We all know the household names that will play a major role in the Nuggets potentially walking out of Disney World with their first NBA championship. Nikola Jokic is the most important piece to the puzzle, and the hope is that he will be 100 percent when the Nuggets open up against the Miami Heat on August 1st.
The next important piece to that puzzle has to be Jamal Murray. Not only was Murray really starting to turn the corner before the NBA shutdown due to COVID-19, but let’s not forget how good he was in his first trip to the playoffs last season.
After those two, there are a variety of players who may have a major impact on Denver’s success in the bubble. In this article, I’m going to take a look at three guys who I think will have the greatest impact (outside of Jokic and Murray) and could make the difference between the Nuggets coming back to Denver with a trophy or empty handed.
Will Barton III
It may be difficult to consider Barton a sleeper, but he still feels like the forgotten man on this Nuggets roster. How can we forget the start of the year Barton had when he practically carried the team to victory after victory as Jokic began the season a lot slower than most expected.
The thing with Barton is that he is going to play a crucial role not just offensively, but defensively as well. Something that Barton really started to work on this year was his defense and that was put on full display in the regular season.
Barton is also healthy now, which you could not say when he came back and played in the playoffs last season. Last year was the first time Barton suffered a major injury in his career, and it was clear in the playoffs that he was nowhere near 100 percent. Luckily for the Nuggets, Torrey Craig came to the rescue.
I don’t think that will have to be the case this season. Sure, Craig will have his role on the team and will play minutes in the playoffs, but he’s unlikely to play 30 minutes a night again. Barton will.
Last year was only the second time Barton has made the playoffs in his nine-year NBA career, so the man will definitely be hungry for some postseason success. I think that drive and the number of minutes he is going to play will certainly afford him the opportunity to help this Nuggets team make a deep playoff run.
When the Nuggets acquired Jerami Grant last offseason, the goal was to be getting a player who could guard every position on the floor while also providing more versatility on the offensive end. It took awhile for Grant to really find his groove with the Nuggets, but just as that rhythm started to come about, the NBA season looked to be over.
Now, with the NBA back, the time is now for Grant to show what he can do in a Nuggets uniform, and I think he is going to do just that. If you just look back at Grant’s stats from January to when the NBA halted play in early March, you will really see what I’m talking about with Grant.
In the final 23 games that Grant played in, he scored double-figures in all but five, including a stretch of 10 games with at least 10+ points. Those are the stats that show up in the boxscore, but what you may not see are all the hustle plays and versatility he brings the Nuggets on the defensive end of the court.
Just the other day after Nuggets practice, Denver head coach Michael Malone was raving about Grant and his excitement for what he could do once play resumes in the bubble.
Michael Malone is praising Jerami Grant on tonight’s media zoom call.— Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717) July 13, 2020
Malone mentions how Grant can score the basketball, but that it’s his defensive versatility that really stands out.
Malone compared Grant to Torrey Craig in the number of positions they can defend.
Grant really does give the Nuggets a larger version of Craig with how he defends, but he also provides Denver with much more upside on the offensive end of the floor. In 64 games with the Nuggets, Grant is shooting an even 40 percent from beyond the arc one just over three attempts a game.
For a team that often struggles to score the ball from distance, having a steady shooter like Grant is only going to help this team on nights they might go cold. Add in his defensive versatility, and it is hard to not see Grant playing around 25 minutes a night once the playoffs roll around in mid August.
Michael Porter Jr.
This last player could have gone a number of different directions, but I ultimately decided on the star-studded potential of Michael Porter Jr. The only scenario where I envision the Nuggets walking out of Disney World as champions involves Porter playing a major role.
The thing fans have to remember is that while Porter was not getting the minutes most people wanted him to play in the beginning of the season, he was playing a lot when he started to turn the corner on January 1st. In the month of January, he averaged 21.4 minutes per game and factored heavily into Denver’s rotation almost every single night.
Michael Porter Jr splits by month— Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn) January 25, 2020
November - 2.4 points, 2.1 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 40.9 TS%
December - 6.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 61.6 TS%
January - 12.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 66.6 TS%
Porter’s per game numbers increased along with his increased playing time. The only thing that derailed Porter was a sprained ankle against Milwaukee on January 31st. Porter missed the following six games after that day and never got back into a rhythm when he returned to play.
All signs are pointing to Porter being healthy when games resume though, barring any issues with getting him to the Orlando bubble. If the Nuggets give Porter around 15 minutes a night consistently, there is no question he will have an impact on the Nuggets potential championship run.