Stiffs Roundtable | Know Your Personnel
In our first roundtable of the week, Brendan Vogt, Ryan Blackburn and Gordon Gross answer some important personnel questions as they look ahead to next season. Where do the guys stand on Wilson Chandler picking up his option? Should the Nuggets work to bring Devin Harris back? Is Juancho Hernangomez ready to enter the rotation as a small forward?
Can Wilson Chandler still help this team, or would the added cap flexibility be more valuable than what he provides on the court next season?
Blackburn: Wilson Chandler still holds value in the NBA because of his combination of size and mobility. He has what no other player on the Nuggets possesses, the ability to be 6’8 with a sizable frame and the agility to keep up with opposing stars at small forward. Think of all of the teams in the NBA right now that have versatile players in the 6’6 to 6’9 range: the Warriors have Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala. The Rockets have James Harden, Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, and Luc Mbah a Moute. The Celtics have Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris, Semi Ojeleye, Marcus Smart, and Gordon freaking Hayward in reserve. Wings are the future, and until the Nuggets get their hands on some, Chandler holds a ton of value in their rotation.
Gross: Wilson Chandler is a good player who can help a lot of teams, Denver included. That said, if he exercises his player option of $12.8 million it would inhibit Denver’s attempts to turn the roster over and reshape it to better suit the young core. Chandler will be 30 years old next season and has had several major surgeries in his career; the Nuggets are likely not planning on keeping him for the future, which means losing the flexibility to address needs this year because of his cap hit could be more damaging than his potential contributions next season.
Vogt: Wilson Chandler is a quality two-way wing who can and has helped this defensively challenged Nuggets team in the past. But there are two issues with Chandler—the first is that we’re never quite sure which version of him will show on any given night. When he’s on, he’s a useful player for a team that lacks wing depth. But when he’s off, his attention seems to wander from the game. He disappears for long stretches and it’s not always clear that he’s as committed to team success as others on the roster. This brings us to the second issue: with potential Will Barton and Nikola Jokic extensions looming, Chandler’s just too expensive for a player who isn’t going to give it his all. That cap space might be more valuable to Denver.
Devin Harris was an improvement over Emmanuel Mudiay last season, but was he the ideal guy for the backup point guard role? Should Denver work to bring him back?
Vogt: While the Nuggets traded for Devin Harris with hopes of him filling the back up ball handler role, Harris has actually spent much of the back nine of his career as an off ball guard. Harris was undoubtedly an upgrade from Mudiay and Denver gave up nothing in the deal. That trade was a good one, but the Nuggets can do better in filling this role. They need a guard who is skilled at the on ball duties: post entry passing, running high pick and rolls, and knowing how and when to get the big men involved. Rajon Rondo is heading into unrestricted free agency by the way. Just sayin’.
Blackburn: The Nuggets need a backup point guard that will command the second unit. I wrote this in an article last week: the mismanagement at the end of the bench starts with finding a guy who can captain that second unit. At 35 years old, Devin Harris is not that guy. He was good for what Denver was willing to give up, but the end game for the Nuggets is to find a guy who can help Denver survive when Nikola Jokic goes to the bench. Harris couldn’t do that this year, and that’s the biggest indicator why Denver should look elsewhere.
Gross: Devin Harris has played point guard in his career, but he is a shooting guard now. His assists-per-36 were slightly higher than Jamal Murray’s and Gary Harris’s, but not enough higher for someone whose job it is to orchestrate the offense without Jokic more often than not. Since the underperformance of the bench was a huge reason the Nuggets missed the postseason, bringing it back intact seems like a bad idea. He was a decent addition but at 35 is not a long-term solution nor the best short-term fit. Denver should be looking for a true point guard first.
If Wilson Chandler opts out and the Will Barton walks, the Nuggets will be awfully thin on the wing. Is Juancho Hernangomez ready to step up and contribute significant minutes at the three?
Gross: Before last season, I talked about power forward being the best positional fit for Juancho. He doesn’t have the handle to drive the lane and can’t really work off the bounce and struggles defending quickness, and he didn’t get the chance to work on any of that in-season this year. He’s a stretch four with good catch-and-shoot mechanics, and is a very solid rebounder who has worked hard on his body to handle banging inside.
I don’t expect him to be able to go from being out of the rotation at the end of the season to soaking up lots of minutes at small forward a few months later, unfortunately. I think Hernangomez, Trey Lyles and Tyler Lydon are all fours, not threes, which creates a definite problem at small forward for the Nuggets.
Vogt: Sliding Juancho to the three might be best when done as a temporary solution. I think it’s clear that his best role in this league is as a stretch four with sneaky athleticism. Long term, he could be a big defensive liability on the wing. It’s tough, Juancho deserves minutes somewhere, but he’s probably a four and Denver has plenty of power forwards at the moment.
Blackburn: I don’t know if “ready” is the correct word, but I know he will be effective in the right situation if Denver gives him the time to develop. Is the correct situation at small forward? Probably not. However, I don’t think it’s out of the question. If Denver went into the season wanting Hernangomez to be the starting 3 and play 25-30 minutes per game at the position, then that’s a losing proposition. Still, Juancho definitely has more skills to show off than just spotting up on the corners and the wings. He can handle the basketball a little bit, and he can contain the ball reasonably well in the right matchup.
If Chandler and Barton walk, I would look to sign a veteran bench wing with the midlevel exception while starting Juancho at the 3. I certainly wouldn’t play Juancho all of his minutes at the 3 though, and would slide him the 4 next to Jokic, Plumlee, or even Millsap or Trey Lyles in small ball situations. All of those guys deserve to play, including Juancho. The best way to find time for Juancho is to play is in this situation though, so he better be ready.