The Nuggets are now 2-2. The Jazz game you can draw up as Jokic went out, but there have been quite a few causes for concern throughout the season so far. The biggest, in my opinion, is the bench unit that Malone is choosing to run. That being a lineup of Facu Compazzo, Austin Rivers, PJ Dozier, Jamychal Green, and Jeff Green. This lineup has played 55 possessions together and per cleaningtheglass.com, has a -53.4 net rating. Just as a reference for how bad that is, the 2015-16 76ers (the team that went 10-72) had a -10.4 net rating. So the Nuggets’ bench unit right now is playing roughly 5 times worse than the worst team of the past decade; a team that was losing on purpose! It is really, really, really bad right now and one could make an argument that the Nuggets’ bench is the worst in the league right now. It is clear something has to change, so let me pitch a few solutions as to what the Nuggets could do about their bench unit.
Stagger Will Barton with the bench
The easiest solution, and the one which is most likely to happen in my opinion is Coach Malone decides to stagger Will Barton with the bench unit in place of Austin Rivers or Facu Campazzo. Austin Rivers seems more likely though as Malone seems to love Facu and unlikely to leave him out of the rotation.
If you take that same bench lineup I talked about earlier and sub Will Barton in for Austin Rivers, it suddenly has a net rating of 0.0. It’s a pure neutral so far; be it, on a smaller sample size at only 16 possessions. However, it’s still far better than the pure bench lineup we’ve seen thus far in the season. Thrill’s skill set also lends itself well to being a pseudo sixth man. He’s a good scorer and shot creator; while also being a solid playmaker. He’s not elite at any of these things, but good at all of them. He’s exactly what a sixth man should be, but he’s not going to be a sixth man, and I’m not advocating for him to move to the bench either. It’s just clear that the bench needs someone of his caliber to run it at the moment and I think he would do a great job at it.
He’s averaging a career high 16.3 points per game this season on 59.5% true shooting. He’s been great so far and has been the second fiddle to Jokic. He’s also averaging a solid 4.8 rebounds per game and 3.8 assists per game. I’d like to see him get his assist numbers up, but so far he’s done a great job of being what the Nuggets need, a shot maker and a playmaker.
He also has a on/off differential of +36.5 which is astounding. It will certainly go down eventually, but so far in the season he’s been the second most impactful Nugget by that metric behind only Nikola Jokic who has a +47.1 on/off differential. It shows just how much he helps any unit he’s with. He’s a perfect glue guy for the starters and has been a breath of fresh air whenever he plays with the second unit.
Play Bones Hyland
This solution is very straight forward. Take one of Facu Campazzo or Austin Rivers out of the rotation and give those minutes to Bones Hyland. He’s already a fan favorite, and Malone seems to value what he brings to the table. However, Malone has a history of not playing rookies these past few seasons. He has played rookies occasionally but tends to go with the veteran players. I think he should move away from that, as I don’t see Facu or Austin really contributing much whenever either of them play. Facu has hustle and highlight passes on occasion, but he is too short so he gets ignored on defense a lot and is shooting awfully so far. Austin is an excellent end of the bench guy, but just hasn’t shown enough to keep him on the floor this season. He hasn’t shot well at all and isn’t even the playmaker Facu is, there’s just not much he does to justify playing him over Bones.
Bones on the other hand has shown flashes of being a good passer, has one of if not the best handle on the team, and was one of the best shooters in this past draft. He has only played in one game this regular season, but he played really well in the run he has gotten. He played 10 minutes against the Cavs and scored 7 points. He’s a bucket and that’s what this bench unit really needs. They need a scorer, because they seem to be allergic to scoring as of now. No one on the roster fits that bill better than Bones.
Trade for an offensive oriented bench piece
The third and final option I’ll cover today is one that wouldn’t happen for some time. Whether that be due to Tim Connelly’s history of not making trades that often, the fact that most of the contracts the Nuggets could trade not being trade-able until later on in the season, or people just not being available at this moment is up to you; all of those reasons are valid. However, Connelly has made moves in the past and when needed he has a history of making trades. The Aaron Gordon move comes to mind, but he also traded for Will Barton and the pick that became Zeke Nnaji during his tenure too. It is true that he seems to be a bit more reluctant than other general managers to make moves that shake up the roster.
Let’s say that Tim Connelly wants to make a move and it’s a few months down the line; you have some money you can trade now, and the trade market is open for business. What kind of player do you look for? You look for someone who can score, a certified bucket getter. A spark plug who can sub in and go off for 15 at any moment; someone who the other team has to focus on, because I can tell you opposing teams aren’t worried about Facu taking a 3 pointer off the bounce when they go under a screen.
A name that comes to mind for me is Terrance Ross of the Orlando Magic. I think that a trade between these two teams makes sense because the Nuggets will have salary to match Ross’ contract once recent signing restrictions expire, and there is a history of trades between the two teams. The Aaron Gordon trade being the one that comes to mind; there’s trust between the two teams. The Nuggets also could use a shot maker like Ross who’s also a solid defender. The Nuggets could give the Magic some second round picks and a young player like Bol Bol with some salary filler, and that would probably get the job done.
Ideally, I’d like to see the Nuggets do all of these options. I don’t think that Facu and Austin should be getting minutes come playoff time and if Malone were to roll out a bench lineup of say Bones/Barton/Ross/PJ/Green or something to that effect, I think that solves a lot of the issues that the bench has. I’d also like to see the Nuggets get an actual backup center, but that’d be a lot of moves and I’m not sure Connelly would make that many changes mid-season.
If nothing else, I hope Malone decides to stagger Barton and play Bones, I feel like those two could have good chemistry and they’d be far better than the backup guard rotation that the Nuggets have right now.