It’s no secret that one of the biggest weakness of the Nuggets has been their bench. However, there are certain lineups being discovered and used more that have worked better than the original lineup of Facu/Rivers/PJ/Green/Green. Such as Bones Hyland cementing a place in the rotation. I think the Nuggets should continue the youth movement and give Zeke Nnaji an opportunity over Jamychal Green in the rotation.
Let me start with the fact that Zeke has a small sample size this season. He’s not played much, but in the one game he did get serious run in — he straight up killed it man. He poured in 19 points on 7 of 10 shooting from the field, and 2 of 3 from beyond the arc; he also cashed in 3 of his 4 shots from the charity stripe. He pitched in 5 rebounds, a block, and just some great defense to top it off.
Overall on the season he’s shooting 57.1% from 3 and that’s quite the contrast to Jamychal Green. Green is a seasoned veteran who played pretty well for the Nuggets last season. This season, however, it’s simply a different story. He’s a -16.1 net differential when on the floor for the Nuggets. That puts him as the second worst Nugget ahead of only Facundo Campazzo. He also is a -56 on the year in plus/minus; again only ahead of Facu Campazzo.
Campazzo was replaced by Bones in the rotation due to his poor play, and quite frankly I don’t see why Jamychal Green shouldn’t share the same fate. He’s only shooting 14.3% from 3, hasn’t played good defense and fouls a lot it feels like. He has 151 minutes played this season, and 8 offensive fouls. That equates to one offensive foul every 18 minutes or so.
While there’s no doubt that Jamychal Green would play better eventually if he were given the opportunity — the Nuggets spent a first round pick on Zeke Nnaji only a year ago, and gave up a decent amount to get that pick. For those who don’t remember, the pick used to draft Zeke Nnaji was acquired in a trade that cost the Nuggets Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, and Jared Vanderbilt. That’s quite a hefty price to pay for someone you don’t plan on using. I think we should look at playing someone that the Nuggets paid so much to get.
Zeke brings great shooting, and solid defense to the table. He’s also a young guy who could develop nicely into a consistent rotation piece for the foreseeable future. Bones Hyland is also developing a nice chemistry with Zeke. He assisted on 4 of Zeke’s buckets against the Pacers, and Nnaji even joked he owed Bones dinner after the game. It’s clear if you watch that the two of them have a chemistry, and that they’d be a good pick and roll or pick and pop duo off the bench. Here are a few examples of that.
Now with that being said, I do want to say one thing — trust Malone. Even if you and I think one thing; he might think another and he’s far more qualified to have that opinion than us. He might be a little stubborn, but he normally comes around to have the right moves, even if they come a little late. It’s a long season and it’s best to just buckle up and enjoy all 82 games of it; it doesn’t matter who starts in the rotation, it’s who plays in the playoffs that is.
And for what it’s worth, Malone wants to play Zeke too. He said before the Hawks game, “Yeah, it presents a challenge. You can only play so many guys. With Michael out, with Nikola out, it was a great opportunity for Zeke to take advantage of those minutes that were present to him, and he did that. And so now you look for other ways to get him into the game. But Nikola’s going to play 34, 36 minutes a night. You have Aaron, you have Jeff, you have JaMychal. But I know that I will not hesitate to throw him out there. His ability to screen and roll, his ability to be a versatile defender who can guard all over the floor are things that can only help us. So it definitely will be a lot harder than the other night, but if we can find some minutes for Zeke, we’d love to do so.”
So while it’s clear he’s not in the rotation at the moment; Malone isn’t opposed to playing him by any means. Should you expect more Zeke this season? I’d say at some point, yeah.