How have the wins over the Mavericks and Suns changed your opinion of the Nuggets?
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): They haven’t, really. Denver beat teams they should have beaten, and weren’t exactly dominant in those victories. Maybe Denver would have closed out Dallas more convincingly if Jamal Murray had played the whole game, but they could have lost too. The Nuggets are scrappy, though, and that through-line has continued for a couple of weeks now. Denver is not firing on all cylinders at the moment but they’re no longer wasting Nikola Jokic’s efforts, which is a good start while they figure the rest of it out.
Evan Fiala (@eefiala): I think more than anything they validated my opinion that Denver is a good but not necessarily great team just yet. It’s encouraging to see them finally win close games and to get a more balanced output from guys other than Jokic and Murray; the bench, for example, had been underperforming to start the year but seems to have figured things out (though Michael Porter Jr. probably has a lot to do with that). Still, I haven’t seen quite enough to be confident that the Nuggets can make a serious playoff run with this roster compared to other top teams in the West.
Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): One of the most interesting factors for me this season was how the Nuggets would replace Jerami Grant. So far, the answer has been three-pronged. Paul Millsap starts games and helps to stabilize things as much as he can. JaMychal Green spends the middle portions of the game doing many of the glue-guy things that Grant would have been asked to do. In the closing minutes, Porter slides to power forward and offers a great combination of length, athleticism, and shooting at the position while generally maintaining a rebounding advantage against most teams. The Nuggets still need a taller man-on-man defender to guard the top wing scorers in the NBA, but between Millsap, Green, and Porter, the Nuggets have replaced all other aspects Grant brought to the table while providing some additional improvements.
The season is 25 percent complete — who has performed the highest above expectations in your opinion?
Gross: Monte Morris, and I say that as a known OG Morris stan. Morris is outplaying Will Barton and Gary Harris as a scorer while also keeping the bench mob orchestrated, closing out quarters and sometimes games, and generally being an excellent leader and teammate. Getting that extension signed has definitely not hurt his game. Mr. Efficiency is now throwing extra daggers on offense and I’m here for it.
Fiala: For me it’s been Gary Harris. Admittedly, things started out real bad for him when he was 4-for-29 from three during the first eight games. Since then, though, he’s been 18-for-36 and boy has it opened up Denver’s offense. The Nuggets are 6-1 in the last seven games Harris has played in, during which he’s shooting that 50% clip from beyond the arc. I don’t think that’s any coincidence. The sample size is small but the trend is the most positive it’s been for Harris in YEARS (yes, years). If he keeps this up the Nuggets are in great shape.
Blackburn: I mentioned him earlier, but JaMychal Green has been a revelation for the Nuggets, a starting caliber big man that possesses the versatility to bounce between power forward and center with different units. Green has the seventh highest net rating in the NBA in the lineups that he’s on the floor (at least 10 games played and 20 minutes per game) at a ridiculous +13.2 margin. He’s averaging 11.2 points and 6.5 rebounds per game while shooting 46.7% from three-point range. Frankly, it’s absurd that he’s playing so well and that the Los Angeles Clippers didn’t make a larger effort to re-sign him.
What is the No. 1 thing you’d like to see from the Nuggets from now until the All-Star Break?
Gross: I want to see Denver find its groove. Right now Jokic and Murray are playing too many minutes, and MPJ has barely been incorporated with the starters thanks to missing those games due to Health and Safety guidelines. Barton and Paul Millsap are struggling at the moment while JaMychal Green has shown out in his bench time. Denver has a lot of parts but even with Gary Harris finding his shot over the last couple weeks it’s still an issue getting consistent performances from the roster to back up their superstar. I really just want everyone to settle into their roles and contribute, whatever those roles wind up being. It’s time for the roster to find its footing. Hopefully Michael Porter Jr. can help solidify roles and take the scoring burden off some other players now that he’s back.
Fiala: I want to see more of Michael Porter Jr. alongside Murray and Jokic. We all know MPJ is critical to Denver’s future but the key to that is maximizing him with the current stars. I’m indifferent in the short run about whether or not he starts over Barton, especially if he’s going to close games anyways like he has done since coming back from H&S. In the long run, though, it would be ideal to get him integrated sooner than later, especially if that is the end game from the playoffs.
Blackburn: Like the others, I’m in the camp of “at least 300 minutes with Porter, Murray, and Jokić on the floor together at the same time” because of how delicate chemistry can be. The Nuggets found a way to survive with Porter out for 10 games, but just 17 games in, Will Barton and Paul Millsap are already showing signs of wear and tear. Porter is 22 years old and can handle the rigors of a full season. He also needs time to adjust to what the Nuggets want him to do when he’s in the starting unit while also injecting his own scoring prowess into games. It’s the right call, and I don’t care how it happens. It just needs to happen.
What has been your favorite play from the season so far?
EU TÔ AMANDO O JOKIC DAS DUNK. HAHA! pic.twitter.com/pQD44PmKxI— Luana Castro (@lcstr1) January 6, 2021
Fiala: See below.
Blackburn: It didn’t lead to a win, but LMAO.