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Stiffs Mailbag — Nikola Jokic, the full All-Star experience, and the guards with All-Star potential

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Answering Twitter questions (almost) every Friday.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Happy All-Star Friday! Let’s answer some questions.


I would say no. I’ve articulated this previously, but a ceiling is based on the capacity for what a player has shown in past games and the sustainability of that ceiling in the future. To evaluate a ceiling properly, one must discuss a player’s best moments while understanding potential limitations in other areas.

Murray’s best 12 games of his career show a reasonable outline for what one might expect if he ever hit his ceiling. A lot of 30+ point performances with elite efficiency. The occasional 40+ point performance. What’s interesting is that of these 12 performances, nine took place in his first two seasons, including eight in 2017-18. His performance this season has actually taken a hit on both ends, though his usage has increased to mask some of that fall off.

What I have learned most about Murray though is to doubt him at your own peril. He knows he’s not shooting the ball as well as last season, that he hasn’t had the same efficient performances that made him one of the most tantalizing young players in the NBA. He has had three games this season that qualify for his best 12 games though, and in those contests, he dropped 48 points on the Boston Celtics, 46 points against the Phoenix Suns, and 36 points against the Sacramento Kings, 34 coming in the second half. He has shown the ability to be the explosive scorer Denver wants next to Nikola Jokic long term, but the consistency and accuracy have fallen short. If they every come around, and they certainly might, then he will hit on his ceiling somewhere between Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry.


I bet he only plays about 15-18 minutes, a perfectly reasonable amount for a reserve who will also share the floor with a number of other bigs. Jokic will have to contend for big man reserve minutes with Blake Griffin, Nikola Vucevic, and Dirk Nowitzki. If one were to expect starters Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid to play 25+ minutes, then there’s simply not a ton of time to go around. I think Jokic will play the most minutes of the big man reserves, maybe even close the game next to Giannis and Embiid, but I can’t imagine he spends more time than that.

As for enjoying the spotlight, I think Jokic will be surprised at how much he likes the company of other All-Stars. He enjoys being “just one of the guys” and he certainly won’t be the biggest attraction at All-Star weekend, unlike every waking moment he’s in Denver. For that reason, I think he will enjoy chatting with Vucevic on the bench, going against Towns and Davis on the opposing roster, and throwing the flashy passes that get the crowd into the game.


Khris Middleton. While Jokic is friends with Vucevic, shares similar traits with Griffin, and will surely talk some trash to his fellow centers, the players Jokic generally leaves an impression on are the ones who receive the most passes. Enter Middleton, perhaps the ideal small forward to play in Denver long term given his combination of size, playmaking, and shooting, and it makes sense for Jokic to try and convince him to come to Denver. Not with talks and whispers of how great Jokic and Middleton would be together, but hitting Middleton with crisp passes in the shooting pocket, playing the pick and roll together, and making an impression with his play.

Jokic doesn’t strike me as a recruiter in the mold of LeBron James, but he does know how to have fun. He will make guys laugh, be a low maintenance teammate, and cheer on his group to win. Middleton, who was seemingly upset with the Milwaukee Bucks over something or other earlier this year, may take this opportunity to check in on other stars. If he were to be impressed by anybody on the Team Giannis roster, it would probably be Jokic.


Torrey Craig and Trey Lyles. Like you said, it is impossible to bench either of Morris or Beasley right now, and for good reason. The Nuggets should feel pretty good about the contributions they have received from every guard this year, despite the injury issues from multiple players. That being said, there’s an easy way to solve this issue: go small. Denver has six guards/short wings at their disposal that all deserve time. Why not use them in the following configuration?

Point Guard: Murray, Morris

Shooting Guard: Harris, Thomas

Very Small Forward: Barton, Beasley

As I noted earlier this week in SOTW, Denver is at their best in lineups around Millsap and Jokic that feature Beasley or Barton at small forward. Because of that, Denver should lean into their strength as much as possible and force opposing teams to match up. There will be times where Denver struggles with an opponent’s height and athleticism, but three points are better than two, and Denver’s new rotation should be raining threes.

Circling quickly back to Craig and Lyles, one of them (or possibly Juancho Hernangomez) will play spot minutes at power forward off the bench. So far, it has been Lyles, and he has been atrocious (see SOTW above). Denver may look to eradicate his minutes entirely and go with Craig in an ultra small lineup or Hernangomez in a more traditional look. Heck, maybe they go back to Jarred Vanderbilt at some point for his athleticism and defensive motor.


I thought last year’s event was fairly competitive. More so than previous seasons. The 2018 All-Star game featured a 148-145 score, and while it wasn’t filled with a ton of defense, it certainly featured high effort. Commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA recently incentivized the winning team with much larger game checks than the losing team for their participation in the event, and that helped bump up the competitive levels. In addition, the All-Star draft generally features feelings of spite and betrayal for the order in which players are selected. Giannis and LeBron even made a trade this year, exchanging Ben Simmons and Russell Westbrook, two players who will surely take that to heart.

The NBA has done a great job of making the game more competitive in recent years. Things are trending in the right direction for sure. There’s a balance that must be struck between high intensity play and injury prevention in an exhibition game though, so I’m not too worried about defensive intensity in these contests. As long as the players are motivated, that’s all that matters.


I love Harris and Morris, but this has to be Malik Beasley. At just 22 years old Beasley has reached thresholds as a shooter that neither Harris nor Morris have been able to match. Harris was close back in his Age 22 season, but Beasley’s shooting is unprecedented. Among all players in NBA history 22 and under to shoot as many threes as Beasley, only three seasons have exceeded his 43.3 three point percentage: Ben Gordon in 2005-06, Stephen Curry’s rookie year, and Stephen Curry’s sophomore year.

Basketball Reference

Now that’s a Nuggets Number.

When a player has an elite skill, a truly elite tool in the toolbox, it’s easier to see an All-Star path. Harris, while he is solid in many respects, is more of a jack-of-all-trades type, a versatile player who helps win games but doesn’t necessarily accumulate star accolades. Morris, for all he has proven this season, is built for a backup role and should excel for the entirety of his NBA career.

Beasley’s three-point shot and A-plus athleticism give him a different level to reach though. Imagining Beasley taking seven or eight threes a game and giving Jokic the spacing he needs to be a playmaker for the next decade invites some interesting scenarios. It’s far more likely that Beasley represents the team in a year where he hits a ton of threes on high volume than Harris gets in as a 40% shooter doing the same thing. There’s just a stigma around players that hit the mid 40’s that put them in an elite class. Call it the Steph Curry gang.