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Stiffs Mailbag: reacting to Game 1, Nuggets rotation, and more

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The Denver Nuggets, despite some questions, look the part of a better basketball team.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Clippers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the Denver Stiffs Friday Mailbag! With Game 1 in the books, it’s time for another Q&A with Denver Stiffs readers.


Both Juancho Hernangomez and Monte Morris played reasonably well in Wednesday’s contest against the Los Angeles Clippers. Hernangomez scored five points, including his only three-point attempt, to go along with solid all-around contributions and an excellent block on The Mountain, AKA Boban Marjanovic.

The most encouraging part of Juancho’s game was his ability to impact multiple areas without being a major scoring factor. So much of the Spanish forward’s value comes from his incredible spacing, and if he’s adding in passing, rebounding, and defensive effort, he becomes a multi-dimensional player. The Clippers are a great matchup for Juancho to stick on the floor because of their size at forward. It won’t be like that every time, but Juancho continues to showcase why he’s a possible rotation piece going forward.

Morris wasn’t as great, but I give him a pass in his first regular season minutes of his career that actually mattered. He went 3/9 from the field but added four assists compared to zero turnovers in 16 minutes, exactly the reason why he’s replacing Isaiah Thomas right now.

When Thomas returns, I expect Denver to continue utilizing a 10-man rotation. Initially, Thomas will absorb the 16 minutes Morris is currently playing, and whichever two of Malik Beasley (who was decent in Game 1), Torrey Craig, and Hernangomez playing the best at the time will stay in the rotation. Fans will be unhappy that Morris will lose his minutes, but it’s hard to play the 5’9 Thomas and the slender 6’2 Morris at the same time against most teams. If Denver’s wings aren’t performing, Malone may try it as a change of pace, but it’s a short term fix and not a sustainable way to play.

I was a little surprised Torrey Craig didn’t see any time, but given a subpar performance in preseason, it’s not surprising that Malone went with the better performers in Beasley and Hernangomez. There are benefits to having Craig in the game in certain situations though. He’s a hustler first and foremost. When the Nuggets are dragging energy-wise, he’s the perfect player to deploy to regain momentum, especially on the defensive end.

Right now though, the Nuggets are amped up and engaged which led to an excellent defensive performance in the first game. Beasley and Hernangomez were flying around on both ends, and while the technique could use some improvement, their defensive performances were certainly passable. Both of those young wings have a higher ceiling than Craig, and the more the Nuggets can develop them, the better off Denver will be long term. As Denver settles into a rotation, look for Craig to get his opportunity as well. Malone loves him, and for good reason. He will always bring the energy and effort.

Here are Denver’s shooting performances in season openers each of the last six seasons:

The Nuggets generally struggle to score on Opening Night.

Denver’s offensive rating during the 2017-18 season was 111.3 points per 100 possessions, which ranked sixth in the NBA. At no point during opening night in the last six years did Denver cross that threshold or even come close to it. It’s unsurprising to say the least. As much as we commend Denver for showing veteran chops late in the game on Wednesday and stepping up when it mattered, they showed the usual rust that plagues most teams early in the year. I don’t expect that to linger with the team as a whole.

As for the rotation, everyone played mostly normal minutes. I expect the starters to average between 30 and 35 minutes every night. Trey Lyles will consistently be the highest minute guy off the bench, while the rest of the reserves sit in between 12 to 18 minutes. Things will get interesting if/when Thomas, Michael Porter Jr., and Jarred Vanderbilt get healthy, but for now, expect the rotation to be much of the same going forward.

There’s no easy way to say this, but Paul Millsap has to be better offensively.

Defensively, he’s a monster. He grabbed 13 defensive rebounds, generated a steal and a block, but more than anything, he was a true captain. While Nikola Jokic serves as the offensive captain, Millsap is clearly the defensive lead. He’s verbal, directs players where to go, is almost always in the right place himself, and simply made the team better. In his 30 minutes on Wednesday, the Nuggets posted an absurd 79.4 defensive rating. To put that in perspective, a 102.9 defensive rating from the Utah Jazz led the NBA last season.

That being said, Denver had many opportunities to be better on offense, and while other players struggled as well, Millsap struggled the most, going 1/7 from the field with two turnovers. More importantly, the Nuggets lost their rhythm whenever the ball found Millsap late in the shot clock. More often than not, Millsap floats around the perimeter or in the short corner during the possession, but as the shot clock ticks down, he makes himself available for late-clock offense. The Nuggets have consistently hit him in preseason and on Wednesday, and to this point, Millsap has been unsuccessful in his opportunities.

I’m concerned about this going forward. Millsap finished the preseason 9/28 from the field and 0/8 from three. It’s unfortunate, but there are some aging signs here. The Nuggets starting power forward turned 33 last year, and he has played over 25,000 minutes in his career. Last season, Millsap’s per game numbers dropped primarily due to a wrist injury. This season, the Nuggets are hoping for him to bounce back, but if he can’t score the basketball efficiently, his role will need to be altered.


That’s it for this week’s mailbag. If you have a question you’d like answered in a future mailbag, comment down below or hit me up on Twitter at any time using #BlackMail.

Thanks everyone!

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