After playing 40 games, the Nuggets have shown talent and resilience in the face of adversity. When Paul Millsap went down on November 19th against the Los Angeles Lakers, many predicted the Nuggets to spiral without their recently acquired star big man. Just as he, Nikola Jokic, and the rest of the Nuggets were getting acclimated and playing well, Millsap injured a ligament in his wrist and has missed 24 games since. Interestingly, the Nuggets are 12-12 since he went down, standing their ground by finding contributions from unexpected places.
Jamal Murray, Trey Lyles, and Gary Harris have stepped up their games since that point, and Nikola Jokic remains a stud. Will Barton has provided significant contributions too. Here are numbers for each of them since November 19th.
These are the guys the Nuggets have relied upon to get them through a difficult time, and for the most part, they have delivered. All five deserve to be in the Nuggets rotation going forward, regardless of who else is moved or acquired. Assuming that Millsap comes back after the All-Star break as well, the Nuggets should factor him into their rotation plans too.
That means that the Nuggets have three guards/wings (Murray, Harris, Barton) and three bigs (Jokic, Millsap, Lyles) penciled into their rotation. Assumably, the Nuggets can count on roughly 100 minutes per game in a normal rotation from the guard/wing trio and 90 minutes per game from the big man trio. That means, in a rotation that features 240 minutes every game (48 minutes times five positions) Denver should look to tailor the remaining 50 to the above six players’ strengths while accommodating for weaknesses as much as possible.
I left Mason Plumlee and other fringe rotation pieces off this initial list because I can’t guarantee them to be heavy minutes guys after the trade deadline. Lyles is playing so well that when Millsap returns, it will be hard to reduce Lyles’ minutes. Plumlee may get 10-15 minutes regularly, but not much more in my opinion.
Which leads to the big question:
Will the Nuggets be buyers at the trade deadline?
The answer to that, in my opinion, is...probably? They would like to be, but they don’t want to skip steps developing Jokic, Harris, Murray, Lyles, and others. President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly has been notoriously gun shy on certain deals, though not for a lack of trying.
The Nuggets need a wing player to step up and fill the void at small forward. Wilson Chandler has been a big minute contributor at the small forward position, but the production and efficiency just hasn’t been there. The 5.5 rebounds per game have been great, yet his 48.3 eFG% ranks 28th out of 32 qualifying forwards averaging at least 25 minutes per game. His TOV% also ranks 28th out of 32, not a great sign for a player that’s the fifth option on offense.
Denver needs a player at the 3 that can be efficient on limited usage while making good decisions. Here are some of the players that fit the bill on the wing:
Some of the above players on the list play power forward, but here are a few of my favorite options:
- Otto Porter is the crown jewel. An elite role player on the wing who plays both ways and will let others run the offense? Yes please. The Washington Wizards would likely never give him up, but on the off chance that they need a third team in a star deal, the Nuggets should be ready to capitalize.
- Tony Snell is super efficient and doesn’t turn the ball over. He’s making $9.8 million this year, so the Nuggets could match his contract relatively easily. Depending on what the Bucks need, the Nuggets could be a match, especially in a three-team deal for DeAndre Jordan.
- Thabo Sefolosha and Joe Ingles (who doesn’t appear on this list) would also be solid options. Both are quality defenders, while Ingles adds a playmaking and high basketball IQ aspect as a fifth option offensively. If Sefolosha was targeted, he would be as a bench wing. If Ingles was targeted, it would be as a starter. Each player has a different price tag, but both could be had.
Other options on the wing that don’t appear on the list and are bigger targets: Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Evan Fournier, and Wesley Matthews. All have distinct advantages as starters, and all would be major advantages as leaders of a second unit.
But the more pressing need than even at the wing is to find a viable backup point guard.
Emmanuel Mudiay started as the backup point guard, but for all intents and purposes, he’s out of the rotation and not likely to see minutes any time soon. That means that Will Barton has been running the second unit, and it’s come with mixed results.
Here are Barton’s numbers before and after Mudiay was removed from the rotation following a December 15th injury:
Barton’s role has drastically changed, but it hasn’t made a positive impact on the offense. What he HAS done is minimized his turnovers on the offensive end, which has in turn helped the defense by creating less fast break opportunities for the opposition. Still, the Nuggets need another body to fill backup point guard minutes, and simply upgrading the rotation would be better for Denver’s long term prospects than relying on a player with an expiring contract.
Here are the bench point guards that do a great job facilitating, generate good offense for others, and are reasonably priced:
A number of quality options appear on this list that could fill the backup minutes for Jamal Murray:
- J.J. Barea is an excellent facilitator, averaging 6.0 assists per game off the bench while shooting 38.1% from three on 4.6 attempts per game. He isn’t perfect, but he represents a quality rotation piece, and Emmanuel Mudiay is from the Dallas area.
- Jordan Clarkson is another quality option, and he’s relatively young at just 25. He’d be an excellent candidate to run the bench unit this year and as insurance in case Barton departs in free agency. Having both off the bench for the rest of the year would generate fireworks offensively.
- Fred VanVleet is criminally underutilized in Toronto, who are playing Delon Wright with the facilitator. He profiles as a solid backup who limits turnovers and gets others involved well, but playing with a second point guard has made things more difficult. He would excel as a 15-20 minute guy behind Murray and provide some stability at a cheaper price than Barea or Clarkson.
- D.J. Augustin has had a bounce back year in Orlando, regaining his efficiency off the bench with a 59.5 TS%. He would be extremely cheap, and while his defense leaves a lot to be desired, the Nuggets may want to lean towards an offensive minded point guard off the bench to keep things rolling for the team on that end. Augustin in a similar role to VanVleet would likely be successful as well.
Other options that don’t appear on this list are Tyreke Evans, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Elfrid Payton, all of which are likely too rich for Denver’s price tag but should be mentioned nonetheless. Evans represents more of a scorer off the bench, but Dinwiddie and Payton are more traditional point guards with excellent facilitation skills. Dinwiddie would be a Denver favorite, given that he attended the University of Colorado just a few years ago.
Will the Nuggets be sellers at the trade deadline?
Anything is possible, but it’s unlikely unless weird things happen between now and the trade deadline. The Nuggets are truly pushing for the playoffs, and while they are doing it with development, they still really want to get there. Selling off pieces to open up more time for young players and accumulate assets is the wrong direction this time, and the Nuggets know it.
If they do sell on some guys, it could be trading Barton for a first round pick if they don’t think they can retain him. It could be Wilson Chandler if they know he’s going to opt out of his contract and want to get something for him in return. It could be Emmanuel Mudiay or Kenneth Faried if the Nuggets decide they want to go a different direction with those two guys.
At this point, it’s hard to see Denver selling talent though. They are still in the playoff race and have potential to be as good as a 4 seed this year in the playoffs if they go hard for it. Trading veterans away likely won’t solve anything.
Will the Nuggets make any trade at all?
Based on recent history, yes. Tim Connelly has been active at every trade deadline, and while last year’s deal was absorbing the salary of Roy Hibbert, he was actively searching for deals including Chandler and Danilo Gallinari. If an opportunity presents itself at the right price, the Nuggets will act. If the stakes are too high, they will back out.
Either way, February 8th is sure to be an exciting day for the Nuggets. Fans will have a better idea of what Denver will be competing for at that point, and the needs and wants will be more pronounced too. At that point, Denver will still have 1⁄3 of their season left to play (28 games) meaning the proper addition could be extremely impactful.
Will Tim Connelly and company make the right choice? Time will tell.
The biggest need for the Denver Nuggets is...
This poll is closed
A starting caliber wing
A quality backup guard
Other (tell us in the comments)