With the Denver Nuggets midway through the preseason, they stop in Phoenix to face to the Suns in their third preseason game of the year. The Nuggets won the first two on the strength of their depth, showcasing how valuable reserves like Malik Beasley, Jerami Grant, Monte Morris, and Mason Plumlee will be throughout the season. However, there are still questions left to answer, particularly at small forward and the core of Denver’s starting unit. Let’s get right into it.
Who: Denver Nuggets (2-0) at Phoenix Suns (2-1)
When: 8:00 PM MDT
Where: Talking Stick Resort | Phoenix, Arizona
How to watch/listen: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Rival Blog: Bright Side of the Sun
Key matchup: Ricky Rubio and Devin Booker vs Jamal Murray and Gary Harris
Both teams will feel like they have the matchup advantage here, with the Suns focusing on the additional playmaking and defense Rubio brings while Booker adds the versatile scoring and star power. The Nuggets have wanted Murray to take the next step for awhile, and he should be matched up with Rubio, a point guard who gave him trouble in the last regular season matchup. One of the last times Murray faced the Suns was when he dropped 46 points though, so it will be interesting to see which version of Murray shows up tonight. With Harris, he has the athleticism and mentality to give Booker some trouble when the latter is trying to score, but can Harris punish him on the other end with DHOs, cuts, spot ups, and transition opportunities?
Key thing to watch for: Who starts and plays at small forward tonight?
The last two games, Will Barton has started and shown a strong ability to get to the rim again while limiting his mistakes. It would surprise me if he started again, but if he did, it would signify the end of the starting small forward discussion.
The real question is the bench forward. Malone in his comments at practice the other day said Torrey Craig would see more playing time the rest of preseason after sitting out game 2. He’s who I project will start tonight, but if Barton starts, Craig will almost certainly get the first bench minutes available.
The conversation around small forward is still convoluted. Barton appears to have an edge, while Craig has had his praises sung all throughout offseason and training camp. Juancho is coming off a gold medal, and Porter is the most talented of all of them and has played well in his limited time. At some point, the rotation will come into focus, but right now, it remains a mystery.
Opening thought: Let’s see some three-pointers tonight
During the preseason, the Nuggets are attempting the fourth fewest three-pointers among all teams, including the Shanghai Sharks, San Antonio Spurs, and Portland Trail Blazers. In his press conference on media day, Michael Malone said his next goal was for the Nuggets to increase their three-point attempts from roughly 32 last year to around 36-37 this year. Thus far, the Nuggets haven’t let shots fly at the rate he hoped. Jamal Murray has attempted just two three-pointers in 46 minutes of action. Gary Harris has attempted four. Nikola Jokic, though he has only played in one game, has one matching three-pointer to show for it.
In 2017-18, those three players made an averaged of 5.8 three-pointers per game, with Murray maintained the lowest efficiency of 37.8 percent on his threes. The trio of Jokic, Murray, and Harris projects to space the floor at a high level going forward, but so much of floor spacing is the defense believing those guys will shoot perimeter jumpers at a high rate. If the three above can get their three-pointers going heading into the season, the Nuggets will be that much more dangerous going forward.