Over the next two weeks, the Denver Stiffs staff will preview the 2020-21 Denver Nuggets season in an alternative way. Rather than preview every single player on the roster, Denver Stiffs will ask and answer the 10 most pressing Nuggets questions in the two weeks prior to the season opener on December 23rd.
We hope you enjoy!
The Denver Nuggets top priority for the offseason was to sign their own player. Jerami Grant, who the Nuggets surrendered a first round pick in a trade to acquire the offseason prior, entered free agency after a strong close to the ‘19-’20 season which saw him jump from rotation stretch big to starting perimeter stopper. He evolved into a true three and D wing while still maintaining his reputation as a help rim protector and above-the-rim finisher. Suddenly, Grant was an extremely versatile forward with two of the most coveted skills for a role player in the NBA: the ability to defend elite wings and the ability to knock down three point shots at a near 40% clip.
This left the Nuggets in a precarious position where the potential to have to overpay Grant in order to retain his services was very real and that’s exactly what happened. Rumors floated around almost immediately after the season ended that Grant was looking to get paid in the $14-$16 million a season range which seemed perhaps a touch steep but likely what the market would dictate as fair pay. What happened was the Detroit Pistons offered Grant a full $20 million per year. The Nuggets reportedly matched said offer, but by that time Grant was already sold on the idea of a bigger role and a chance to truly shine as a Piston.
The Nuggets moved quickly from the initial disappointment of losing out on Grant by snagging another player they targeted in the offseason: JaMychal Green. With Grant’s departure and the announcement of the Green signing just a few hours later there was almost a natural understanding that Green had be brought in to replace Grant. While that may not be entirely accurate and perhaps the Nuggets had hoped to land both Grant and Green to new contracts, the perception was unavoidable with the way the timeline fell.
Which brings us to the question of whether or not Green truly will replace Grant in Denver’s rotation. I think for this exercise it’s helpful to split up Jerami Grant into two players: Pre-Bubble Grant and Bubble Grant. The reason Jerami Grant got paid what he did was because of his work in the bubble. He was always due for a raise from the $9 million he could have played under had he picked up his player option, but his value skyrocketed because of what he showed in the playoffs when he was inserted into the starting lineup. Prior to the bubble Grant was a solid role player who fit nicely as the backup four in Denver’s rotation.
Pre-Bubble Grant is what Nuggets fans should expect JaMychal Green to replace. Green and Grant can do a lot of the same things but the key difference between the two is the slightly older, slightly heavier Green is not as quick and nimble at the perimeter as his predecessor. If the Nuggets are looking to put Green on guys such as Kawhi Leonard or Donovan Mitchell then they are setting themselves up for struggles. Despite a ridiculous 7’2” wingspan, Green doesn’t have the foot speed to keep in front of dynamic perimeter players like Grant did. He’ll still be serviceable in a pinch in that role, as Green is a strong defender no matter what the matchup is, but it’s unlikely he’ll be as shutdown on someone like Kawhi as Grant was in the second round of the playoffs.
Before the bubble Grant played a role that one could argue Green will be even better at. With the Nuggets offense focused around their center, point guard and (hopefully) small forward, the power forward position on offense is a pretty simple role: catch and shoot threes in the corner, make defenses pay when they double Nikola Jokic or Jamal Murray. Paul Millsap has excelled in that role in Denver and just turned in the best three point shooting season of his career at age thirty-four. As a 40% three point shooter and self described dog on defense Green will fit seamlessly into that role for the Nuggets and given that he carries around an extra 15lbs in comparison to Grant, he’ll be better at playing on the block on both ends of the court similar to how Millsap does as well.
The Nuggets now find themselves right where they were before the bubble, loaded with talent in terms of bigs, shooters and perimeter players but struggling to find anyone they can point to as a shutdown defender for the elite small forwards of the world. Gary Harris is still too small, Will Barton still leaves something to be desired on the defensive end. The cavalcade of combo forwards on the roster feel more like fours than threes and none have proven themselves as defensive stopper. It could very much end up like last season did as well where one of those players, and this year it could very well be Green, emerges as a capable wing defender who’s size makes them a real problem for the opposition. JaMychal’s probably got as good of a chance as anyone at doing that. So to answer the question, yes, Green will replace Grant in the Nuggets rotation, but it remains to be seen if he can expand his game the way Grant did to become a top four part of the rotation.