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Roundtable: Nuggets season is officially upon us

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Stiffs writers join together to discuss the Denver Nuggets as they embark on week one of training camp.

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Which player are you most looking forward to watch/follow during training camp and the preseason?

Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717): I’m really looking forward to following the young guns, specifically R.J. Hampton and Markus Howard. I think Hampton has the potential to be a big-time part of the Nuggets future and I’m excited to see what he can do against NBA caliber competition. Howard is a walking bucket and will be an absolute blast to watch in the preseason. I’m hoping he puts on a show in at least one if not all three of the Nuggets preseason games.

Gage Bridgford (@GbridgfordNFL): I’m excited to see the two that Brandon mentioned, but I want to get a look at the development from Bol Bol and Michael Porter Jr. Porter is the future of this team alongside Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, and we need to see that he’s ready to be that consistent contributor next to them. For Bol, we just need to see that he’s able to be a piece of the rotation. This team is extremely thin in the frontcourt, and Bol can go a long way towards rectifying that.

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Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): Facundo Campazzo, no question. I’m dying to see RJ Hampton at full speed and Bol Bol raining threes and to figure out the fit of the Murray/MPJ/Jokic lineup that should dominate Denver’s offensive efforts, but how they fit in Campazzo and what Facu does to their rotations and offensive explosiveness is what I’m craving right now. Denver’s offseason set up delightful pockets of chaos to be explored this season in what the Nuggets can do on the floor and I hope to see Campazzo take full advantage early.

Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): If I said anything other than Michael Porter Jr. I’d be lying to myself and everyone reading this roundtable. It’s not just because of the talent or the expectations, but I’m mostly curious about the dynamics of adding a 22-year-old into the core, how quickly he’s accepted by the rest of the group, and the ripple effects of giving him a larger role in his second season. How will Gary Harris, Will Barton, Paul Millsap, and JaMychal Green factor into that transition of responsibility? All four will be directly affected in some way. How will Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray work him into their two-man game? Will it become a “your turn, our turn” situation or look more like a “three-man weave” of playmaking and shot creation? Denver’s very identity might shift because of this move, and that’s if things go exactly according to plan. Who knows what will actually happen.

Who needs a strong training camp/preseason in order to help their chances of cracking the rotation once the regular season begins?

Ewing: Bol Bol has the most to gain from training camp and the preseason if you ask me. Bol flashed a ton of potential in the bubble last season, so it’ll be interesting to see if that carry’s over into this year. If Bol can put together a strong training camp and preseason, the Nuggets might be forced to give him some minutes once the regular season begins. Nothing would beat watching Bol dominate the Clippers on Christmas Day, but it’s going to take a strong next few weeks in order for Bol to get that opportunity.

Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images

Bridgford: It’s Bol. As I just mentioned, this team doesn’t have a ton of depth in the frontcourt, and, while Bol isn’t a traditional center despite his size, he can operate as a stretch four for this squad. His shooting pairs perfectly with Jokic, and he is a good threat to block shots at the rim. With the team moving on from Mason Plumlee this offseason, the minutes at center are wide open. If he comes in and looks effective, he’ll be a near-lock for that spot in the rotation.

Gross: I want to say Hartenstein. Green and Millsap can soak up power forward minutes, and Millsap could be pushed to some backup center minutes if Bol Bol needs time as a stretch 4, which means Hartenstein needs to show he’s more than just a big body to throw at the Steven Adamses of the NBA in order to get real rotation minutes in a healthy lineup, and he doesn’t have a lot of time to show it. Denver’s guards may push Denver into some small ball just from the sheer number of them, and none of the expected rotation guys there will have an easy time forcing others to the bench, so the roster has to give somewhere. Hartenstein has to push back.

Blackburn: PJ Dozier has been thrust into the background with the additions of Facundo Campazzo and R.J. Hampton to the roster. Dozier acquitted himself well in the bubble and even had impactful playoff moments, but the momentum is against him for seeing actual playing time. The Nuggets committed guaranteed money to several players not named Dozier this offseason while still retaining Murray, Harris, Barton, and Morris for the foreseeable future. Dozier will have to have a strong camp at multiple positions, maybe even small forward, in order to see some rotation minutes this year.

Do you think any of the Nuggets veteran players (Barton, Millsap, Harris, Murray, Jokic) need to play in the preseason? Or would you rest those guys till the regular season begins?

Ewing: I would rest all of them not just in training camp and the preseason, but once the regular season begins as well. We saw how much the Nuggets relied on Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic in the postseason last year, so easing them into this season is going to be incredibly important. The Nuggets aren’t going anywhere in the playoffs without those two guys, so easing them into the season so they’re healthy come playoff time should be priority number one.

Bridgford: I’m resting all of them. I might have Barton suit up for a game to knock the rust off with about 10 minutes in one of the games at the end of the preseason. Otherwise, the vets can enjoy the time on the bench. Murray and Jokic played a ton in the postseason, and there is no reason to push them through preseason games with this truncated offseason. Other than Barton, all of these guys just played a few months ago, so I think they’re fine to get more rest.

Gross: Do they need to play the preseason? Absolutely not. Will they have to practice? Almost certainly - Denver has too many new players who have never played with a point center before, and they’ll need time to adjust. Denver has plenty of point guards now to allow them to rest both Jokic and Murray for the preseason if they want, especially with Will Barton needing to shake off some rust with on-ball offensive action as well.

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Blackburn: Nobody NEEDS to play, but given the shorter-than-normal season and condensed regular season schedule, it’s a good idea to kick the rust off a bit and get players ready to hit the ground running. The Nuggets are rebuilding their rotation, and while last year’s starters might not need to regain chemistry with each other, there are several new faces that need to be integrated. In addition, playing Murray and Jokić as many minutes as possible with Porter should be a goal at the outset, even in the regular season. The entire season hinges on those three coming together to generate a top 5 offense every single night. Higher if possible.

Final one: what storyline are you going to be following as training camp really ramps up over the next week?

Ewing: The first thing is how Michael Porter Jr. looks in training camp and does he seem poised to take the next step. I think that question will be answered with a yes, so the other storyline I’m following is the Nuggets rotation. Michael Malone said the other day that Murray and Jokic are his starters at the one and five, while the 2, 3, and 4 are all open for competition. There’s a good chance Porter fills one of those three slots, but how the other two shake out is going to be a fascinating situation to follow.

Bridgford: I’m watching to se how everything shakes out now that Jerami Grant is out of the picture. He was penciled in at the power forward spot, and that’s obviously no longer the case. The starting five should be Murray, Gary Harris, Barton, Porter and Jokic, but we know there is no way to trust Malone in this situation. Grant was the key piece for this team’s wing rotation, so they have to switch everything up now.

Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Seven Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Gross: You can’t judge defense in training camp really, so the key thing I’m watching for is how they seem to be using MPJ in sets. We likely won’t get to see a lot of it so we’ll be relying on internal reports, but the one thing Denver cannot afford this year is for MPJ to be the “stand in the corner and hope he gets a pass for a 3” guy for 80% of the offensive action. It’s a pure waste of his talent. Free MPJ, utilize all these guards to move the ball, and let the season take flight.

Blackburn: I’ve already said my piece on the Porter dynamic, so let’s go with Isaiah Hartenstein. He’s the one player who is coming to this roster with very few questions about what his role will be: backup center. Mason Plumlee was in this role for over three years for Denver, and not having Plumlee, who played a whopping 277 regular season and playoff games in a Nuggets uniform, is going to change the bench unit. Whether it’s for the better or worse remains to be seen. Hartenstein is merely 22 years old and has the potential to develop into that role for Denver. How quickly he figures things out could have ripple effects on the entire roster going forward.