Editor’s note: Please welcome contributor Ashley Douglas!
If Nikola Jokic was never on the roster, what kind of record do the Denver Nuggets have at the end of this season?
Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): Honestly? I think Nikola is probably good for about a dozen wins. In terms of statistics, he is on pace for about 8.5 WS this season but I think he raises the ability of everyone else on the team so much that he’s probably worth about another 4 wins on top of the ones he creates just by himself. Even then I feel like that could be on the conservative side because the team looks so lost without him. Now, in this hypothetical let’s give some credit to the coach that he probably would figure out other ways to win but nonetheless, I think this is a 25 win team at best without Nikola.
Evan Fiala (@eefiala): This is a depressing thought… it’s beyond clear that if this team is a machine, he’s the engine behind it that makes everything function smoothly. He’s missed six games this season, and in those games the Nuggets are 1-5 (small sample size, I know) but more than just the losses is how bad the team looks without him on offense. He’s so valuable in that he makes everyone around him better. I think the Nuggets fall in the 25-28 win range without him, but even that feels a tad generous.
Ashley Douglas (@AshleyNBAHoops): A great example of the Nuggets without Jokic is exactly what we’ve seen the last two games. Denver would still be in a position where they’d be trying to coax some sort of mediocre energy from Jusuf Nurkic, and would be baffled as to why we dig ourselves double digit holes to climb out of in the first quarter. Denver would still be searching to find an identity while continuing to distance their fans in the process. Our record would look much like it did in the 2014-2015 season with 30 wins and 52 losses. Jokic is the type of player who brings the intangible “it” factor--taking everyone’s game and elevating it to an entirely different level.
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): That all depends on Nurkic. If Nurk wasn’t in a sulky fit could Denver still get to 30+ wins with him as the starting C? Probably. But since the Nuggets are something like 11-8 since the lineup change, that number would be much worse. I’ll go with Ashley’s 30-52 as well - which means the front office has work to do on the roster.
Kenneth Faried has played very well as of late, is he now too valuable to the team to trade?
Mikash: Outside of Jokic and maybe Jamal Murray, no one is TOO valuable to trade, but right now I think Faried would be the next guy on the list of players I don’t want sent out, him or Gary Harris. It’s crazy to think that just a month ago it was all but assumed the Manimal was heading out of town but like I said in the question above, Jokic makes guys better and no one has got the benefit of that more than Faried. His athleticism and offensive rebounding skill make him such a great compliment to Jokic and more than anything, I think he truly enjoys playing with Nikola. Again, he’s certainly not untouchable but I think the package to pry him away would have to be much greater than it was even a month ago. The problem with that is while his value to the Nuggets is at an all time high right now, his value to the rest of the teams around the league is probably still relatively the same, meaning at this point I think a Faried deal is pretty unlikely.
Fiala: I don’t think he’s too valuable to be traded, but as Zach indicated his role on this team is a lot more concrete now than it was a few months ago. Him and Jokic are a pretty fun frontcourt to watch and it’s been awesome to see how hard he hustles on both ends of the floor and making a big impact. I’ve been up and down on how I feel about him, but if he keeps playing like this I hope he sticks around.
Douglas: Absolutely. Faried is an irreplaceable asset to the Nuggets’ organization in so many ways. Right now, he’s the guy people can identify on the team. The Manimal is a very recognizable name in Denver, and his energy gets the crowd involved which gives the team a boost to get some momentum flowing. The Nuggets’ Achilles heel has been starting the game with low energy, and Faried brings energy every time he sets foot on the court. Faried also brings a crucial defensive presence under the rim, and we all know Denver has had some serious struggles on D. Before the recent injuries the Nuggets seem to have found some serious synergy and I would hate to see them disrupt that balance--with the exception of helping Nurkic move on. Faried could be considered for a trade down the road, but for now we need him.
Gross: He’s not untradeable, but if the Nuggets are still getting second-round offers for his services then he’s worth more than that to Denver for sure. Faried has a very specific role, and as long as he’s willing to fill that role he can still be a beast for the Nuggets. He and Jokic have figured out how to work together on the offensive end. Denver still has a ceiling on the defensive end with the Jokic/ Faried pairing, and since Faried has been very vocal about hating being a bench player that may be an issue to revisit down the road if Denver has the chance to add a PF like Paul Millsap. For the moment I don’t see a good reason to move Faried - his value for this team outweighs the player he can bring here, at least by himself.
Jokic and Mudiay are dealing with injuries, if they aren’t completely 100% by the All star break should they forego the Rising Stars Challenge?
Mikash: If they are 99.9%, then skip it. It’s the Rising Stars Challenge, it’s not even the real All-Star Game and even if it was my response would be the same. The Nuggets are fighting for a playoff spot and they need these guys for the games that count. It would suck for either of these young talents to have to miss out on the All-Star festivities but I know they would both agree that winning regular season games and getting to the playoffs is far more important.
Fiala: Yes. It would be so fun to watch Jokic and Mudiay play alongside those other guys, but it would be even more fun to see them upset the Golden State Warriors in the first round.
Douglas: Most definitely. The Rising Stars challenge is a great opportunity for Mudiay and Jokic, but it would be tragic to see them go to that competition and exacerbate their injuries. If they’re feeling like they are completely healthy then go for it, but we need to keep the main thing the main thing and focus on our season before considering an All-Star Weekend appearance.
Gross: You don’t risk team goals for individual accolades, and neither guy is really big on me-first awards. Not only should they skip if if they are still in any way recovering from their injuries, but they would likely choose to. It’s great having a bunch of team-first young players on this team.
(in my best Jerry Seinfield voice) What’s the deal with Jusuf Nurkic?
Mikash: I can’t explain it. I have my theories, mainly that Nurkic believes he’s sure to be traded (and the rumors would indicate as much) and has checked out. It’s very disappointing though. With Jokic out this was Nurkic’s chance to regain a spot in the rotation but he is still getting very few minutes because the team, and him, struggles so badly when he’s on the court. He’s still rushing his shots in the post, he still is passing up the smart play for a bad shot attempt and he’s still turning the ball over at an alarming rate. A change of scenery is probably what he needs, but one has to wonder with all the struggles he’s had this season will a new home really make any difference?
Fiala: I can only speculate, but it’s got to be a mental thing because the physical tools he has are all there. The writing has been on the wall for a while now and I think he’s just biding his time until a trade happens, which is unfortunate because in my opinion his ceiling is still really high.
Douglas: Put simply, I believe he lacks the “give a darn” factor. Every time he sets foot on the court it seems as if he’s just woken up. He brings zero energy, and is a black hole of momentum. When Nurk starts the Nuggets dig themselves an early hole and give up precious momentum to the other team. He’s young, sure, but his immaturity holds him back. I can’t count the times I’ve seen him stop to complain to the official about whatever he always complains about while the rest of his team is back on D trying to play 4 on 5 until Nurk can be bothered to saunter down the court to help. It’s frustrating because he has such a potential for being great. Hopefully he can figure it out with his next team.
Gross: He doesn’t want to be here. Once you mentally check out of a job, it’s over, and he looks exceptionally checked out. If he plays well here he might stay, and he doesn’t want to stay, so he’s not playing well. I think he’s got great upside, but there are a lot of players who have that and never come close to achieving it. Not being able to keep Nurkic involved as a bench player is a true shame, because it would have been great to have him around to wreck bench centers. We’ll have to see that with his next team.