The Denver Nuggets have been in the bubble for two weeks now, and scrimmages are just around the corner. Tomorrow, Denver will play its first competitive basketball game as a team in over four months, going against a depleted Washington Wizards roster during the middle of the day. The games are less about Denver’s opponent and more about the Nuggets getting through it. With a reduced roster available, the Nuggets are in a pickle with regard to playing time.
Here are five general thoughts on the Nuggets before the season resumes in full:
Bol Bol is turning heads in practice
With Nikola Jokic late to the bubble and Michael Porter Jr. still on the outside, there were very few Nuggets players in the bubble that were also 25 years old or younger. Naturally, the conversation shifted to Bol Bol, Denver’s rookie 2019 second round pick. A high profile player and the son of NBA legend Manute Bol, the legend around Bol Bol starts with his physical profile and his ball skills while standing at 7’2. He may be skinny like his dad, but very few players in the NBA can shoot the way he projects to shoot at his size.
Being 7’2 with a wingspan over 7’8 has certain perks: jumping over everyone and doing things that seem impossible is one of them. The G-League highlights are there for everyone to see, and in those clips, Bol shot over everyone at the rim, in the midrange, and behind the three-point line.
Jamal Murray on Bol Bol:— Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717) July 20, 2020
“Bol’s talented. He’s just a mismatch anywhere on the court.”
“It’s good to see Bol out there playing the 3 right now.”
It remains to be seen just how much Bol Bol will play in the scrimmages and seeding games after having not played an NBA minute all season. Letting the expectations creep too high could be an issue. In addition, there are some definite weaknesses in Bol’s fundamentals that will limit his playing time this season no matter what; however, none of that is as fun as seeing the 7’2 shooter and shot blocker run around the court for a little bit. With the Nuggets as shorthanded as they are, as long as Bol isn’t a risk for re-injury in this environment, I hope to see Bol deployed in a variety of situations to see where he excels the most.
Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic look great
At Murray’s media availability on Monday, the Nuggets starting point guard bragged a bit about clocking in at 216 pounds as a point guard, a good weight for a team that will need him to play physical on the perimeter AND interior. Murray is saying all the right things about his personal development, that he wants to use his frame to get to the rim and to the free throw line more frequently as well as being confident on the pull-up three. That sounds a lot like Damian Lillard, and Murray has the talent to make that comparison a reality if he dedicates himself.
On the other side, Nikola Jokic is moving well in scrimmages and looks the part of a physically developed and skilled big man just about to hit his prime. The Nuggets knew what Jokic could be if he became dedicated to the best version of himself, and from the outside looking in, it appears that he’s hitting that level. I can’t wait to see what Jokic looks like in the new environment, independent of distractions outside the bubble and getting into playoff caliber focus over the next few weeks. This version of Jokic wins rings.
Other than Murray, Jokic, and Bol, there’s little to discuss about the bubble Nuggets
Will Barton and Jerami Grant placed a heavy focus on police brutality and racial inequality in their media interviews, Troy Daniels had a tough birthday, and the group just went to the driving range yesterday to hit some golf balls. Other than that, there’s been very little bubble content related to the other seven Nuggets that have been in the bubble since the beginning. Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee have gone about their business, Noah Vonleh and Tyler Cook are still trying to find their way with this roster, and...that’s pretty much it.
Gary Harris and Torrey Craig will offer important reinforcements
The Nuggets have a good mix of offensive and defensive focused players in Orlando right now, but positionally, they are light on guards and wings. There are enough power forwards and centers in Orlando to fill a deep sea fishing boat, but with only Jamal Murray, Will Barton, and Troy Daniels available to fill the guard positions, the Nuggets remain extremely limited in their personnel.
Gary Harris and Torrey Craig are about to arrive though, per a report from Kendra Andrews of The Athletic. That should give Denver’s guards and wings a little breather from time to time.
Craig provides a different dimension to Denver’s rotation that other players just can’t offer: size and physicality at the point of attack defensively. The Nuggets struggled in the regular season while Craig was out there, but in a playoff series where different factors are eliminated and offenses are simplified, having a strong point of attack defender is an important wrinkle. Murray and Barton can’t do what Craig can do out there, and that could be important from possession to possession.
Harris is perhaps the most important Nugget traveling down to Orlando in terms of evaluating his future. With Jamal Murray’s max contract extension kicking in next season and multiple important free agents on the open market, the Nuggets are about to be in a salary crunch. Harris, slated to make $39 million over the next two seasons, has seen his role reduced over the past two seasons, partially due to injuries and partially due to regression offensively. He’s still a solid defender and gives the Nuggets a true point guard defender in their starting lineup while he’s out there, but that may not be enough to save his roster spot next year, especially with Michael Porter Jr. waiting in reserve.
Michael Porter Jr. and Monte Morris may not be ready to go
Today is July 21st. The Nuggets play their first scrimmage tomorrow and their first seeding game in 11 days (August 1st). The NBA bubble at large has progressed quickly from “getting players to Orlando safely” to “getting players ready to play.” Unfortunately, the Nuggets are still on Step 1, and even though Harris and Craig appear to be on their way in, that says little for the rest of the missing Nuggets. From Porter and Morris to PJ Dozier, Vlatko Čančar, and Keita Bates-Diop, the Nuggets are missing a lot of depth that will help them prepare for what’s to come.
I expect Monte Morris to be fine. Whenever he gets to the bubble, there will be a small adjustment period for the 25-year-old point guard wise beyond his years. His game remains very technical, and though the comfort level will likely take a bit, Morris seems like a candidate to perform well in this environment.
Porter is on the other end of the spectrum, and I worry about his ability to get assimilated into whatever the Nuggets are planning. Whenever Porter does arrive and get cleared, it will be hard to factor in his individual needs for development, cultivation of talent, and patience for big mistakes on such a quick turnaround. It’s clear that Porter is extremely talented, and the Nuggets won’t make a deep playoff run unless he’s involved in some way, shape, or form; however, the minutes he does play in readying himself for those moments are going to be fraught with low value shot attempts, turnovers, and missed defensive rotations.
If Malone can stay the course with Porter so that the rookie can show he’s learning and executing what the coaching staff wants him to do, it will give Malone more confidence in one of his most volatile players. The less time Porter has to recoup that confidence though, the less time I think Porter will play overall. That means the longer Porter is out of the bubble and away from the coaching staff, the less likely he plays extensive minutes (at least in my mind).
Hopefully, the Nuggets can get everyone to the bubble as soon as possible. Porter and Morris are important pieces for a championship run. If their effectiveness and playing time becomes greatly reduced, say goodbye to Denver’s championship hopes.