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Stiffs Mailbag: Thanksgiving, Kemba Walker, and fourth quarter struggles

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Answering the questions of Nuggets Nation.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

I hope Thursday was a good Thanksgiving for Nuggets Nation. If you had turkey, it better not have been dry. If you didn’t have turkey, good for you. Turkey is overrated.

It’s mailbag time, and I had some great questions this week. If you want to send me a question, either email me following the link to my profile or @ me on Twitter.

Let’s get right into it!


“If the Nuggets were a Thanksgiving meal who would be what side?”

@dot_turnt

Taking this opportunity to promote an excellent piece on Nylon Calculus that used advanced metrics to do something similar.

I’m just going to do the regular rotation plus Will Barton, but if it were me, here’s how each guy stacks up:

Nikola Jokic = Turkey, because that man is a whole darn meal and the main dish most of the time. I’m bending the rules.

Jamal Murray = Mashed Potatoes, because while they can be hit or miss, the best can make the whole meal.

Gary Harris = Mac n Cheese, because you always need it, and it’s always good.

Paul Millsap = Stuffing, because he’s consistent and foundational to Denver right now.

Will Barton = Gravy, because he just makes everything better.

Monte Morris = Hawaiian bread rolls, because they are good every single time.

Juancho Hernangomez = The side dish your family brings, because you’re not quite sure if you need it but Thanksgiving comes and it turns out you really need it.

Mason Plumlee = Cornbread, because like Hawaiian rolls, they’re good, but they also provide the necessary filling. And, it’s obvious.

Trey Lyles = Sweet potato casserole, because it may not be essential but at times, it’s too good to pass up.

Malik Beasley = Apple Pie with Ice Cream, because the thought of it sounds so good but you don’t know if you can hold out that long.


“Jamal [Murray] for Kemba [Walker]. Who says no?”

@MindOfHs3

I think this is pretty easy right now: the Hornets hang up the phone, almost laughing.

Could Murray be really good? Sure. He may never be as good as Kemba Walker is right now though, who is averaging 29, 4, and 6 on over 20 shots per game, shooting 40 percent from three. Walker has been absurd, and despite the fact that he’s a free agent, the Hornets have shown zero inclination that they’re willing to trade him this year. They want to build around him, add pieces if they can. Denver may have been able to deal for him in the offseason, but not now.


“Okay. Thanksgiving conversation spurred this thought.

What if the Warriors are actually broken? What if injuries & conflict make them...human, finish 4th in the West.

Who finishes first?

Who wins the WCF?

Seriously.

What if everything we know is wrong?”

@chmorley

These are some deep Thanksgiving thoughts for a Nuggets fan.

The Golden State Warriors drama has been well-documented, and everyone’s mad at everyone right now, most of all Kevin Durant and Draymond Green. Right now, the Warriors are trying to figure this mess out. Without Stephen Curry healthy to stabilize everything, the other Warriors have been unable to play as a unit.

If they don’t finish as the best team in the West, my money is still on the Houston Rockets to figure their mess out. Since they sent Carmelo Anthony away before the Nuggets game, the Rockets have rattled off four straight victories including some dominant wins. General Manager Daryl Morey likely sees this as a major opportunity to capitalize, and he’s going to make sure Chris Paul, James Harden, and Clint Capela are surrounded with the proper shooting once playoff time arrives.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think this drama will stop them from winning a championship, but if it does, I think it happens very late in the year. The best example one can come up with for this is the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers squad in 2004. Many volatile personalities were in place, and both players were sensitive about the mantra that one of the two carried the other to the Finals every year.

Even with that level of volatility and sensitivity, the team still made it past the more difficult West, only to be blindsided by a true team, the Detroit Pistons. An argument could be made that the best team to stop Golden State now sits in the East, simply because the Warriors will be less familiar and will have had to battle more to reach that point. If anyone does it, my money is on the Toronto Raptors. That team is legit.


“Offense seriously struggles later in games. Running our normal offense also does not often work. What changes should Malone consider? How can we avoid these 18pt 4th quarters going forward?”

@Fgzo12

Here’s the thing: Denver’s Defensive Rating in the fourth quarter of 99.8 points/100 possessions allowed is the second best mark in the entire NBA, behind only the Indiana Pacers.

The offense is not good though, 20th in the NBA at 106.5 points/100 possessions. If you take away the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Hawks, that drops significantly. Looking player by player, the three-point percentage sticks out like a sore thumb. Only three players are shooting better than 35 percent from beyond the arc: Juancho Hernangomez, Malik Beasley, and Monte Morris.

Gary Harris and Jamal Murray have done a poor job spacing the floor late in games. Harris’ mark is just 21 percent, while Murray focuses more on getting to the basket, an admiral thing if his role in Denver’s offense wasn’t closer to Stephen Curry than it is Kyrie Irving. Both players combine to average just 2.0 three-point attempts per game in the last quarter, and teams will continue to run them off the line and force them into things they are less good at.

In the end though, Nikola Jokic must take command in the 4th quarter. He doesn’t have to shoot every time, but when he comes into the game in the 4th quarter, the opposing team must be fearful that he will put the game away. He has that kind of talent, and everybody in the NBA knows it except perhaps Nikola. Getting aggressive, directing traffic, and generating efficient shots for himself and others is extremely important.

It helps if everyone hits their percentages though.


“Would you rather the Nuggets get a top 4 seed in the West, with the current team + [Will] Barton & [Isaiah Thomas], or make the playoffs with MPJ and/or Vanderbilt playing a bench support role?

Basically dominate this year then bring new people in, or sacrifice a little dominance to start transition?”

@devintarr

I would rather try and win this season, and here’s why: you show the young guys exactly how they have to perform in order to be a great team.

For what it’s worth, we don’t know whether Michael Porter Jr. or Jarred Vanderbilt will even be healthy enough to play this season. They certainly might be, but if there’s any question about it, Denver has the freedom to hold off playing those guys until they are 110% ready. At that point, they should make an effort to get Porter some minutes, but only because he was a talented first round pick. Should they bend over backwards to sacrifice this year to see what MPJ can do? No, but playing him 10-15 minutes off the bench in place of a struggling bench forward in Trey Lyles? That doesn’t seem harmful at all.

If Porter is hurting the team in those minutes and causing losses, then take him off the floor. Simple.