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Stiffs Mailbag: Overreactions from a difficult loss to Sacramento

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Reacting to Stiffs readers reacting to the Nuggets loss

Sacramento Kings v Denver Nuggets Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

Well, it’s that time of year again! The weekly mailbag has returned. Let’s dive right in.

(If you’re interested in submitting questions for future mailbags, follow me on Twitter. I will ask for questions before writing the mailbag every Thursday.)

The rotations in this game were abnormal at the start. Michael Porter Jr. began the game with two fouls in four minutes and was quickly removed. He returned and picked up his third foul in the second quarter, sitting back down having played just seven minutes in the first half. Will Barton played more than was expected because of this, basically starter level minutes.

At the point that Jamal Murray fouled out, Malone’s choices were to go back to Barton, go to Monte Morris, or go to Facundo Campazzo. It’s a tough ask for any rookie to close the season opener, even a 29-year-old star from Real Madrid. Morris had accumulated two points and zero assists in his 16 minutes off the bench, so he wasn’t exactly playing well.

I thought Malone was well within his rights to close with Barton at point guard given the way Barton had played throughout most of the game. Obviously, his inexperience at the point guard position reared its head in crunch time, but playing the five best players in the game at the time is rarely a bad call. Had Morris or Campazzo played better, they might have received the nod. I might have even thrown P.J. Doier out there; however, the Barton rotation was justified.


One of the byproducts of starting Michael Porter Jr. and bringing Will Barton off the bench was seeing Barton handle the ball a lot more on the second unit. Often, Monte Morris and Facundo Campazzo would be tasked with playmaking in those cases, but last night, Barton was the primary handler and playmaker. He was mostly good, but Denver will need to share the ball and diversify their sets on the second unit to create more open looks. It certainly felt stagnant out there at times.

In the starting unit, Gary Harris is going to have to make some threes. Defenses are hoping he takes the three in many cases given the weapons surrounding Harris in the starting lineup, and Harris can’t validate those choices by the defense with a poor shooting percentage.

I think a lot of Denver’s offensive issues in this game will be solved by a version of Jamal Murray that simply plays better. There are questions about Denver’s size on the wing when Michael Porter Jr. plays power forward though. That’s probably the actual biggest weakness on the team.


Denver definitely isn’t the WORST team defending quick guards. De’Aaron Fox was 8-of020 from the field in the opener. He was fine, not great. Denver’s issues were on the residual factors of defending a speedy guard, including allowing some wide open offensive rebounds and corner threes.

Nikola Jokić is always going to struggle as the back line rim protector in these situations. He doesn’t have the agility and burst needed to cover a lot of space in a short amount of time. Frankly, neither do Paul Millsap nor Michael Porter Jr. when they are roaming the back line either. This is where having Jerami Grant helps. He’s versatile enough to cover ground on the back line but also switch onto those quick, athletic guards if necessary.

I don’t worry as much about quick guards though. They are more of a regular season problem. Ish Smith is the poster child of this phenomenon.


It can be hilarious how easily the game comes to Michael Porter Jr. at times. He once told the media that he was put on this planet to be a basketball player, and he isn’t wrong. He had 24 points on 9-of-15 from the field, 3-of-7 from three. Five rebounds, two assists, two steals, and three blocks in the opener last night. Despite dealing with early foul trouble, Porter fought through it and was productive all the way around, picking up the slack as a scorer and even getting in on some defensive plays tonight.

The process of transitioning from a bench player to starter to team focal point was always going to be difficult, and tonight was no exception. It will be rare when he, Jokić, and Murray all have great games at the same time. Last night, Murray really struggled. Porter and Jokić picked up the slack, but it clearly wasn’t perfect. It will take time for Porter’s teammates to fully trust him and for Porter to grow accustomed to his role.

Once he does though, the sky remains the limit.


If Murray shoots the ball well and Porter doesn’t get into early foul trouble, I tend to believe that this game is closer to a 20-point win for Denver despite Sacramento playing well throughout. Sometimes, it really is as simple as “Player X had a bad night” and that can cause ripple effects for the rest of the team.

Now, that isn’t to say that Murray struggling was Denver’s only issue. The Nuggets as a whole have to make more outside shots to give Jokić some help. The Serbian big man had 29 points, 15 rebounds, and 14 assists, and it felt like he could have gone for 30-20-20 had the ball gone in on some shots and bounced a different way on others. Giving Jokić some additional outside shooting will aid in that process.

In addition, the bench unit has to be a strength, not a weakness. The four guard lineup didn’t work tonight, and the weaknesses of that group actually kept Sacramento in the game. Adding some more size, consistent shooting, and a stronger definition of roles would certainly help (I’m looking directly at Bol Bol for Facundo Campazzo in this case).


Just to be clear, the Nuggets have already reviewed the concept of a Harden trade and rejected the premise. They believe in their championship caliber talent level, strong culture, and bright future. Harden puts the last two in jeopardy and doesn’t necessarily solve the first one. He’s a talented offensive player that would look pretty good next to Jokić, but that shouldn’t be what Denver wants. It’s not what they want.

If Denver does struggle, I’d be surprised if James Harden was the name they settled upon to help turn things around. Denver would look more on the fringes without disturbing their current setup before ever considering a Harden deal.

I trust Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. to figure things out though. Porter almost fell face first into 24 points tonight despite Murray struggling. Denver would much rather put their faith in their own guys who they trust than an incredibly talented player who may or may not solve their issues anyway. Denver’s group is in need of defensive help, something Harden wouldn’t be able to offer.

Just say no to Harden in Denver. Just say it.