The Nuggets are on a roll at the moment, performing very well against the tougher teams in the league. The Nikola Jokic/Jamal Murray/Gary Harris combo is the Nuggets’ go-to lineup to get the job done, and Will Barton, Trey Lyles, Wilson Chandler, and Mason Plumlee compliment the core nicely providing for excellent chemistry.
Denver has struck a nice balance with the rotation with multiple players able to play different positions when the situation requires, and Coach Mike Malone has gotten into his groove with understanding how to orchestrate properly. As I mentioned last week, right now is a great time to be a Nuggets fan, and it’s scary to imagine anything coming to disrupt the momentum they’ve built.
Like a lot of people, was certain that Paul Millsap’s injury was going to spell doom for the Nuggets’ season, and although the Nuggets need to have him back if they plan to be serious about the playoffs, there’s going to be a period of adjustment that could be awkward. Given that the playoff race in the West is so competitive, I remain optimistic, but hopeful that the Nuggets can adjust quickly and keep the chemistry alive.
Here are three things we need to watch for as Millsap works his way back into the lineup:
How will Malone maintain balance the rotation?
Watching Donovan Mitchell light up All-Star Saturday Night had me peeved all over again that the Nuggets missed their opportunity to snag him, but when I look at how much Lyles has contributed to this team I can’t help but think that things worked out for the best. Millsap’s absence has allowed Lyles to develop, and his fundamental style of play has boosted the Nuggets’ ability to be consistent.
Plumlee’s role concerned me earlier this season, but just before his injury he was playing with a different level aggressiveness and attack that I believe would have allowed the Nuggets to bring down the Boston Celtics the night he was injured. Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur are much farther down on the list, but there will still be times when they will need to be available as strategy for the game situation demands.
Millsap’s return (while needed) will inevitably disrupt the balance in the front court, even if just slightly. Lyles’ contribution cannot be overlooked, and Plumlee will need his minutes as his combination with Jokic has improved drastically in the last couple of months. Malone has the difficult task of blending everyone together in the best way, and it might take a few games to get it right. I only hope the adjustment period doesn’t cost them their playoff slot.
Will Millsap’s defensive presence help the Nuggets improve their record on the road?
It’s said that good defense is the best way to win on the road, and it’s no secret that this has been a struggle for the Nuggets all season long. While they are 23-7 at home, they are 9-19 (as of Friday 2/23) when they’re not in the comfort of their home court so they have major room for improvement when they travel.
After a period of gelling at the beginning of the season, Millsap brought a steady defensive focus for the Nuggets, and the younger players looked to him to set the pace when he was in the game. The Nuggets’ defense improved drastically as a result, and while they have room to get better still, they were able to learn to play defense even in Millsap’s absence. I’m optimistic that his return will once again improve the team’s defense overall, and maybe help offset any losses the Nuggets take while they adjust to his presence on the roster again.
Will Millsap be able to adapt to the Nuggets’ style?
Millsap is a leader. The Nuggets recruited him because of that, and they’re paying him the third highest salary in the NBA to take charge and get wins. However, the Nuggets have a great thing going right now, and it would be a shame to see them make a change for the worse. When Millsap re-enters the lineup, the offense will change (simply because there’s a new player in the mix), but I hope to see the Nuggets retain their style and balance the touches between everyone in the game.
I certainly don’t expect to see Millsap be an inhibitor to ball movement, but I hope to see him defer to Jokic, Murray and Harris and avoid completely altering the way the Nuggets have been playing. Given Millsap’s age and maturity, I don’t see this being a problem, but I’m certain that his learned skills of taking charge will need time to calibrate to the progress his teammates have made in his absence.
A solid date for Millsap’s return hasn’t been identified, it’s been said that the Nuggets hope to see him back in 1-2 weeks.