He’s really stepped up with the opportunity for more minutes that he’s been given, and I’m truly impressed with how quickly he has gotten comfortable in the rotation. He’s only 22 so I see him doing great things in his career.
Mikash: Gordon alluded to it but I’ll say it, the most surprising player has been Wilson Chandler and not in a good way. There was very little hand wringing when Danilo Gallinari left for LA and that’s because most assumed that while Chandler may not be quite as good as Gallo was, he’s still plenty capable of filling the starting small forward role. For whatever reason he’s had a huge drop off in his play and doesn’t look like a starter at all. After all the griping last year about consistency/roles in the rotation, I think most thought with those issues behind him Chandler was primed for a big year. He has been able to improve as of late though so here’s hoping he won’t continue to be a surprise, at least in a negative way.
Lewis: Sorry that we don’t have much variety, but I’m going with Wilson Chandler. I thought he’d be one of the leading scorers on the team, taking advantage of the floor spacing and passing acumen of the other starters. He’s been in a terrible slump to begin the season, and has not been a helpful player. Let’s hope that the Nuggets have realized they should be playing him more as a small ball four with the second unit, and stagger his minutes with the starters with Will Barton more often. Once Juancho is healthy again - which seems like he won’t be 100 percent until the All-Star break - the second-year forward can rotate in the small forward position more often as well, letting Chandler be his best self.
Third, pick a few players on the team - what homework should they be assigned for the next trimester?
Gross: Murray needs to learn how and when to pass in the paint. That part of his game is lacking right now as he passes when he should look to score and then sometimes misses the most open players because he’s focused on the rim. It’ll come. Malik Beasley needs to find his game shot, because his three-point shot is wet in practice but has been pretty dry come game-time. Jokic needs to get healthy, STAT.
Douglas: Murray, Barton, Chandler, Faried, Mudiay, etc... DEFENSE. I’m not sure what’s not clicking, but without Millsap the Nuggets seem totally confused on how to remain consistent on D. Perhaps it’s just getting into the habit, but I would like to see them buckle down and make this one of their strengths over the next few months.
Mikash: For Paul Millsap, intense rehab, Nuggets are going to need him down the stretch. For Emmanuel Mudiay, zen meditation, he’s got to relax and start taking what the defense gives him. For Jokic, ballet classes, I just feel like they would help him be more limber and graceful to be able to pull of moves like this.
Lewis: I want to see Emmanuel Mudiay work on his post game. He’s too physically talented to not succeed, and the coaching staff needs to find ways for him to be successful. Denver isn’t a big enough market to afford losing a top-10 draft pick for nothing, and they have to make things work. If Mudiay can develop an Andre Miller post game, that would at least be one way he can get buckets on offense.
Think of any active NBA player that would elevate the Nuggets to be a top-4 team in the Western Conference - where would you take that player out for dinner here in Denver?
Gross: Kyrie Irving is a vegan, so Watercourse Foods would probably work. I have no idea what I’d eat, since I’m practically a carnivore, but first date impressions are important so I’d find something. My round earth beliefs can be shelved for that date as well.
Douglas: Draymond Green simply because of his fire and ability to get everyone focused on a complete game—defense included. I would take him to El Five in the Highlands. He seems like a swanky kind of guy so perhaps city views next to a window overlooking downtown would get him interested in Denver.
Mikash: Jeez, this is the wrong question to ask the guy who lives in a town with all of 4 restaurants. Paul George is a guy who would elevate the Nuggets into the top 4th AND needs wooing. Gonna have to impress so I’m taking him to the one non-mediocre restaurant in my town for a mean carne asade torta and an ice cold glass of horchata...right, don’t put me in charge of these things.
Lewis: This invitation goes out to Tyler Lydon, the current G-League superstar. Let’s go to The Buckhorn Exchange, order some steaks, and talk about life together. If he’s unavailable, I can keep the reservation and invite Kevin Durant. I hear the rattlesnake there is delicious to the taste.