What is your top take away from the Nuggets’ wins over Miami and New Orleans this week?
Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): That this team has fight in them and more importantly is learning how to fight all the way through the game. There was a good chance they would drop that game against New Orleans with the way Anthony Davis and Boogie Cousins were lighting them up, but Denver kept on fighting to get a W. Last night when they got down by 17 against the Rockets they didn’t fold either, and almost completed the comeback. The playoffs may be a dream now, but learning how to win these tight, high pressure games will be invaluable for this roster.
Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): I learned that the Nuggets continue to be inconsistent. When you think they're going to zig, they zag. When you think they've given up, they fight back. At least they aren't consistently bad.
Ashley Douglas (@AshleyNBAHoops): Those two games showed me that the Nuggets are getting better at finishing close games. Also, with Jameer Nelson injured, Jamal Murray was able to get some more experience in the starting lineup. I believe Murray is the future of the Nuggets as the starting point guard. I also really liked the Murray and Mudiay combo. As Murray gets more minutes he will be more able to set the offense and execute plays. He struggled with turnovers against Miami and New Orleans, but that’s typical rookie rust that (usually) wears off with experience.
It's often said that James Harden is impossible to guard. Do you agree? If so, what gave him his edge over the Nuggets last night?
Mikash: He has my vote for toughest player to guard in the NBA, and yes it’s fairly impossible to guard him because he has developed his game to manipulate the rules to his extreme advantage and that’s what gives him the edge, playing the game of basketball in a very effective way that’s not really the intended way for the game to be played. Give credit to Harden because what he’s doing is really smart and he’s incredibly good at it, but let’s also call it what it is. He’s the biggest “flopper” in the NBA who plays no defense and is really good at scoring, a good portion of which is because he actively looks to flop. Not exactly the most exciting or fun player to watch, but again, effective, no denying that.
Lewis: He is easily top-5 in players that are most difficult to guard. What separates him from his peers is his strength and intelligence. He is capable of physically dominating his defender is such subtle ways - hips, shoulders, backside - and his balance is tremendous. If everyone was able to play as well as he does while drawing so much contact, no one would complain about his style of play. He baits defenders into fouls, and that may seem like flopping, but it's within the rules. I don't see how any Nuggets fan can defend the way Gallinari plays while criticizing Harden either - at least Harden tries to score when he drives.
Douglas: No one is impossible to guard. I have previously been very critical of James Harden’s game because up until this season he flat refused to play defense, and any player who is considered for an MVP award must have a complete game. That said, he’s improved in that area this season, or at the very least he’s now putting forth some effort. (I still don’t think he should win MVP.) Harden’s game involves a lot of trickery in that he likes to lure defenders in for fouls to get to the free throw line. Only very smart players are able to do this successfully, so I don’t think he’s as much of an athlete as he is a chess player. That really annoys me, and yes Daniel, I recognize the hypocrisy of my irritation, but Harden also gets a lot of superstar calls so that just adds to the frustration. I don’t enjoy watching the Nuggets play the Rockets for that very reason.
What are your thoughts about Emmanuel Mudiay’s performance these last couple of games? Do you see him as more of a backup, or do you see him returning to the starting lineup?
Mikash: He looked great against Miami and looked pretty good against New Orleans. I’ve been a big advocate of the idea that Mudiay still projects to be a very effective bench player, and along with Jamal Murray and Gary Harris he gives them the versatility to run a 3-man rotation in the backcourt. We got to see some of that against New Orleans in particular and it was pretty successful. Hopefully it’s a springboard into the rotation next season for Mudiay, because if the Nuggets can turn him into a viable rotation piece their young core gets that much better.
Lewis: I'm glad you asked this question, it's been something I've been thinking about lately. I think Emmanuel Mudiay should start next season. It all depends on how much work he does this summer to improve his game. I think in terms of being able to play the point guard position, he is better at that than Jamal Murray. Murray may be the better basketball player, but Mudiay can be the better point guard. The Nuggets need a strong defensive player to start at point guard, and I believe Mudiay can fill that role better than Murray. Again, he will need to improve to get there, but I'm a believer.
Douglas: Mudiay is another player I have been very critical of. I have been frustrated with his tendency to be a shoot-first instead of a pass-first guard because I believe it’s a death sentence for offensive momentum. However, I have been very impressed with him these last few games. It takes an incredible amount of maturity to go from a starter to being completely removed from the rotation while keeping a positive attitude the whole way through. You have to respect that. Mudiay got right down to business this week, and his ball movement has improved substantially. With the emergence of Magic Jokic, the Nuggets have developed a culture of sharing the ball, and it’s evident in all the players. I see Mudiay as a great backup for Jamal Murray in the future, but I think he has made it known that his presence is not to be overlooked.
If you were to pick one player in the league to bring more of a defensive presence to the Nuggets who would that be?
Mikash: Paul Millsap, it has to be Millsap. Last year he had one of the best seasons we’ve seen from a power forward defensively and this season he’s come back down to earth a bit, but coming back down to earth on D for Millsap is still miles ahead of anything the Nuggets have. He also gives you another veteran voice in the locker room and he’s a free agent. Seems like he’s pretty happy in Atlanta but if there’s any guy out there I want the Nuggets to make the full court press on this offseason, it’s Millsap.
Lewis: I'm going with Andre Roberson. The Nuggets wing defense is lacking, and Roberson is elite in that area. He's not the most vocal defender, but I have a hard time imagining he wouldn't help make a huge difference for the team. He also fits in the timeline for the Nuggets current trajectory, and could be a rotation piece for years.
Douglas: I know this is wishful thinking, but Draymond Green. Green has that spark that really ignites a passion in his team. I firmly believe the Warriors are not the Warriors without his presence on the roster. I’ve said it before, but the Nuggets need a guy on the team who is a little mean--someone that other guys don’t want to mess with for fear they will pay the price. Green’s approach can be questionable at times, but that kind of fire is what the Nuggets are missing. They need a guy who is extremely aggressive and unafraid to get physical.