What has been the surprise and biggest disappointment of the year so far?

Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): The biggest disappointment has been the effort level in some of the recent losses, going all the way back to the Toronto Raptors game in the Pepsi Center a few weeks ago. When the team was losing to the Memphis Grizzlies or Portland Trail Blazers at the buzzer I could tolerate it. Those are good teams, potential playoff teams, and the Nuggets took them to the wire. Had some late game breakdowns but the effort was there. Recent losses, and none more so than the most recent loss to the Dallas Mavericks, haven’t showed the same effort level from the team. Biggest surprise? I’d have to say Jameer Nelson. Jameer hasn’t had per minute production or shooting efficiency like this since his heyday in Orlando and while he can’t play the same minutes that he did back in those times, his contributions have nonetheless been a bright spot in a dark start to the season.

Ryan Blackburn (@RyanBlackburn9): The biggest disappointment for me is the ghastly mismanagement of resources. It was clear after last season that Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Kenneth Faried, and Nikola Jokic were developing chemistry together in the starting lineup. Faried’s role in that group isn’t talked about frequently, but he had 25 points and 20 rebounds in a game against Dallas last March. Fast forward through today, and a Harris injury, introduction to Jusuf Nurkic, and general chaos with the roles on the team has left the team scrambling. In my opinion, don’t get cute, and go back to what was working and stick with it, namely Jokic starting. As for biggest surprise, I will go with Jamal Murray looking like a potential star immediately, something I didn’t think would happen for awhile.

Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): My biggest disappointment is regression. Gallo hasn’t taken the step forward I was hoping for in a contract year. Mudiay went back to the first half of last season instead of improving on his second half with a summer of work.  Malone spent all last year experimenting and still couldn’t stick with anything that worked for the first quarter of this season. Injuries haven’t helped and the curse falling on Harris has probably hurt Mudiay most, but at some point I’d love to see actual progress instead of this rolling around in the mud.  Jokic finding his stride again as a center instead of a power forward isn’t really a surprise to me, so I’ll go with how ready Murray and Hernangomez seem to be for getting minutes.  Murray’s early performances are like planting a flag to show the territory he’ll be back to conquer in a year or two. That’s a nice thought.

Evan Fiala (@eefiala): My biggest disappointment has been the play of Emmanuel Mudiay. After his resurgence during the second half of last year, I surely thought that a summer of development would solidify his game but instead we’re all questioning his ability to be a starting caliber point guard. My biggest surprise is how quick Murray has been to contribute and make a name for himself.

Should Michael Malone be on the hot seat?

Mikash: I am 100% no on this and will refer you to the following sentiment from arguably the greatest basketball coach ever as to why.

Blackburn: If Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray aren’t averaging at least 50 minutes per game between the two of them by March 1st, and the Nuggets are distant onlookers in the playoff race, I would really debate it. I probably would give Malone a strong push in the direction of playing the young guys as much as possible at that point. If that doesn’t happen, then he has to go. For me, Malone’s job was never tied to the amount of wins or losses he accumulated. It was whether he would put the young guys in the best possible situation to develop their respective skills. So far, that hasn’t happened yet, but it’s only December. If January, February, March, and April go by and things haven’t changed, then Malone should be on a seat that just emerged from the fiery lavas of the mountain in Mordor from the Lord of the Rings.

Gross:  No.  He’s not on the hot seat and shouldn’t be.  Unless he absolutely loses the team, which doesn’t seem to be his M.O., then I would expect him to be here through at least the middle of next year even in a downside outcome. Nobody wants to be the Kings and look like a thoroughly inept organization, and if the Nuggets fire Malone, go with an interim for the rest of the year and then hire a new coach next season that would be 6 coaches since 2013. They simply can’t do that barring an absolute 10 on the Richter scale.  It doesn’t help the kids to try to learn a bunch of different systems either.  Malone may not wind up being the guy to take the Nuggets back to glory, but sorting out the player personnel and getting him (or whatever future coach the Nuggets might have) the best footing possible is Connelly’s job.  I expect this year to play out without any coaching changes at the top.

Fiala: I don’t think he is, nor should he be yet. Sure there are some red flags, but he’s been put in a tough position and is still on a learning curve of his own. I don’t think the expecation was ever for Denver to go into “win now” mode until the team was ready to make a legit playoff run, and clearly this team is still rebuilding. He’ll be around at the very minimum the rest of the year and realistically probably beyond that. However, if things don’t get better by season’s end this question will have more legitimacy.

At 9-16, the Nuggets are still only three games out of the 8th playoff spot. In your opinion, is this a playoff team or not?

Mikash: I’ve tried so hard to be optimistic about this team but I think the 2-4 road trip against the dregs of the league has killed it. No, this is not a playoff team. While the Nuggets are only three games back of the Blazers, they are also seven games below .500, Portland is just one game below .500. You can expect that to continue. The Blazers should hover right around .500 for the rest of the season and the Nuggets will likely be right around that 33 win mark. As I wrote last week, if they couldn’t get it done in December, when their opponents were dreadful, there should be no reason to believe they can get it done later in the season when they are playing a lot more playoff caliber teams. I said December would make or break this team’s season and though the month is only half over, it feels like the season is broke.

Blackburn: I still have faith that with a trade or two and a reclassification of roles, this team could be playing winning basketball the rest of the way. Now, that involves some minor and major changes from what is currently going on, but it’s certainly not impossible. That being said, being seven games under .500 is very difficult to make up unless changes are made rather quickly. I don’t see that happening, and therefore, I don’t see them being a playoff team this season. Make no mistake about it, there is a playoff team buried under all of the chaos and confusion right now. It just needs to be unlocked through the proper use of its resources.

Gross: December is about to get really rough so they’d have to clean their act up quickly.  The Nuggets botched the easy part, but as we saw last year and earlier this year sometimes Denver plays the good teams better than the bad ones.  Ask me again after December, but I still believe this team should be winning 40 games this year.  That may not be management’s goal, however, not with this being a good draft class and them needing another internal shot at a star.  I’m not betting on playoffs for this squad even if that remains the goal though – they aren’t in sync enough to dream about that at this point.

Fiala: In my mind I was hoping this season would be one where the team learns to gel better, the younger players develop while making meaningful contributions, and ultimately Denver snags a playoff spot to gain postseason experience before making a more serious run next year. I’ve tried to convince myself this will all happen, but the way things are going I just don’t see it. The good news is there is plenty of time to make corrections and move forward; the bad news is that there has been little done to convince me that will happen.

How big of an impact will it make to have Gary Harris back?

Mikash: Gary will help, no doubt about it. I think more than anything we will see a lift in Emmanuel Mudiay’s play as he always performs better when Gary is his partner in the backcourt, but there’s also an elephant in the room now. With Harris back you have him, Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari all needing minutes on the wings. I said in the past that Murray was the odd man out when Gary got healthy but I think we’re past the point of no return with him in the rotation. He’s too talented and has too high a ceiling to send to the bench. Coach Malone said it himself when he said at practice yesterday “Jamal Murray has the chance to be a special player. I have to find more minutes for Jamal Murray.” So from a pure talent standpoint getting Harris back is great, but from an impact standpoint I’m not sure at the forefront it’s not going to be more detrimental than beneficial. Now coach Malone has a whole new set of rotation problems to figure out and who knows how many games the Nuggets might drop until he does.

Blackburn: Like Zach alluded to, the impact of Gary Harris returning is two-fold. On one hand, he’s a better player than anyone in the guard rotation the Nuggets employ, so the overall play of the guards will get better. That much is clear, as is his positive impact on Mudiay, so it’s likely Mudiay will improve at least a little bit. The problem comes when Malone is forced to bench somebody. At this point, he SAYS that he needs to find time for Jamal Murray, which sounds to me like he’s the fifth guard behind Mudiay, Harris, Jameer Nelson, and Will Barton. Will the Nuggets employ a three guard rotation off the bench to make up for this? Will one of those guys receive ten minutes or less while the Nuggets leave in the forwards or centers to fill the 3, 4, and 5 spots? My guess is that it will be a little bit of both, which doesn’t bode well for Murray.

Gross: I honestly have no earthly idea. How healthy/rusty is Gary? Does Malone plan to start him or bring him off the bench? How does that affect the minutes for the rest of the roster? The rotations are put together by Magic 8-Ball right now anyway so what difference does it make if Gary draws the start, gets 8 minutes, and then gets benched until the start of the 4th?  In an ideal world he is Mudiay’s security blanket.  They understand each other and playing next to Harris obviously helps Mudiay handle his business better than either Barton or Jameer. Cutting Jameer’s minutes is not likely, though, and Barton has to fit somewhere. I am hopeful that Harris will help soothe what ails this team, but as with everything except the delightful Jokic / Murray pairing, I’ll wait and see how it develops before getting emotionally invested in it.

Fiala: Having Harris back will provide stability to the guards, but it will throw another wrench at Malone and his rotations. Mudiay will be the biggest benefactor but it puts someone else on the end of the bench, and it might just be Murray, which is unfortunate.