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Denver Nuggets Film Friday: Should they stay or should they go?

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NBA: Playoffs-Phoenix Suns at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re not familiar with Film Fridays, each Friday, I’ll be looking at some recent Denver Nuggets’ games, lineups or something else from a film aspect to try and bring you a piece of content that you’re not getting somewhere else. Feel free to give any feedback positive or negative in the comments or find me on Twitter.

We’re a few weeks away yet from the official start of free agency, but the offseason has already started for the Nuggets. Denver has a lot of decisions to make when free agency officially kicks off. Assuming everyone that can become a free agent does just that, Denver will have eight players that could be on new teams starting next season. Two of those are forwards with player options, five unrestricted free agents and one restricted free agent in Markus Howard.

Denver currently has 10 players under contract for next season with a hefty amount of them being in the frontcourt. We saw the importance of roster balance this year when the Nuggets were constantly adding new guards to the roster due to injuries while their bevy of forwards were either playing out of position or not at all. Tim Connelly will likely be doing some wheeling and dealing this offseason to balance those issues out.

While some of these players are easier to let walk, there are a few of them that are tough calls, and those are the guys we’re focusing on today. We’re not discussing the two player-option players, Will Barton and JaMychal Green, just because their situations remain in flux, so the focus will be on the other guys heading towards the open market. Who will Denver be negotiating with to bring back a month from now?

Paul Millsap - Has he lost one too many steps?

Millsap just wrapped up his fourth season with the Nuggets, and it was his 15th NBA season overall. Since he entered the league in the 2006-07 season, Millsap ranks 14th in minutes played. He’ll be turning 37 midway through next season, so it’s fair to wonder what level of play he’s bringing to a team that is trying to contend for championships. Look at this play, Cameron Payne is wrapping towards the rim with the ball, and Millsap knows that. He remains one of the game’s smartest defensive players. However, he overhelps up high and isn’t able to rotate back. Millsap has never been the most athletic player which is why his in-game IQ has helped him so much, but it’s fair to say Millsap is able to get there and alter that shot a season or two ago. Denver. Denver’s roster currently features at least three players that can comfortably play the power forward position in the form of Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon and Zeke Nnaji. Additionally, Green could opt in to his player option to fill up that spot as well. None of those guys are as good defensively as Millsap is, but they are all significantly younger with Green being the only one over 25 years old.

A year after shooting a career-best 43.5 percent from 3-point range, Millsap seemed to lose that touch this year. Despite attempting 19 more 3-point shots, Millsap made five fewer shots from outside which is unfortunate because, as he’s getting older, he is less and less effective inside which increases the importance of his jumper. Denver can play Porter, who’s a deadly shooter from outside, at the four on the offensive end with the starters, and Nnaji, who made over 40 percent of his attempts and ranked fifth among rookies with at least 50 3-point attempts this season, can slide into the power forward position with the reserves. Millsap knocked down this shot against the Portland Trail Blazers, but he had to be essentially wide open to get that done.

The main factor for Millsap’s return is likely going to come down to money. He’s no longer the starter for Denver with the addition of Gordon, but he still brings a veteran presence to a rather young team. This team has a gluttony of forwards on this team, and most of them are true power forwards rather than small forwards. If any team comes to Millsap offering any significant money, it’s likely in Denver’s best interest to let him walk so they can allocate that money elsewhere.

Verdict: Let him test the waters

Austin Rivers - How would he handle the change?

You could easily make the argument that Austin Rivers had more fun in Denver as a Nugget than just about any other player this year. Upon his arrival, just about every single interview that Rivers did was complimentary of the team and the city. Now, Rivers, who turns 29 in a month, is heading into free agency, and he’s likely looking for one more long deal. With that in mind, there are a few questions. Is he looking for a lot of money? Is he more concerned with a large role on a team, or does he want to be a rotational player for a championship contender? Does Denver want him back?

If I was Rivers, I would want to be back in Denver. The Nuggets are in need of at least one more player that can create with the ball in their hands on their second unit. Even when they were fully healthy this year, Monte Morris was the only player that could consistently create his own shot. Rivers improves upon that with his ability to get to the rim. Look at this play, Rivers uses the screen from Nikola Jokic, and he starts to work the defense from there. He gets C.J. McCollum onto his hip before sizing up Jusuf Nurkic. Once Nurkic slid out of the way just enough, Rivers was off to the rim for the layup.

On the side of Denver letting Rivers go, this is what you have to reconcile with. Rivers tries on defense, and there are worse options out there. However, he’s not some defensive stopper that you can rely on to shut down an opposing team’s best guard. Devin Booker doesn’t do anything overly special on this play, but Rivers never really has a shot. Rivers has to respect Booker’s ability to rise up and shoot, and all it takes is one jab step for Booker to have the easy driving lane. With all of the offensive-minded players on the roster, having another one could be seen as overkill.

Verdict: Come back for the right price

Javale McGee - Should this reunion continue?

Javale McGee has played in 809 total NBA games. He’s played on seven different teams over that span including parts of five seasons with the Nuggets, which is more than he’s played with any other team. McGee was brought in at the trade deadline to back up Jokic after the team moved on from offseason acquisition Isaiah Hartenstein. McGee was brought in to do two primary things. On offense, his job was to hang out near the rim for putbacks or work the pick-and-roll to throw down dunks like this. Barton isn’t a natural point guard or distributor, but McGee made life easy by giving him plenty of room to work off of the screen along with being a big target to lob the ball too. During his time in Cleveland to start the season, he was in the 91st percentile as the roll man for offensive efficiency. McGee isn’t a finesse player on offense, but that’s ok because he still knows how to dunk the ball well and soak up minutes.

“Gage, you said he was brought in for two things and only mentioned one!” Don’t worry, I was getting there. The other thing McGee was brought in to do was to alter shots. McGee is 7’ tall, and he has a 7’6’’ wingspan. When he wants to bother a shot, he can do that. Look at this play against the Minnesota Timberwolves. McGee is just hanging out on the right block to protect from a backdoor cutter. His man-to-man assignment is Jarred Vanderbilt, who shot just five 3-point attempts all season, so McGee is ready to go for the block if necessary because he doesn’t have to stay out on the shooter. When he sees that there is no chance Karl Anthony-Towns is going to be able to pass to anyone else, he collapses on him for the block to maintain Denver’s 11-point lead heading into the half.

Verdict: Stay a little longer

For those of you that are still here, remember to leave your feedback in the comments or over on my Twitter, and have a fantastic film-filled Friday.