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Stat of the Week: Detailing all 30 starting lineups by the Nuggets this season

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The Nuggets have used 30 starting lineup combinations this year. Why the changes?

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Stat of the Week this week will focus on the 30 starting lineup combinations the Nuggets have used this season. In the comments section, one user commented on the rotations utilized by Michael Malone, and how the variability has prevented the Nuggets from obtaining any rhythm this year. This may be true, but is it truly Malone’s fault? How many of the lineup changes have been due to his decisions, rather than injuries taking players in and out of the lineup?

PG SG SF PF C # of Games Reason for Change
Mudiay Barton Gallinari Jokic Nurkic 3 Barton injured
Mudiay Murray Gallinari Jokic Nurkic 2 Harris returns
Mudiay Harris Gallinari Jokic Nurkic 3 Jokic asks to switch
Mudiay Harris Gallinari Faried Nurkic 1 Harris injured
Mudiay Murray Gallinari Faried Nurkic 1 Take pressure off Mudiay
Mudiay Nelson Gallinari Faried Nurkic 3 Barton returns
Mudiay Barton Gallinari Faried Nurkic 6 Mudiay/Gallo injured
Mudiay Barton Hernangomez Faried Nurkic 1 Barton injured
Mudiay Nelson Chandler Faried Nurkic 2 Gallo returns
Nelson Barton Gallinari Arthur Nurkic 1 Mudiay returns
Mudiay Barton Gallinari Arthur Nurkic 2 Committing to Jokic
Mudiay Harris Gallinari Chandler Jokic 11 Need for size
Mudiay Harris Gallinari Arthur Jokic 1 Jokic sick, Harris injured
Mudiay Harris Gallinari Faried Jokic 1 Harris injured
Mudiay Barton Gallinari Faried Jokic 2 Bunch of injuries
Mudiay Barton Hernangomez Faried Jokic 1 Gallo, Chandler return
Nelson Harris Gallinari Faried Jokic 6 Bunch of injuries
Nelson Harris Gallinari Faried Nurkic 3 Jokic returns, Gallo injured
Nelson Harris Chandler Faried Jokic 3 Faried injured/absent
Nelson Harris Barton Chandler Jokic 1 Faried returns
Nelson Harris Chandler Arthur Jokic 2 Chandler, Arthur injured
Nelson Harris Barton Hernangomez Jokic 1 Plumlee inserted for size
Nelson Harris Hernangomez Plumlee Jokic 4 Gallo, Faried, Chandler return
Nelson Harris Gallinari Chandler Jokic 8 Injuries, Faried for Chandler
Murray Harris Gallinari Chandler Jokic 1 Nelson returns
Nelson Harris Gallinari Chandler Plumlee 1 Gallo injured
Nelson Harris Hernangomez Chandler Plumlee 1 Gallo, Jokic return
Nelson Harris Gallinari Plumlee Jokic 1 Gallo injured
Nelson Harris Chandler Plumlee Jokic 1 Gallo returns
Murray Harris Gallinari Faried Jokic 1 ?????

Takeaways:

Lineups with Harris-Gallinari-Chandler-Jokic have been most common

Between the injuries to each of the above four players, as well as the substitution of Jameer Nelson for Emmanuel Mudiay, it’s been difficult to obtain a rhythm after December 15th; however, this quartet appears to be coach Michael Malone’s comfort zone. Gary Harris and Nikola Jokic have been the two most consistent young players, the latter being a star player, while Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler have been the two most consistent veterans. Arguments can be made for Kenneth Faried and Will Barton, but to operate the spacing/cutting lineup centered around Jokic, Malone has chosen to employ a stretch four for most of the games. The main changes occur when one of Harris, Gallo, or Chandler miss games, and different combinations have been called upon to replace those players.

23 of the 29 lineup changes have occurred due to injuries

Between Harris and Barton being injured during the beginning of the year, Gallinari and Chandler spending significant time out throughout the year, Faried spending a large chunk of time out, and the normal bumps and bruises, the Nuggets have been forced to mix and match with the available players throughout the year. This shouldn’t be a shot at Malone though. He can’t control the injuries, and he’s putting together the lineup based on available bodies. Here are the six changes he made that weren’t due to injury:

  • After Game 8, Jokic asked to be come off the bench.
  • After Game 10, Nelson was inserted at shooting guard to take pressure off of Emmanuel Mudiay.
  • After Game 25, the Nuggets committed to Jokic in the starting lineup
  • After Games 35 and 38, Malone subbed out Chandler to provide more size in the starting lineup. Two time adjustment.
  • After Game 55, Mason Plumlee was inserted for size.
  • After Game 74, Malone committed to Faried over Chandler in the lineup.

These were the only “choices” Malone made over a healthy group of players. One can haggle about who Malone should have started in place of an injured player, but from my perspective, there wasn’t a ton of “choice” in those selections. The one choice that isn’t mentioned is leaving Jameer Nelson in the starting lineup over Emmanuel Mudiay, but I definitely think it was the right call. I had to look through the box scores to see who was starting, and 75 percent of the time I saw Mudiay’s name, his performance was detracting from team performance.

Mudiay-Harris-Gallinari-Faried-Jokic started one game together

This was by far the most surprising. The most common starting lineup for the Nuggets in 2015-16, this group barely saw the court together, and the one time they did, Harris went down with an injury. It’s surprising that Malone never went to this lineup, but by the time everyone became healthy at the same time, Nelson had stepped in for Mudiay at the point guard position. It’s possible that Mudiay’s time as an outright starter at point guard has come to an end in Denver, and with Gallinari a potential free agent in the offseason, it wouldn’t surprise me if this lineup never started a game again. It would be a strange end to an era in Nuggets history.

Conclusion

The Nuggets are an injury prone basketball team that had identity issues for a large portion of the season. Combine the two, and you get a bunch of lineup changes. That being said, the vast majority of the switches were players departing/returning from injury, and very few “demotions” occurred throughout the year. The argument that Malone is tinkering with his rotations extensively is a fallacy, one that must be put to bed so that fans can discuss what really matters: whether the Nuggets should continue to employ Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Kenneth Faried if their injuries cause the lineup chaos?