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Stiffs roundtable: The Core edition

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Three stiffs writers weigh in on what area each member of the Nuggets young core must improve in this summer

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It’s another edition of Stiffs roundtable, and this time the squad is talking about the Nuggets’ young core. Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Nikola Jokic have raised the expectations here in Denver, but they’ve fallen short of the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. What should the young guns be working on this summer to help their team get over the hump?

Let’s go around the table, son.

I’m already running out of .gifs, so here’s this weird thing I found on the internet

Jamal Murray made the massive leap in scoring that we expected to see in his sophomore campaign, but the 21-year old is far from a complete player. What should be at the top of his to-do list this summer?

Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): His handle. Murray is a good shooter and should become a great shooter, but unless he wants to live his NBA life as a spot-up guy he’s got to be able to dribble in traffic and take guys off the bounce. Right now his handle just isn’t up to par for that duty, and too many of his turnovers come from having his pocket picked while attempting to do more than shoot. Becoming a recognized danger as a shooter creates harder close-outs and easier drives on fakes, but he’s got to keep control of the ball.

Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): He should buy a plane ticket to Serbia, hang out in Nikola Jokic’s basement and those two should do nothing but run the pick and roll for 12 hours a day. As Gordon mentions, Murray struggles with his handle, but I think he also struggles as a decision maker/playmaker for others when he has the ball in his hands in general and that’s no more apparent than in the pick and roll. It feels like Murray still isn’t 100% comfortable as a P&R ball handler and he has to think things through as they re happening instead of reacting naturally which in turn causes his decisions to be slow and makes the P&R more difficult to execute.

Brendan Vogt (@Bvogt422): Murray’s handle and inability to get the ball to Jokic have been discussed before, so I’ll touch on something slightly different: decisive decision making. Murray has the shooting ability to make teams pay for leaving him open but often it takes him one too many seconds, or dribbles, to figure out his next move. Occasionally, when the ball is whipping along the perimeter and it’s his turn to either complete the swing to the corner, or take the shot, he hesitates.

Gary Harris has shattered his ceiling as a prospect and successfully added new elements to his game in every offseason over the course of his still young NBA career. What’s the next step in the development of Denver’s most consistent player?

Vogt: Gary showed flashes of a new and improved isolation ability last season but he’s still a long way from becoming a player you can count on to create a bucket out of thin air. A team needs a player who can put his head down and get to the rim, or score off the bounce when the half court offense isn’t clicking. A healthy Danilo Gallinari provided this two seasons ago, and Denver missed it sorely this year. That might be Murray one day, I expect it to be in fact, but Harris shows up each season with a new element to his game. I wonder if this is next.

Gross: I would love Gary to become a better defender, but he has size limitations for that as a smaller shooting guard without a huge wingspan. The effort is there, he may just not be physically able to do more than he is - assuming he’s not being held back by Denver’s defensive “scheme.” What Harris really needs to do is make some sort of bargain with the basketball gods to be able to stay healthy over the course of an 82-game season (plus the playoffs, one of these years). A healthy Harris over 82 games is something like a 7 winshare player - that’s pretty good without other improvements.

Mikash: I honestly don’t think there’s much more Gary will improve on, not that he can’t but at this point in most guys career that development curve starts to flatten out. I think he’s done enough to b a viable 3rd or 4th option on offense and he’s shown enough improvement as a playmaker to make you feel like he’s not entirely dependent on the players around him to be able to create. What the Nuggets could use (outside of the defense that Gordon mentions) is for Harris to be a more capable ball handler and creator for others. Like Murray, you can tell it’s not something he is fully comfortable doing yet but with the Nuggets having no true point guards to speak of, any help they can get from Harris in play creation will be a big bonus.

Nikola Jokic isn’t just Denver’s best player, he’s evolved into one of the best centers in the league. What does the Serbian Sensation need to add next to his bag of tricks?

Gross: Gain the understanding that he is The Man. Jokic is a flat-out superstar with zero improvements. He can work on his body this offseason, try to increase his lateral quickness, or anything else he wants but that’s not the most important thing to me. Jokic cannot defer. If he is passing the ball it’s because that’s what the game calls for. If he is shooting, it’s because that’s how he can best throw daggers into the other team’s hearts. Jokic over his six April games put up 25.7 points, 12.3 rebounds and 7.7 assists per contest while staving off Denver’s elimination until overtime of the last game. To quote Will Smith, “that’s how you drive.” That’s what I want Jokic thinking about and focusing on all offseason.

Mikash: Gordon’s out here stealing all the good answers. To kind of piggy back on that though, I want Jokic to keep working on his shooting. He mentioned during the season how much he worked on it last summer and I think the improvement was easy to see. However, there was still a lot of hesitation especially when it came to shooting the three ball despite improving to practically a 40% three point shooter. 40% three point shooters shouldn’t hesitate anytime they are even kind of open, they should just shoot. Another summer grinding away on his shot will hopefully give Jokic the confidence he needs to let it fly.

Vogt: Criticizing Nikola’s game is only to be picking nits, but there are still nits to pick. Jokic is a great-to-elite finisher in the paint but he’s shown a lack of confidence and an unwillingness to go to his left hand. It’s so specific, and it sounds silly, but if Jokic learns how to go to his left he will develop into in unstoppable player in the paint. And of course, there’s the obvious answer: getting into real NBA shape.