The most impressive new addition to the Nuggets rotation has been...
Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): Both Michael Porter Jr. and Jerami Grant have been excellent thus far, and it’s hard to choose between the two. I will go with Porter though. I had a strong feeling Grant would be excellent and spoke about him possible starting even when the Nuggets acquired him in July. What I didn’t expect was Porter looking NBA ready at such a young age. The scoring talent is all there, but the ability to crash the glass and use his size on both ends of the floor has been a revelation.
Nick Hertzog (@NickHertzogSBN): Jerami Grant. What he can with a low usage rate is exactly what this team needs. He was 6-of-8 from the floor tonight, 2-of-3 from deep with 3 steals. The Nuggets don’t have anyone else with as much versatility, athleticism, and efficiency. Malone has his hands full finding minutes for all these forwards.
Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): I think it has been Michael Porter Jr. so far. Those that had watched Grant play before he arrived in Denver already knew that he’d be a great fit with this team. MPJ hadn’t played competitive basketball in nearly two years, so him being able to do ... all of what he’s been doing, is very impressive. He’s shown an ability to knock down tough shots, cut off-ball, offensive rebound, and looks focused on defense. It looks like the time away from the game helped him learn how to work with the coaching staff and watch film, which will go a long ways towards him being successful in the NBA.
Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): Look we all know how hard I stan for MPJ as well as Vlatko Čančar but I don’t see how the answer to this question can be anyone other than Grant. He’s been simply phenomenal. I expected to see the rim protection and some lob finishes/dunks off cuts but his shooting, particularly from three, has been a revelation. If Grant can consistently knock down threes at a high clip then the Nuggets were absolutely right in giving up a first rounder to go get him.
Jamal Murray began to figure things out against the Suns but has still struggled a bit. On a scale of 1 to 10, your concern level for Murray is what?
Blackburn: I’m up to a 2.5 out of 10. It’s the preseason, so going above a 5 in any case seems like overreaction; however, there are still tendencies he has to get out of his system, including the underutilization of his three-pointer. He’s really good at it which is why I keep harping on him to stay behind the line and rain hellfire. His proportion between twos and threes was better in last night’s contest, but for Denver’s offense to be fully spaced, I think he has to open it up a bit. Among starting point guard’s last year, Murray ranked 13th in three-point percentage and 12th in attempts per game. He should be top eight in both this year.
Hertzog: 2. Murray always starts slowly. The big leap he needs to make this year is on the defensive end, which we really won’t be able to gauge until the competition intensifies after the All-Star break. I feel like we’re seeing more effort there, even with it being the preseason. If he can get his 3-point percentage up, too, all the better. But preseason doesn’t tell us much about Murray.
Lewis: He was able to get open looks all night against the Suns, which, after acquiring Ricky Rubio, aren’t the point guard wasteland of yesteryear. He showed some craftiness against DeAndre Ayton in the pick and roll, and was aggressive in transition. He’s one of the few players I don’t mind seeing hunt for shots on offense, and he looked like he was eager to get some shots up. Defensively, he looked unprepared several times, which is why my concern level is at a 4. It’ll go down if he can show us, just one game, that he’s focused and prepared to be successful on the defensive end of the court.
Mikash: 1, maybe even less than 1. This is just how it goes with Jamal. When you look past the shooting he also had 8 rebounds and 6 assists last night. 16/8/6 is a pretty darn good preseason line. If he’s still struggling with efficiency around Christmas then maybe my concern goes up a bit but Jamal is a streaky two guard who can get hot and shoot the lights out. The Nuggets unique roster situation with having a point center allows Jamal to play the point guard position for them but it doesn’t change who he is. I think Nuggets fans are just going to have to live with the fact that Jamal’s never going to be the pillar of shooting efficiency or average 10 assists a game but will still win you plenty of games regardless.
Three games into the preseason, predict which two small forward candidates will be in the rotation on opening night:
Blackburn: I genuinely believe Malone will start Will Barton and bring Porter off the bench. With as much length and athleticism as Porter and Grant bring to the rotation, the Nuggets have the luxury to go with two offensive-minded options. While Craig’s perimeter defense will be missed, Porter has shown the talent level to almost expect playing time. Cultivating that talent is so important for the playoffs this year and Denver’s long term future.
Hertzog: Barton and Craig with MPJ sightings and a lot of Juancho DNPs. Sigh. If it was up to me, MPJ would be backing up Craig for only as long as it takes him to learn how to rotate on defense, and Barton would play only if injury or matchups necessitated it. But ... it’s not up to me. What we are going to get is Barton as the starter for the first few months of the season until Craig, MPJ, Juancho — or possibly even Grant — can force Malone’s hand. At some point, the Nuggets five best players at their positions will be starting, and that will not include Barton. But we’ll have to wait and see how long that takes to develop.
Lewis: I think we’ll see Torrey Craig in there for Game One, especially because of the matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers. I think Will Barton will be the next guy off the bench in that rotation, specifically in the first quarter, and that MPJ will be the guy that spells Craig in the third quarter. I’d be surprised if Porter Jr. played more than 10 minutes on opening night, if Craig played more than 25 minutes, and if Barton didn’t get more than 20 minutes. The Nuggets aren’t going to skip steps with Porter Jr., and I don’t think giving him 20 minutes a night from the start is what they have planned. He can get more run against the Suns in Game Two, but on opening night, Malone is going to stick with his veteran players.
Mikash: It should, absolutely positively without a doubt should, be Barton and MPJ. This is not a knock on Juancho or Torrey but the fact of the matter is MPJ and Barton are the two best small forwards on the roster and it doesn’t look particularly close. Personally I’d go all in and start MPJ because there’s little doubt in my mind that by the end of the season he’s going to clearly be the best three on the team. Doubt Malone does that though so I expect Barton to start. This nonsense being thrown around that somehow MPJ needs to earn his minutes and therefore shouldn’t be in the rotation or be brought along slowly is just that, nonsense. He spent an entire year rehabbing back from surgery and during the preseason, in what the coach himself called an open competition, MPJ has been the best small forward on the court. If that’s not earning your minutes then what is? Play. The. Kid.