We will long have fond memories of Juancho Hernangomez, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt who were shipped out on Wednesday afternoon for a first-round pick, among other pieces. The NBA never stops moving, and it’s time for the rest of the team to move forward as presently constructed. Beasley and Juancho struggled to maintain consistent spots in the rotation, but both were playing more frequently of late.
The starters are not going to change. It’s all about everything after them. The Nuggets are finally finding their groove over the last few weeks despite dealing with a number of injuries, and, with some new pieces on the roster, it will be interesting to see how Michael Malone pulls the strings, especially when those guys that are injured get back to full strength.
The regular season lineup will be what it is, but the playoffs are when the lineups really start to matter. Teams shrink who they’re playing from 10+ guys often down to around eight or nine. Malone has had to get deep in his bag of tricks this year due to so many injuries, and we have to try and predict what he’s going to do at the end of the year when the games matter the most.
Jamal Murray is going to be the starter, and he’s likely going to play 35+ minutes per game when the postseason rolls around. He’s going to be nursed along during the regular season to keep fresh, but, when it gets into April and May, he’ll be full throttle at all times. When this team is running, it allows Murray to attack downhill, which is where he is at his best.
Monte Morris is going to receive an extended run during the regular season, but, when it comes to the playoffs, I think that his minutes are going to chopped in a big way. He played just 16 minutes per game during the playoff run last year, and I think he’s going to be down around 15 or less. Malone is going to focus on his starters and wings, and the guards are going to get shorted.
If Shabazz Napier was still in the fold, this would be a little more difficult. He’s not, and P.J. Dozier will only play in the event of an injury. He’s athletic and plays with hustle, but he’s not ready to be playing major minutes during the playoffs. I would imagine that he only plays in blowouts, and he will be finding himself a really comfy chair.
Gary Harris, for better or worse, is the starter and will be the starter. With Beasley now up North with the Timberwolves, there is no direct threat to his minutes, unless Malone chooses to go with a big lineup that features Will Barton at the shooting guard spot. Assuming he doesn’t do that, Harris is probably going to be playing around 36+ minutes per game come playoff time.
While Gerald Green as a gunner would have been exciting, Jordan McRae is your best bet, and he’s the only option left. He’s been putting up empty stats for a bad Washington Wizards team. He’s averaging 12.8 points per game this year on only 42.0 percent on the year, but he’s shooting 37.7 percent from 3-point range. He leaves a lot to be desired on the defensive end, but that shooting could be nice off of Jokic.
A lineup that I would love to see features Barton at the two with a couple of big wings at the three and the four. It’s a long and athletic group, and they can better take advantage of Jokic’s ability to hit the outlet pass. Whether Malone goes to it, especially in the playoffs remains to be seen.
I expect Barton to lead the Nuggets in minutes during the playoffs. I think Malone is going to lose some of his confidence in the younger guys when the playoffs hit, and Barton is going to be averaging 37 minutes a night. He’s the team’s second-best offensive player behind Jokic, and he’s the team’s best two-way player on the wing.
After Barton, things get murky. Michael Porter Jr. absolutely deserves minutes for his offensive production, but, if he makes even one mistake on the defensive end, he could get pulled for an extended stretch. The final two months of the year are going to be big as he looks to get himself into the good graces of Malone to give himself a bit of a longer leash.
Behind MPJ, we have Torrey Craig who will get roughly 10 minutes a night just for his defensive ability, and that number could go up depending on his offensive scoring. If he plays as he did in last year’s playoffs, he could make a case to start at the shooting guard spot. If his shot isn’t falling, he’ll be brought in only for defensive situations.
If Paul Millsap is healthy, he’s in the starting lineup. Where things get interesting is in the closing lineup where Millsap could end up on the bench. He’s dealing with a lingering knee injury, and the team has started to work well while featuring Jerami Grant. Millsap has been a consistent 3-point shooter this year, and he’s a good defender. However, he doesn’t bring the switchability that becomes so important in the playoffs.
Grant may not start games, but I could absolutely see him closing games and averaging more minutes than Millsap. Over the last 10 games, he’s averaging 16.9 points per game, and he’s been one of the team’s most consistent starters. He runs into trouble when he’s up against bigger offensive players, such as Anthony Davis and LeBron James, which could cause some issues for Denver.
The only player that could sneak some minutes out in the playoffs that has yet to be mentioned is Keita Bates-Diop. He’s a tough worker, and he works hard on defense. However, more than likely, the only other guy that could get some minutes at the power forward spot is MPJ. He presents some of the same issues that Kevin Love did during their runs to the finals, but he’s a far more athletic version of him.
Jokic is starting, and Mason Plumlee will play 13 minutes per night. Do I need to do any more analysis?