Welcome back into the Denver Stiffs mailbag, an avenue for Denver Stiffs readers to ask questions on Twitter and share their thoughts with me. Whether it’s about the latest results, the trade deadline, or many more topics, I’m generally pretty willing to answer anything appropriate in this mailbag article if it’s interesting and entertaining.
This week, I received a number of requests to discuss the rotation, so that’s what the majority of this mailbag will entail. There are another two questions at the end, so stick around even if you get bored of the rotation talk.
When bones/Jamychal come back, what does the bench look like?— Trevor W (@Twell___) January 24, 2022
There were a vast array of rotation related questions this week. The bench rotation is the most interesting aspect of the team right now. Nikola Jokić is putting up another ho-hum MVP season, and the starters are a step above the bench and aren’t about to be removed on purpose. Denver’s starting group of Jokić, Jeff Green, Aaron Gordon, Will Barton, and Monte Morris has played 341 minutes together, the fifth most in the NBA. They have the third highest raw plus-minus at +102, behind only two teams the Nuggets will face on their upcoming road trip: the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves starters. Among all 53 five-man units in the NBA to exceed 100 minutes played, the Nuggets starters rank seventh in Net Rating at +15.5 points per 100 possessions. That’s insane.
Still, it leaves the bench unit to fend for themselves at times. The Nuggets don’t often stagger more than one starter at a time, which means four bench players (at least) are playing together for the majority of their minutes. It means the bench unit has to be cohesive, make sense, and not bleed points. Easier said than done, and the Nuggets have struggled for much of the season to make that happen.
Bones Hyland and JaMychal Green missed Sunday’s game, as did Jeff Green. Assuming all three return for the road trip, the Nuggets are going to have some major decisions to make. One thing seems clear though: the newcomers in Bryn Forbes and Demarcus Cousins were brought in to play immediately. Forbes has averaged 20 minutes per game in his first two games, and Cousins played every minute at center that Jokić didn’t play. Those two variables are unlikely to change, at least at the front end of Denver’s road trip.
That means that Facu Campazzo, Bones Hyland, Austin Rivers, Davon Reed, Zeke Nnaji, and JaMychal Green will be battling it out for the other three rotation spots initially, and I’m going to default to the initial choices Malone made earlier this season: Campazzo, Bones, and JaMychal. The Nuggets coaching staff believes in a true point guard with the bench, and Campazzo is Denver’s only traditional options outside of Morris. Bones has played well for a rookie this season and gives Denver more explosiveness off the bench as a shooter and playmaker. JaMychal ties it together as a functional big man, moving to power forward where he’s barely played this year.
Campazzo, Forbes, Hyland, JaMychal, Cousins is my best guess. Is it what I would do? No, but it’s what I believe will happen.
Does boogie stay through the season, and is he part of the rotation come playoff time?— Hope (@Hope26998020) January 24, 2022
Boogie Cousins is one of the more interesting subplots for the Nuggets in recent years. Reuniting with Michael Malone, the only coach he ever reportedly connected with, Cousins is hoping for retribution, a spot on a contender where he can be a contributor. Given Denver’s backup center situation, it’s not surprising to see him get the call.
Cousins didn’t play well in his debut, scoring two points on 1-of-7 shooting and missing two free throws. He also looked immobile on the perimeter defensively, and that’s a big question mark. Still, the Nuggets need regular season minutes to straighten out the offense a bit, and Cousins can do that by rolling to the rim, posting up, and taking some attention away from Denver’s guards. The bar isn’t high to be impactful, and my guess is Cousins crosses that threshold enough times to be worth a roster spot.
So, I do believe he will be in Denver for the rest of the year. He will play in most games, though maybe not every game depending on the matchup.
As for the playoffs? It’s anyone’s guess and honestly depends on the matchup more than anything. More than likely, opposing teams downsize in the playoffs and make it harder to play Boogie consistently. That’s when having Jeff and JaMychal Green will yield the most value. That’s the hope anyway.
Let's say boogie gets signed for the year and MPJ returns before the end of year and starts – which bigs play off the bench in the playoffs? Jeff/Boogie? Jeff/Jmyke? Jeff/Zeke?— Tyson Ruch (@TysonRuch) January 24, 2022
In a playoff rotation (healthy) what guards play? Murray and Barton obviously start. But then you have Morris, Forbes, Bones, Facu, Rivers. Surly Malone wouldn’t go 3 guard when healthy.— David St. Clair (@DavidSt24) January 24, 2022
I guess this is the space where I argue that Michael Porter Jr. should come off the bench if/when he returns. The Nuggets starting unit is doing just fine for the most part, and when Jamal Murray returns, he will go back into the starting unit without hesitation. If Porter comes back at around, say, March 20th, that leaves three weeks for Denver to integrate him into their starting unit before the playoffs begin. That’s not a long time, and it might be better for Denver to play him off the bench.
So, he would be a big man for me. I’d play Porter at power forward off the bench and space the floor for the guards. He would stagger a bit with Gordon and Jokić of course, but the majority of his time would be as a floor spacer in the second unit, giving Denver some serious punch.
I would personally play 10 players consistently: Murray, Barton, Gordon, Jeff, Jokić as the starters, and Morris, Forbes, Reed, Porter, and Nnaji. I wouldn’t play Campazzo, Rivers, or JaMychal, and I would only play Boogie in select circumstances. Bones was a tough cut from the rotation too, but he’s probably not ready.
Denver brought in Bryn Forbes for a reason. They want a deadeye shooter they can rely upon, and Forbes certainly qualifies. Porter qualifies as another. Maybe more than that. Morris is the sixth man and will play a ton. That leaves major defensive holes though, which means Denver needs to play athletic, mobile, lengthy defenders that can cover a lot of ground, and Denver has two players that qualify: Reed and Nnaji. They are the most mobile and switchable options, and if other teams downsize in bench configurations, rebounding is less of a concern than mobility and perimeter coverage. Nnaji can do that. At least, I hope he can.
It’s a tough place to be. Denver could probably stand to upgrade upon several places in their rotation. Still, this is the hand the Nuggets have been dealt, and they must adapt to survive.
Will the Nuggets make more moves before the trade deadline?— Nuggets Community (24-21) (@nuggetsfan_) January 24, 2022
Gary Harris or an eaves, are they an option?
Any date for Porter or Murray?
There are still ways for Denver to get better at the deadline, and there are still potential holes in Denver’s rotation they can fill on the trade market. Bigger, wing oriented perimeter defenders are always helpful, and finding another defensive option to assist Aaron Gordon defensively could be useful for Denver. Gordon has been good against the 6’6” to 6’8” wing options, but against 6’3” guards that are lightning quick, he has struggled. Finding a player to guard a player like that at a high level makes plenty of sense.
Gary Harris makes some sense if no team trades for him. He would have to agree to a buyout with the Orlando Magic, but if he did, he would probably be welcomed back to Denver with open arms. He’s had a bit of a renaissance this year, averaging 11.6 points and shooting 35.6% from three this year. Combining his defensive talents with a reliable jumper would be helpful against the top of the West.
Other options that make sense: Justin Holiday and Torrey Craig of the Indiana Pacers. Luguentz Dort of the Oklahoma City Thunder is probably too pricy, but his teammate Kenrich Williams could be had. Even cheaper options in Garrett Temple of the New Orleans Pelicans, Romeo Langford of the Boston Celtics, and perhaps Justise Winslow of the Los Angeles Clippers could be had if Denver so desired.
As for Porter and Murray, there are no firm dates. I would hope for Murray back in late February to early March though, and Porter in late March if at all, based on what I’ve heard through the grapevine.
What is your favorite memory covering the team— Joker Nation (@JokerNation24) January 24, 2022
I started covering the Nuggets during the 2015-16 season from afar in South Carolina but really started to COVER them in the 2019-20 season as the site manager in the building. Since the 2019-20 season, the Nuggets have had plenty of incredible moments, from Jokić’s buzzer beater over Joel Embiid in November 2019, to the bubble run in late 2020, to last year’s MVP run from Jokić. It’s hard to pick a moment from the bubble since I wasn’t really there. Game 7 against the Clippers was my personal favorite moment watching the Nuggets, but I wasn’t there to cover it, which is too bad.
So, if I’m picking a moment where I was attending, I’m actually going to pick a loss. February 12th, 2020 against the Los Angeles Lakers, the final game before the All-Star break. The Lakers were in first place at 40-12 heading into that game, and the Nuggets were in second place at 38-16. The energy in the building was incredible, and the intensity was playoff caliber. The Nuggets were seriously challenging the Lakers, and as it turns out, they were the only team to seriously challenge the Lakers all year, regular season or playoffs.
I chose that game because it’s the moment when I knew Denver arrived as a contender. Murray had 32 points and 10 assists. Jokić had 22 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists. The team they built was absolutely legit, with the foundation being a superdupermegastar in Jokić and an All-Star in the making in Murray. Those two were seamless, and only the top duo in the NBA at the time could effectively out-duel them. That moment made me feel what sports could and would be like for the Nuggets going forward with their dynamic duo, and I can’t wait to feel that way again about this group.