What stood out the most from Monday’s Denver Nuggets media day?
Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares): Isaiah Thomas seemed to be the talk of media day. Everyone had a story to tell about him, whether it was him starting friendly arguments in the locker room or getting guys to challenge each other in scrimmages. On day one, he seems to be providing a much needed boost to the team’s energy, swagger, and overall noise level.
Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): That none of Isaiah Thomas, Michael Porter Jr., or Jarred Vanderbilt have an official timetable to return is notable. Denver’s three most important acquisitions of the offseason are all dealing with ambiguous situations, and the less information that’s released to the public, the more concerned I will be. Providing positive news on any of the three players would be a major public relations boost for the organization, and not having a time table for return is ominous.
Jeremy Poley (@JeremyPoley): This feels like a team that’s about to explode. So many guys came back in even better physical shape. So many of them are so young. It’s crazy to think how much physical growth is still in front of the majority of the Nuggets’ entire roster - and this offseason, that growth is showing more than ever. Their mentality also felt like a collective dose of determination - à la a scene of rugged cowboys straight out of a John Ford flick.
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): I agree about the Isaiah Thomas thing. It felt a bit strange to see someone who hasn’t played a minute in a Denver uniform and was an injury casualty last year be the focus of so many questions to so many players. It speaks to the void that Denver feels they have in vocal veteran leadership. Michael Malone mentioned specifically that he needed Denver’s core players - Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris - to find their voices this season. Until that happens, the talk about Isaiah’s voice will no doubt continue regardless of what his playing time looks like to start the year.
Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): That the goal of the team is to make the playoffs this year! While they danced around a playoff goal last season with talk of “We just want to improve,” this year they were honest with their intention. It’s a big year for the members of the team that wear suits on game days, with Malone on the hot seat if the team fails to advance to the postseason. It’s a young team, but they don’t have excuses in the form of veterans around to blame if they don’t succeed this year. This season Nuggets fans will get to see if the core is actually capable of being contenders.
Which player had the most interesting interview at media day?
Mares: Once again I have to go with Isaiah Thomas. He held court with the media, speaking confidently and directly. He had great stories to tell about the team and playing for Michael Malone and he just seemed to know how to handle a media scrum.
Blackburn: Thomas 100%. His ability to capture the attention of the room speaks to his charisma and poise, and it showed today. He cracked jokes, was candid at times, and showed confidence in his game, contingent on his return.
Poley: Juancho. I found myself quite an apologist for Juancho’s lost season - blaming the long term effects of mono that often go overlooked after a sufferer is deemed “healthy”. But his answers, and non-answers, to some questions made it sound like he was healthy and ready to go much earlier than a lot of us thought. And if it wasn’t his health holding him back then I’m worried his defense and consistency might be the culprit. We might never see him blossom like we expected to after his rookie season - at least not in a Nuggets uniform.
Gross: Jokic holding court was a good time, with his trademark goofiness balanced by his vocal desire to take more steps this year than Denver has in the past. Isaiah Thomas was also a notable one. But I’m going to go with Michael Porter Jr. So many players view the media as a chore. He seemed pretty exuberant with his answers to every question. I don’t think Porter is just “happy to be here” and I don’t think he’s just going through the normal rookie excitement wave. He seemed bursting at the seams about being pain-free and while he still doesn’t have a timeframe for getting on an NBA court it’s still great to hear how happy he says he is to be in Denver and to eventually play this kind of basketball.
Lewis: It’s always going to be Jokic. While he’s the franchise player, he’s always going to inject his own brand of humor into interviews he does. Whether it was hamming it up in front of the camera or joking about phrases in English that he doesn’t understand, Jokic stole the show, just like he does when he’s on the court.
Jamal Murray stated today that he added 15 pounds to his frame over the offseason. How will that impact the way he plays on both ends of the floor?
Mares: This was a bit of a surprise. 15 pounds is a lot of weight so my initial reaction is concern. That being said, if he is able to carry that weight without losing any speed or explosiveness, I think the extra muscle will help him get to the rim and get to the free throw line better.
Blackburn: It hints at Denver’s defensive plans in my opinion. Gary Harris is Denver’s best point-of-attack defender, which usually means guarding the opposing team’s point guard. If Murray has the size to switch the defensive matchup with Harris, it will help Denver scheme around certain teams and hide some of Murray’s defensive deficiencies. Offensively, I’m not concerned. He’s going to be attacking the rim more frequently this year, which is good for his star ceiling.
Poley: Offensively, Jamal is a guy that’s always been gifted with an ability to weave through some traffic. If he has a body that empowers him further to draw contact while he drives to the hoop then I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him at the line for 5+ attempts a game this season. The only other two players hitting over .900 that put up that many free throws are Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry - pretty lofty company.
Gross: It only seemed to help Gary Harris when he bulked up, and I expect it to do the same for Murray. If it helps him defend more 2-guards or gives him the first step explosiveness to prevent the blow-bys he suffered last year that can only help. I’m not worried about the extra pounds - I just hope he worked on his handle this summer as well as his pecs.
Lewis: We got to see what happened to Gary Harris once he entered the “Ojeleye factory” and bulked up before the season. Murray needs that extra strength to help keep defenders from affecting his dribble, to power to the rim, and to maintain his form on his shot attempts. Forget defense for a minute - the stronger Murray gets, the better he’ll be on offense. That alone is a good reason to bulk up.
Michael Malone hinted at Trey Lyles potentially seeing some time at small forward this season. What are your thoughts on Lyles playing small forward, and can Denver be successful in these lineups?
Mares: Once again, my initial reaction is surprise since the league appears to be moving toward smaller basketball, not bigger. That being said, there isn’t a huge difference between small forward and power forward on the offensive end of the court. He’ll have to make some major strides defensively to be able to keep up with some of the elite wings in the western conference but if he is able to play the position it will alleviate a lot of the pressure on Malone to find Lyles minutes on the court.
Blackburn: I’m intrigued offensively. Denver has a real hole on that end of the floor at backup small forward, and if the team wants to continue staggering Jokic and Millsap to keep the offense going, Lyles may be in a situation where he has to slide to the 3 to stay on the floor. He’s a good offensive player though, and Jokic makes things work, so I’m not worried. Defensively will be an issue, but is Lyles guarding a 6’8 wing any worse than Barton guarding a 6’8 wing? It’s hard to say, which means the possibility should at least be explored.
Poley: This was one of my biggest takeaways from today. He “hinted” at it and that grabbed all of our attention. Five minutes later he bulldozed his way right into it talking about Lyles for several minutes and what he needs to do to play more minutes at the 3. The difference between the 3 and 4 is disappearing fast and the only thing you need to make sure is that one of your forwards has the athleticism to cover a wing from the perimeter to the paint. I just don’t see Lyles doing that. So I expect this tinkering can only be played against opponents lineups that are lacking athletic wings - and there aren’t many of those.
Gross: Paul Millsap is gonna get 30+ minutes a game and few of those will come at center if everyone is healthy. If Lyles wants more minutes than last year then he’ll need to play the three. I found it interesting that he went with an approach designed to let him bang inside as well, though, and specifically mentioned playing more center also. Lyles is attempting to expand his availability far beyond the stretch-four arena, and it would be great for the Nuggets if that works out. Of course, we’ve also seen Jokic try to play the four to alleviate a minutes crunch without success, so I’m not betting on it working until I see this supposed increase in strength and lateral quickness in action.
Lewis: Get that nonsense out of here. Don’t waste time on a pending free agent at a new position that he hasn’t played before in the NBA. Lyles was a “small forward” at Kentucky because they had Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein on the team as well. He would have to dramatically improve his ballhandling, defense, shooting, and passing to play the 3. If Malone is serious about that idea, he might as well start getting ready for his next coaching job.
What word would you use to describe the overall vibe you got from Monday’s media day?
Mares: Momentum. The Nuggets seemed focused and eager to get back on the court today. There’s a nice combination of continuity and fresh blood on the team. Overall, it felt like a positive media day.
Blackburn: Refreshing. It’s not quite a new start, but it certainly feels like the team is excited to take the next step as a team and an organization. The message was unified, and the expectations were high with little controversy. There were some questions to be sure, but the overall tone was certainly refreshing.
Poley: The players look confident. Not lethargic or reticent. Not overambitious or proud. They look comfortable and ready. Jokic personified that when asked if making the playoffs was necessary, “We don’t need to put it on our shoulders... but, yes.”
Gross: Anticipatory. This is the first year with internal expectations that match the fan base, not to mention the local and national press. Everyone on the team knows what is expected is a playoff appearance, if not home court which in a stacked Western Conference is going to be a tough get. But all of the interviews had a “bring it on” feel to them. Maybe that’s the bravado of youth, but as Jeremy said they sounded not just comfortable with the expectations but like they relish the challenge. That’s what I wanted to hear.
Lewis: Exuberant. They seem ready to go out and prove themselves. They think they know what they’re capable of, and they want to go out and play. Most of the team is healthy and eager to get on the court. Let’s hope that they carry that energy with them through the preseason and into games that actually matter for the standings.