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Stiffs Mailbag: Nuggets roster, rotations, and ceiling questions

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Weekly (now bi-weekly) mailbag on Nuggets questions from Nuggets fans.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Lakers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The weekly mailbag is back!

The offseason is in full swing, and news has slowed down considerably. The mailbag is built on the premise of Denver Nuggets fans having questions they want answered in detail, but as the questions lessen, it’s less necessary to have a mailbag every week. Because of that, the mailbag will move to a bi-weekly format for the rest of the offseason between now and media day. There will be some events to talk about between now and then, but not as many as one would like during a mailbag article. I may do a long-form article on an excellent question here or there, but the majority will be saved up for bi-weekly articles.

Still, we’re on the grind! If you have any questions that you want answered, please ask them on Twitter (@NBABlackburn) or on email (rn.blckbrn@gmail.com) and they may find their way into these articles.

Let’s get to questions:

I’m not entirely familiar with the medical terminology, but here’s a quote from fellow writer Gordon Gross regarding the situation:

“I know he had a “stress reaction” in his foot in [high school], and now two surgeries to fix it. My guess is that it’s a Jones fracture, which is a really annoying fracture to a small bone in the foot without much blood supply. So it takes a long time to heal...the good news with Jones fractures is that while they take months to heal, once they finally do it’s like most any bone in the body and should be able to handle the continued stresses of running and jumping without further issues.

If it is in fact a Jones fracture, the important factor is that Vanderbilt receives enough rest to fully recover, as Gordon stated. If it’s not a Jones fracture, we really don’t know anything. Without getting into too much speculation, we haven’t received any specific information regarding Vanderbilt’s surgeries, and I expect it to remain that way for awhile. As soon as the Nuggets are willing to share that information, we will provide an updated outlook for Vanderbilt and the ramifications for the upcoming year.

I think the best thing to assume with Vanderbilt is that he’s out until after the All-Star break and be pleasantly surprised if he comes back earlier.

This is an intriguing question and one that requires many layers of assumptions and predictions of health and playing time. The six players Denver has drafted over the past two years are Tyler Lydon, Vlatko Cančar, Monte Morris, Michael Porter Jr., Jarred Vanderbilt, and Thomas Welsh. All three of the players from the 2017 class have either underwhelmed or haven’t received an opportunity thus far, while two of the players from the 2018 class possess injury concerns. The final player, Thomas Welsh, may never play in the NBA, though the future is never certain.

The one player I’m certain will be in the top three is Morris. Though he didn’t play last season, it’s clear that he has the talent and Basketball IQ to continue improving his game and eventually become a solid player. The value of having a rock solid, young, backup point guard is immense (see: Fred VanVleet). I’m comfortable predicting that Morris will make a similar jump.

The other two players I’d add to the list are Michael Porter Jr. and Jarred Vanderbilt. I know both have injury concerns, but even if they earn it by default, I wouldn’t be surprised. Cančar is unproven, and I expect his ceiling to be of a bench forward type. At least with MPJ and Vanderbilt, the ceilings are as starters, even stars if the player maximizes his role. I firmly believe in Porter’s ability to generate easy buckets while making a high percentage of the tough ones. I also believe in Vanderbilt’s defensive qualities, rebounding, and foundational skills to improve at just 19 years old.

Here’s how I see the rotation going:

Denver will start the game with their starting unit, and Isaiah Thomas will be the first player off the bench most nights. Denver will stagger their starters through the end of the first quarter and start of the second quarter, but the most important factor is that all of the starters will play 30+ minutes, and Thomas will likely be the next high minute guy.

This will create scenarios in which the Nuggets are playing small most of the game with either Gary Harris, or Torrey Craig likely playing some small ball 3 behind Will Barton, who’s already small for a 3.

All in all, I see the minute breakdown at each position being something akin to:

Point guard: Murray - 24 minutes, Thomas, 24 minutes

Shooting guard: Harris - 28 minutes, Craig - 12 minutes, Murray - 8 minutes

Small forward: Barton - 34 minutes, Beasley/Hernangomez - 10 minutes, Harris - 4 minutes

Power forward: Millsap - 30 minutes, Lyles - 18 minutes

Center: Jokic - 33 minutes, Plumlee - 15 minutes

There will be times when the entire bench is on the floor, and it will be important for Thomas to be the IT of old at that point. I see Barton averaging the most minutes on the team until Porter Jr. proves to be healthy. Barton’s probably the second most important player on the roster right now due to positional scarcity.

If Denver’s playing their best basketball down the stretch, and the schedule and injuries are kind to them, I genuinely believe Denver could win as many as 54 games this year. There will be nights where Denver’s offense is simply unstoppable. It might be the best offense in the NBA if things come together, which is assumed in a hypothetical ceiling.

The important thing though is that regardless of how bad Denver’s defense is, if the offense is better than the defense is bad, Denver will still be winning games. If Denver puts up a 114 offensive rating next season compared to a 110 defensive rating, they’ll be a really bad defense and a historically good offense, netting out to +4 per 100 possessions and roughly 52 wins. Add in a couple of variance wins from late-game scenarios, and Denver could suddenly hit the 54-win threshold. I don’t think that gets them a 2-seed, but it could come close, and they would definitely hit home court advantage for the first round.

If they win 54 games, it means Jokic is officially an All-Star and Murray has made “the leap” to become a 20 points per game scorer on rock solid efficiency. I don’t expect that to carry them the a Western Conference Finals appearance, but if they avoid the Golden State Warriors in the first two rounds and get lucky, that’s exactly where they could be.


Thanks to everyone for participating in the mailbag. The next one will come out Wednesday, August 8th, not next week. If anything happens in the mean time, make sure to tweet at me or email me any questions you have.

Happy Hump Day!

Poll

What is the current roster’s ceiling for the 2018-19 season?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Miss the playoffs
    (18 votes)
  • 16%
    Make the playoffs, lose in first round
    (182 votes)
  • 49%
    Lose in Western Conference Semifinals
    (544 votes)
  • 23%
    Lose in Western Conference Finals
    (264 votes)
  • 9%
    NBA Finals Appearance
    (100 votes)
1108 votes total Vote Now