The Denver Nuggets started off the 2021-22 season this last week with Media Week. Many of the players expressed similar beliefs on what this season will have in store, and everyone seemed to be on the same page (unlike some other teams around the league). This was our first chance to talk to rookies Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland and Petr Cornelie as well as long time NBA vet Jeff Green.
The Nuggets held a few interviews per day throughout Media Week, starting with Monte Morris, Vlatko Cancar, and Bones Hyland. Then, they went to PJ Dozier, Nikola Jokic, Markus Howard, and Petr Cornelie. The next day featured Aaron Gordon, Austin Rivers, Jeff Green, Michael Porter Jr., and Will Barton. Then, head coach Michael Malone, President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly, starting point guard Jamal Murray, and the rest of the Nuggets roster spoke.
Here are four takeaways from the week’s events:
Getting to The Finals
Everyone involved with the team knows that the Nuggets have what it takes to win a championship in the near future. Veterans like Austin Rivers, Jeff Green, and JaMychal Green decided to come to Denver rather than other playoff and championship level teams because they saw that opportunity as well.
“We got a team that could do something possibly special this year. You don’t get a lot of opportunities like that,” said Rivers to the media last Thursday.
From players that have arrived recently to players who have spent their entire career here, everyone is ready to finally get to the Finals. The entire roster has combined to appear in just one Finals: Jeff Green in 2018 with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The entire organization from top to bottom is hungry for a title, but getting to the Finals is no easy task. Still, the players believe that this group has the right mix of talent and fit to accomplish their goals. The Nuggets have been to the Conference Finals once and the Conference Semi-Finals twice in the last three years. The only thing left for the Nuggets is their first NBA Finals birth in franchise history. Even though the Nuggets will be without star point guard Jamal Murray, for most of the 2021 season, the Nuggets have the guys who can step up in his place.
From Monte Morris: “We’re just not happy to kinda just get [to the playoffs] no more. Our expectations are high.”
The team is ready to step up in Jamal Murray’s absence
While having Jamal Murray out for the majority of the year is a major loss, it doesn't mean that the entire season is lost. With Monte Morris in the starting position, I believe he will show the league why Nuggets fans have been calling him one of the best backup point guards in the league for several years now. Morris said that he has been working on getting healthy this off-season and is excited for the opportunity to receive more minutes.
Another Nugget that will need to step up this season is Michael Porter Jr. and he seems ready for the task.
“I’m gonna play my game no matter what, if Jamal is out I’m still gonna play my game,” Porter shared with the Denver media on Thursday. “Like, I’m not gonna force things, but the ball is probably gonna end up in my hands more.”
Fresh off signing a new max rookie extension Porter will set out to make an All-NBA team to fully cash in on his new contract. The 23-year-old star forward also shared that he worked out with Stephen Curry over the summer, and that can only pay good dividends. Porter seems to be very relaxed and poised, even with arguably the biggest challenge of his career in front of him.
Will Barton put it best: “You can't replace Jamal Murray, it’s just not gonna happen.” Still, the Nuggets are going to try and do just that with their entire roster. Maybe that will buy the team some time until Murray returns to full strength.
The Nuggets are getting...mostly healthy again
Outside of Jamal Murray, there is no one on the roster that is nursing an injury that we know of. With injuries being such a detrimental thing to past seasons, we should be excited to have most of our guys back healthy. Players like Monte Morris, PJ Dozier, Will Barton, Michael Porter Jr., and even Aaron Gordon were all either injured or playing injured during last season. The Nuggets are hoping for better injury luck this time around.
Morris worked on his knee tendinitis during the offseason, saying that it had been bothering him ever since he came into the league and began to hurt badly during the 2021 postseason. Gordon had been nursing a hamstring injury going into last year’s training camp, so he was unable to participate last year. He says that he’s excited to jump in at the beginning of the season and not have to find his rhythm during the year. Barton is finally healthy after many seasons dealing with injuries. He didn't want to take much of this off-season off, instead saying that he “hasn't been this excited for a season in years.”
Barton also shared this about the upcoming year: “This is the best I’ve felt going into a season in 2 years, so I feel like I’m rejuvenated really.”
The Young Guys
Bones Hyland has set the Nuggets community on absolute fire with his ear-to-ear smile and his ability to shoot from distance. It is no secret that the rest of the team likes him too. Bones went as far as to call his relationship with Will Barton as “Like a big brother to me.”
Bol Bol has been a fan favorite ever since he got drafted, as his unique skill set is difficult to not fall in love with. In some exciting Bol Bol news, MPJ said that Bol was impressing him some in open runs and that he could be a part of this team and that all it takes is a “mindset change.” Michael Porter Jr. also said that he has been in Bol’s ear and that he has been asking to meet Bol at the gym at nights with him because he is “very talented.” Bol also reciprocated some of those feelings, saying that he needed to be better about being a consistent worker and a professional, even when things aren’t going well.
Zeke Nnaji sees his role this next season as most of the same and just wants to build off of what he accomplished last year. The Nuggets have drafted well in recent years. Let’s hope these young guys can continue the recent stretch of great Nuggets draft picks (Tyler Lydon not withstanding).
I would like to end this article off with my favorite quote from Media Day and would just like to say that I think Jeff Green will fit in perfectly here. From Green on Thursday:
“I think I’m gonna love the season we are going to have, I don’t mind everybody talking about the [Los Angeles] Lakers and all those guys. We’ve got to run under the radar and do what we have to do and we’ll be in a good position at the end of the year.”
Spoken like a true Nugget.