clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Stiffs Mailbag: Bench offense issues, Aaron Gordon’s minutes, and more

New, comments

Answering Twitter questions from Stiffs readers

Philadelphia 76ers v Denver Nuggets Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

You know the drill! Thanks for making my life easier with such great questions this week.

Onto the topics, starting with a real heater.

Hell yeah. Let’s start off with the controversial heavy hitters. I’m just going to do the main rotation for time’s sake.

Nikola Jokić — Doctor Strange, because he can see all of the timelines and has magic powers.

Monte Morris — Captain America, because he’s an All-American traditional, righteous point guard.

Jamal Murray — Hawkeye, because his nickname is quite literally Blue Arrow.

Michael Porter Jr. — Spider-Man, because he’s young with elite skills and high potential.

Aaron Gordon — Hulk, because he can be a scientist on some days and smash basketballs on others.

Will Barton — Black Panther, because he’s simply really cool and has the most swagger.

Paul Millsap — Iron Man, because his arrival jumpstarted the whole thing and plays a traditional style.

JaMychal Green — War Machine, because he’s similar to Millsap but a more lethal shooter.

PJ Dozier — Falcon, because frankly, I can see PJ doing a witty Anthony Mackie impression. Also, PJ glides when he runs the floor and slides his feet defensively.

Facundo Campazzo — Ant-Man, because...I mean...

JaVale McGee — Winter Soldier, because he had to be reborn somewhere else before coming back home.

(This is not meant to be serious in any way)


There are lots of reasons why the bench may be struggling more often than usual offensively. Despite Jamal Murray playing great basketball of late, it has been difficult for him to lift up bench units by himself. In games when Denver has given up leads, the Nuggets have brought back in reinforcements quickly.

The fact is, a lineup that features Facundo Campazzo, PJ Dozier, JaMychal Green, and Paul Millsap just isn’t going to be a dynamic offensive unit. Campazzo doesn’t put any pressure on opposing defenses by himself as a scorer, and neither Green nor Millsap are going to put excessive pressure on the rim in any situation outside of offensive rebounds. Because those guys don’t roll to the rim, teams feel comfortable switching on many of the pick and pops that Denver runs, leading to isolation basketball from Murray, Barton, and Dozier most frequently.

Perhaps having JaVale McGee as a legitimate rim runner offensively would help Denver earn some easy points around the hoop or at least punish teams for switching more frequently. Could Monte Morris solve some of these problems himself? He would be good punishing switches as a pull up jump shooter. Both substitutions would call into question Denver’s defensive viability with that unit, but sometimes, the best defense is a little bit of offense anyway.

This is a situation to monitor.


I like that minutes and rotations are basically my brand now. I invested myself in tracking Michael Malone’s rotations this season for my own personal benefit and thought I’d share those out on Twitter. If you haven’t seen them, I post them at halftime and after every single game.

Over the first two games of his Nuggets tenure, Aaron Gordon has had very low minute totals compared to what he’s used to. This is entirely due to the Nuggets being in blowout situations, or else he would be going back in for a 7-8 minute stint in the fourth quarter. Gordon’s currently on pace for about 30 minutes per game in regular contests with Denver during the regular season, and I’d expect him to be about there for the majority of the regular season.

During the playoffs, that number will most likely increase to around 34 minutes per game. The Nuggets are going to play more minutes with Nikola Jokić overall and go from 36 to 40 there, and they will be increasing the number of minutes that Porter and Gordon stagger in my opinion. Whether one of those two plays small forward or power forward, it wouldn’t surprise me if Malone tries to find creative ways to add more juice to units that don’t include Jokić. That means including one of Porter or Gordon along with Murray off the bench.

Less minutes for the trio of Millsap, Green, and McGee off the bench will probably directly coincide with a minute increase for Gordon. He’s going to play a lot. He will be the primary defensive matchup against many opposing wings, and that’s going to come with a lot of trust from Malone. I’d expect the low minute outcome to be 30 minutes, the high minute outcome to be 38 minutes, and the average for Gordon to be roughly around 34-35 minutes per game.


This is a tough one. Everyone that’s definitely in the playoffs is going to be a tough matchup. That’s the difference between the West and the East. There’s actual competency all over the playoff picture on this side of the bracket.

Ideally, the Nuggets earn a top two seed (still possible, though unlikely) and face one of the teams that makes the play-in tournament. The Dallas Mavericks are the best team in that group, so eliminating them, the ideal first round matchups for the Nuggets are probably the Memphis Grizzlies, followed by the dreaded Sacramento Kings and undying San Antonio Spurs. Those are all unlikely though.

Assuming Denver doesn’t make a top two seed and instead has to face one of the teams guaranteed to be in the playoffs, I think the Portland Trail Blazers are probably the easiest matchup. To be clear, every team in this group is good, but there’s something about Portland’s group that just isn’t fear-inducing. Those are famous last words of course, given that Denver just traded Gary Harris away. Still, I don’t think the Blazers have a chance in hell to slow down Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. when they’re going at full cylinders, and Denver has at least shown they can make life difficult for Damian Lillard with Jokić blitzing pick and rolls.

Again, every matchup is tough.


Once Monte Morris gets back, the rotation is probably going to get weird.

Right now, Malone has been in a very consistent rotation, staggering one of Murray or Barton (mostly Murray) to play with the second unit as soon as Jokić goes to the floor. That lineup often plays about six minutes together before starters start to file back in. Murray goes to the bench to get a quick rest before coming back in to finish out the half/game.

Facundo Campazzo has averaged over 25 minutes per game in a significant bench role since Valentine’s Day. He has been the sixth man and played a significant amount of time, much of it coming with Morris in the starting lineup. When Morris comes back, it will likely be in a bench role, and I don’t expect him to play extensive minutes immediately. 10 to 15 minutes per game feels right at the start, but ramping up his production to get him to the 27.2 minutes per game he has averaged on the season also makes sense.

With Gordon and Porter playing significant minutes at forward, Will Barton is now playing significant minutes at shooting guard. That puts Morris and Campazzo in a crunch in the back court. It would be difficult to play both players 15+ minutes per game in a 10-man rotation, let alone 25+ minutes. The easiest thing to do for Malone would be to put in Morris and take out Campazzo, so that he doesn’t break his consistent rotation pattern.

I think Facu’s minutes are in jeopardy, and there’s going to come a point where the coaching staff will realize that it’s either going to be Monte or Facu. It can’t be both, and at full health, Monte is the better player. I’d expect Facu to stay in the rotation for the next few games, but soon after? Changes will come.


I don’t want to spend too much time on this because the current stories are too interesting, but just to put a little kernel in everyone’s mind, here’s what the Nuggets are looking at this offseason:

Players Locked in under contract or team options

  • Guards — Jamal Murray, Monte Morris, PJ Dozier, Facundo Campazzo
  • Wings — Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Vlatko Cancar, Gary Clark
  • Bigs — Nikola Jokić, Zeke Nnaji, Bol Bol

Players on expiring contracts or player options

  • Guards — Will Barton (player option), Markus Howard
  • Wings — Greg Whittington
  • Bigs — Paul Millsap, JaMychal Green (player option), JaVale, McGee

Denver still has the majority of their rotation players on roster, though they will need to figure out their starting shooting guard and backup frontcourt. Those aren’t the biggest priorities though. They’re actually way down the list.

Priority list

  1. Nikola Jokić will be super max eligible, so get him to sign that.
  2. Negotiate a rookie extension with Michael Porter Jr. that’s probably going to look a lot like Jamal Murray’s contract.
  3. Negotiate a veteran extension with Aaron Gordon that’s probably going to be pricier than people want.
  4. Figure out what Will Barton wants and adjust accordingly. Denver can go either way here.
  5. Sign some help in the frontcourt but prepare for more Zeke Nnaji minutes in 2021-22.
  6. Draft a great prospect with the 2021 first round pick or use it as trade bait accordingly.

That all seems fair.