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Sixth Man: What to expect out of Denver’s projected starting five

The Nuggets are a much different team since their matchup in the Western Conference Finals two seasons ago. Players have come and gone, lineups shifted, and injuries, so here is what to expect from Denver's new starting five

DENVER NUGGETS VS NEW ORLEANS PELICANS, NBA Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Monte Morris

Big play Tae will be relied upon much more this season. He steps into the starting position and is projected to play about 23 of the season in that role. Yes, the Nuggets lose a tremendous amount of production with Murray out, but they are not panicking because they know they have the steady presence of Monte Morris. He might not be a guy you count on for 16-18 a night but he seldom turns the ball over and he initiates offense as well as most backup guards.

This is not a new terrority for Monte. He has started games before and started crucial playoff games in this role, so I think we can expect Monte to flourish as he gets more playing time. Last season was not his best because he was battling injuries throughout but now with a full offseason to regain his health, I am expecting a new Monte Morris.

We know what to expect out of Monte because, for the most part, he’s a very consistent player. He is going to value the ball, exploit his mid-range opportunities, and also hit a couple three balls. Last season, he averaged 10.2 points and 3.2 assists on 48% shooting from the field and 38% from three. Those are good numbers for a backup point guard, but Nuggets fans know Monte is a talented guy with much more left in the tank.

This season, I’m expecting offensive progression. For the Nuggets to fill Jamal’s offensive void, I’m looking for Monte to hover around 15 points a game. I don't think that is very far-fetched because Monte has all the tools in the bag offensively. He can shoot from two and three-point range, he can pass, finish, handle the ball, and move off-ball. With an increase in minutes, I expect his scoring output to increase significantly this season and he has the talent to do so. If Monte hits shots, it opens the floor for everybody else to get in comfortable scoring positions. Denver goes as far as their stars take them but the point guard is the leader of the offense, and if Denver looks to improve, their leader needs to as well.

Will Barton

Buckets. That’s what I expect out of Will Barton because he is a professional bucket getter. He’s not the most consistent but he’s one of the more talented offensive players we have. When Barton gets going, it’s difficult to stop the Nuggets because he can score from anywhere on the floor and usually, his scoring ignites energy throughout the whole team. The problem is Barton is not able to use his best ability because he has not been available in key moments. For the past couple of years, he has been hampered by multiple injuries but to his credit, when he comes back he picks up right where he left off.

In the closeout game versus Phoenix last year, he looked like the only player on the floor who would not bow to the Suns. He was relentless and it should garner significant respect from Nuggets fans. His injury woes have been disappointing especially to him, but he is an absolute competitor who will not be told no for an answer. His mentality and production are so crucial to this team and especially to young guys like Bones Hyland. They both have roots together and have connected in the past, so look for Barton to mentor Bones as he has done with so many other Nuggets.

Last season, Barton averaged 12.7 points on 42.6% shooting from the field and 38% from three. Everybody needs to step up in Murray’s absence so while I don't think Barton will be a 40% three-point guy, I do think he can be a 15+ point per game guy. In fact, I think it is critical for him to put up about 15 points per game because Denver has a lot of unknowns right now. Scoring-wise, we don’t know what we’re getting from Monte, Gordon, MPJ, and the whole bench. Denver needs a guy they can pencil in for 15 a night and Barton needs to be that veteran presence they can count on when they need a bucket.

Michael Porter Jr.

Jokic and Murray are Denver’s rock but the Nuggets go as far as MPJ takes them. If Murray and Jokic do their thing consistently but MPJ does not, we are in for the same season we’ve been seeing for years. Now if MPJ pairs his talent with consistency, Denver is a title contender. His ceiling is so high and I feel like his past performances are just scratching the surface, but this is the year for him to step into stardom.

Fresh off his $200+ million deal, the pressure is on to prove its worth. People were skeptical when the Nuggets signed Murray to a large deal, but he silenced the doubters with his incredible playoff performances. Michael is in the same spot this year. Some aren’t too sure if he is worth that, so he needs to step up and display his progression. I’m not too worried about regular-season numbers with him. If he stays healthy, he’s going to hover around 20 points a game, maybe even 22-23, but when the playoffs come, what MPJ will we see?

I expect him to abuse his strengths. I know he worked on his weaknesses in the offseason but when push comes to shove, you need to bring the money maker and that’s his shot. His shooting talent is off the charts, almost unmatched since the good ol’ days of JR Smith. So when it is crunch time, I expect Michael to hit big shots and hit them often because he is being paid to be that guy.

If he wants to become an All-Star player he needs to add much more balance to his offensive game. I don’t mention defense there because I have low expectations for his defense, so let’s keep that out of the conversation. We know he can hit mid-range and three-point shots but it’s how he gets to his spots that will be intriguing to see this year. For much of his career, he forces himself to certain spots and throws it up but this year, I am looking forward to seeing how he moves without the ball, how and where he moves when he gets the ball, and how physical he gets with more physical players.

More than anyone on this team, I am excited to witness his progression. If he stays healthy and keeps improving, we can be spectators to another Hall of Famer in the mile-high city. Jokic is the most valuable piece on this team but he alone can only take us so far. Michael Porter Jr. is that piece to take us to the promised land, and now he has 200 million reasons why he has to take us there.

Aaron Gordon

I think Gordon has the most pressure of anyone on this team. When he came over from Orlando, many who didn't watch him play consistently viewed him as a human highlight reel. He was going to be this crazy athletic guy who can dunk on anyone and makes plays, but that’s really all the average fan had to go off of. Now that we have seen him play more, our expectations are not blinded by his talent. He’s going to provide great defense, be a good threat inside, and hit the occasional three-pointer.

When I put his impact in those words it doesn't sound as exciting but he is an extremely valuable piece to this puzzle. He is the only great defender Denver has, and with his size, he is able to guard the Kahwi’s and LeBron’s of the world. Denver will get pummeled defensively this year, but without Gordon, they would get pummeled just about every night. He is a crucial aspect of their defense, but offensively he pairs with Jokic well.

You would like to see it a bit more, but Gordon has great cutting ability which Jokic adores. He can be set up for layups, lob opportunities, and corner threes when the defense shrinks inside. I know the Nuggets want the team to shoot over 40 threes a game, but I think having Gordon stagnant on the perimeter is not utilizing his talents. Throughout the preseason, he looked strong and confident. He hasn’t always shot the ball consistently but there have been some possesions where he is taking it to the rack with intensity and that’s where I think he is at his best.

Since the Nuggets are looking to chuck up more threes, I expect Gordon to progress in that area but most of all, he needs to be a guy Denver can count on for 12-15 a game at the least. He’s not the most consistent shooter so for him to average about 12-15 a game, he needs to exploit his strengths and capitalize on inside opportunities. I’m not expecting a huge jump from Gordon numbers-wise, but I am expecting him to have a high, positive impact on the game nearly every night.

Nikola Jokic

This might seem ungrateful but I am expecting Jokic to improve on his MVP season. I don’t expect him to have a better season than last but I do expect him to improve his three-point shooting. Last season, Jokic shot 38.8% from deep, but I feel as though he has that Dirk Nowitzki touch, so I’m looking for 40+% out of him this year. It’s tough to ask a guy to improve after he just won MVP, but the Nuggets are changing their mentality a bit. They want to be more three-point-centric this year and if they do succeed, it will be in part because their leader conquered that challenge as well.

It’s difficult to expect things from Jokic other than consistency because his game is based off the unexpected. Here’s a seven-footer with a little belly fat jogging up the floor and then next thing you know, he dots a Magic Johnson pass right by you or spots up from three in your face. Every year, I expect him to come down to earth because I think he is too good to be true but the truth is, we have a generational player who will change the game right here in the mile-high city.

Bigs will start to see centers leading the break, controlling the offense, and then that next wave of players will perfect that craft even better than those before. The national media doesn’t really see it yet but we Nugget fans have a first-row seat to history every night.

So I’ll keep this section short and sweet because he’s the MVP and we know what we’re getting out of him, but what we don't know is how he pulls it off. A magician never reveals his secrets and to be honest, I don’t even want to know. I just want to stare at my T.V. and say “What the hell just happened,” like I have been since he entered the NBA.