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Denver Stiffs 2021 Early Season Roundtable

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

What are your thoughts on the Denver Nuggets after one week of play?

Asher Levy (@ashmanzini): The Nuggets have been up and down so far this season. I was pretty happy after two wins where the defense looked pretty good, but then the Nuggets lost to the Cavs. I started to realize that the offense has been lackluster to say the least, and a few players have been disappointing. I don’t really care much about the Jazz loss though because Jokic obviously got hurt, and it seemed like it would’ve been a win if he played. The bench is also the biggest concern for me.

Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): Relief that Nikola Jokic is okay, honestly. Everything else is noise. Denver started last year 1-4, dropping 2 games to the Sacramento Kings. So what? There are obviously concerns to iron out (bench usage, MPJ’s role and responsibilities, three-point tactics, etc) but a 2-2 week is nothing compared to the pit in my stomach when Jokic crashed to the floor in agony. Him being fine means all of this is fine too.

Peter Leensvaart (@petepizza27): Same as what Gordon said, mostly just happy that Jokic avoided severe injury. Outside of that, the Nuggets have played mediocre. I know the bench will figure itself out someway somehow this season, so I’m not all too worried about that. One thing that has been concerning me though is MPJ’s performances. He needs to be playing like the far and away 2nd best player on this team and he is just not doing that right now. MPJ is a natural scorer though, as long as he doesn't get in a slump mentally because of this I’m sure he’ll bounce back as good as ever.

Who has been the biggest disappointment after one week?

Levy: The biggest disappointment for me has quite easily been Michael Porter Jr. for me. He has struggled to get anything going offensively, and hasn’t been a good defender. His passing has improved which is nice to see, but every other aspect of his game has taken a step back so far this season. Now with that being said, I’m not concerned. Players go through shooting slumps all the time, and he’s just adjusting to a new role. If it keeps up after about another month it’ll be concerning, but for the time being it’s not something I think is indicative of what he’ll do for the rest of the season.

Gross: The bench. It’s been an abject disaster, and the whole line-shift that Malone has been employing is a terrible idea. Facu is many things, but a shooter is not one of them. The Greens can handle kickout-threes but no one is a threat at the rim, so their threes have been intentional which isn’t working. The lingering problem of no true 5 to backup Jokic showed itself as full bogeyman when Jokic went down and Utah’s pair of 7 footers had their way at the rim on both ends. Denver can’t get taller overnight, but they can change their bench rotations, and need to do so immediately.

Leensvaart: There are a few players I could put here and I think they all deserve it equally, but no player has disappointed me more than Facu Campazzo. He is shooting 1 for 8 on threes so far this season, we simply can’t have that continue. Facu brings good hustle defense and good playmaking but that's pretty much it. One of the biggest problems with him is that he gives up a lot of points by just being too small to accurately defend the opposing player, he just gets shot over like he’s not there. If Facu is not hitting his threes at a decent percentage then he should not be playing much.

Who has been the biggest surprise after one week?

Levy: It’s been Will Barton for me. I’ve always rooted for and considered him a good player, but he’s really stepped up for the Nuggets. He’s averaging really good numbers so far on good efficiency. He has been an on court leader for the Nuggets and that’s been a very valuable thing. He also looks healthy and spry, I hope he keeps this up for the rest of the season.

Gross: Fully healthy Will Barton has been the underrated star. Jokic being a Zeus-like figure was a given, but Barton has done whatever is needed as on on-ball guard. Of course he then hurt his hand against Utah, but hopefully that is nothing serious. I’m always happy to see Barton at full strength. He’s a good weapon to have.

Leensvaart: Two words, Will Barton. It’s no secret that I have not been a big fan of Will’s game the last few seasons, but he has been incredible to start this one off. Will could be this season’s X-factor if MPJ can’t take his game to the next level, he’s been playing that good. With Jamal Murray out Will Barton is the best off-ball guard we have and he is finally looking fully healthy. This could be Will Barton’s best year if he keeps it up.

Is Denver’s biggest flaw a fixable one in your opinion?

Levy: In my mind Denver’s biggest flaw right now is that they don’t play cohesively right now. They’re playing individual basketball a lot of time, and not like a tight unit. I think that will be better with time though; when players get to play together more and gel. It’ll also help when Jamal comes back, even if he struggles at first, just cause he has such a connection with Jokic.

Gross: Of course! Denver normally starts off slow. Summer basketball is not conducive to Jokic ball. Playing for months with guard initiators against scrubs, then trying to flip a switch back to orbiting around a 7-foot unicorn offense is not easy. Without Jamal Murray, Denver’s roles are shifted from the norm and in the early going that seems to be throwing off Denver’s equilibrium, and MPJ’s attempts to step into a new role have been ill-considered. All that stuff will iron out with more familiarity. They literally have to get in the reps, and the cohesion and understanding will come.

Leensvaart: Without a doubt yes. The Nuggets biggest flaw in my eyes is the lack of scoring off the bench. Even if the Nuggets do not make any changes to the bench rotation I still think they will figure it out. Many of the issues that are present are just due to the guys not playing as a unit. I think the bench will get better over time but that a change is still necessary.

The Bench has been terrible through one week. What/if anything can the Nuggets do to fix it?

Levy: Malone should stagger Barton with the bench and play Bones. Facu and Rivers haven’t been the best and haven’t played to what they’ve shown to be capable of in the past. I think both can be good, but they’re just not right now. I think if Malone gave Bones a shot he’d really impress just as he has with everything he’s done up until this point, and as I mentioned earlier Barton has been excellent and he has a skill set that would be ideal for running a second unit.

Gross: I’d like to see Monte and MPJ play more with the bench, with PJ Dozier coming in for the second part of the first quarter. Monte can start, but I’d like to see him going back to setting up players who do not get to be on-ball as much (like Porter) and that’s not his role with Jokic in the lineup. Monte is a terrific facilitator, but his uncharacteristic turnovers speak to that role unfamiliarity. The bench is drowning, and his steady hand at the tiller would help. Also, feed MPJ should be the bench motto in those minutes.

Leensvaart: The bench needs more scoring power, that could come from within or it could come from another team. The Nuggets have guys who can score very efficiently, there should be no reason why they are all on the bench at the same time. One of Jokic, MPJ, Will, AG, or even Bones Hyland needs to be on the court at all times. Gordon brings a fantastic point to attention, MPJ and Monte should be integrated with the bench. Bring Facu in for Monte early because he plays great next to Jokic, (who doesn't) and having Monte and MPJ on the bench solves a lot of the offensive issues the Nuggets have. If the Nuggets run MPJ or Will Barton with the bench unit I can assure you that the Nuggets will be a better team that way.