What do you make of Michael Malone’s end of game rotations so far?

Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): I’d like to answer this in two parts. First, I think that it is important for the coaches and players to have set roles in games. It makes a very stressful situation a bit less stressful by taking away a decision. I don’t mind having Kenneth Faried play as a small-ball center with Emmanuel Mudiay, Will Barton, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari. If the players are able to understand their roles better, they’ll be able to execute better later on in the season. Second, I haven’t liked how Malone has played Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic in the fourth quarter. So far, it’s just been whichever big man has been “hot” that game. I think that decision has hurt the Nuggets in their games against the Toronto Raptors and Portland Trail Blazers where those guys were exhausted but weren’t replaced in the game. With depth on the bench, Malone might be better served rotating players in.

Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): It doesn’t appear that coach is going with any set group of guys to close out games and instead is going with the hot hand, but even then that’s not quite the case because in the New Orleans Pelicans game Nurkic was dominating and spent the fourth quarter the bench. Coach said it was because he wanted to have some more speed to cover Anthony Davis (didn’t work) which I kind of understand. Still when a guy is having a monster game like Nurkic you gotta keep riding that wave. Of course, that’s exactly what Malone did with Nurk in the Raptors game and by the last four or so minutes Juka was completely gassed, and DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry took advantage of that. So to answer the question I make of it that he’s still figuring it out. You don’t close out games with rotation players in the preseason, you close them out with scrubs so it makes sense that the coach is still tinkering with that part of his rotation. Hopefully he finds a group he trusts and sticks with it for most games, every now and then riding the hot hand makes sense but like Dan said it’s important for these guys to have a consistent role and know what that is.

Dennis Koehler (@DKoehler43): Out of thirty head coaches in the NBA, Malone may have one of the toughest jobs. There are arguably 10-12 guys that deserve rotation minutes and then you still have three rookies that were drafted in the top-20 this year. We have yet to see any of them play significant minutes in an NBA game. So, Malone is still trying things out and seeing how it plays out. We saw Nurkic play the entire fourth quarter against Toronto and we saw Jokic playing all extra minutes against the Blazers. It’s obvious that Malone’s going with the hot hand as Faried’s bench role is well-suited for him. He was the only one that could limit Davis out there too, but I don’t see him playing the majority of his minutes at the center spot anyway. Whether we played Nurkic, Jokic or Faried to close games out, I saw the problems out on the perimeter. Lowry basically killed us single-handedly and so did Damian Lillard the other night. This team is missing Gary Harris’ defense and it’s showing. I’d want to see Chandler, in Harris’ and Barton’s absence, getting some burn at the two guard and go with a line-up of Mudiay-Chandler-Gallo-Faried-Nurkic/Jokic to close the game.

How concerned are you about the play of Emmanuel Mudiay early in the season?

Lewis: Not at all. Mudiay still hasn’t played 82 games at the NBA level in his career. There are times when he has looked great, attacking the rim, creating open shots for his teammates, and being active on defense. He’s going to be inconsistent at times, but he’s not even old enough to get into a club without a fake I.D.! He’s gone against Lowry and Lillard, two of the best point guards in the league. Of course he’s going to look bad compared to those guys – but I’m not worried about him at all. A zero on a scale of 1 to 10. 

Mikash: If Mudiay was 24 years old I’d be concerned about the shooting. The reason is when I watch him warm up he looks flawless. His form is good, he’s not shooting on the way down, he buries three after three. Then when the game comes on he reverts back to his bad habits. Given that he’s 20, I think it’s pretty understandable for him to be going through those mental obstacles right now. It’s something you have to hope gets solved by the end of the season and when we’re at this time next year everyone is talking about what great improvement he’s made. I know it eats at Mudiay, I know he wants to play better, maybe the best thing for him to do is take a big breath and stop thinking about it and just go out there and ball. So, not concerned, get at me next year.

Koehler: With Jamal Murray showing a lot of promise in pre-season, voices that wanted Murray to take over Mudiay’s job got louder and louder. Mudiay struggled big-time in the first six quarters of the season but then came out ballin’ in the 2nd half of the Blazers game. May have been Dikembe Mutombo’s retirement ceremony or something… So I wouldn’t overreact now and just stay patient. Yes, he had some turnovers you wouldn’t want to see from your 2nd-year starting point guard. Yes, he still takes some tough shots, but he is just starting to adjust to a line-up featuring two big men. Mudiay needs players that give him space to operate. Whether that means to penetrate and take his defender to the rim or kick out to an open shooter. It will take the whole roster time to feel more and more comfortable.

Benjamin Sterne (@BenjaminSterne): I was much more concerned with the first game compared to where I am now. Mudiay still seems to exhibit the same problems:  barrelling turnovers, missing makeable layups, and super late release jump shots. That hurts to see, I want this guy to be the best. Mudiay did however bounce back a little bit at the end of game two and he played well in game three against Toronto. I have convinced myself that he has some offseason rust to shake off, and so I would give my concerned rating a 5/10.

With Will Barton’s injury, is it better to get Gary Harris back on the court as soon as possible even if he’s not 100% or roll the dice with Jamal Murray as the starting two guard?

Lewis: One of my favorite games to play is Yahtzee, so I’ll go with roll the dice. Murray isn’t ready to start, but if Harris isn’t healthy enough to start, the Nuggets shouldn’t play him. This is a long season, and it’s more important to have Harris for 70 games than 75 games. Maybe this will give Murray an opportunity to have the coaching staff give him a few plays where he’s the designated scoring option, rather than his shot attempts coming as end-of-quarter heaves. 

Mikash: It’s 3 games into the season and no one is expecting this team to compete for championships. As I have said so many times, groin injuries are tricky, they heal slowly and are very easy to re-aggravate. Plus, Jamal is your top pick. Is it ideal to thrust him into the starting lineup right now? No, but outside of maybe losing a close game or two that you could have won with Gary in there, what risk is there really? Damaging Jamal’s confidence? I don’t buy that argument. A. Jamal doesn’t come off as a guy who lacks in confidence and B. If having to start a few games early in his rookie year derails him mentally then it probably wasn’t going to work out for him anyways (which again, I don’t think that is the case at all). Rushing back Gary though could result in him missing a lot more time which would put you right back in the situation you’re in right now, going with Jamal.

Koehler: As I said, the Nuggets miss Harris a lot. With Barton out, who was doing solid at best defending opposing SGs, the only pure shooting guards left on the roster are two rookies. I’m not sure if I want them to guard Andrew Wiggins or Zach LaVine tonight who might put them on a poster and welcome them to the NBA. The one thing that bothers me is the fact that Harris was almost a go to play against the Blazers, now he’s missed two more games since then. We could have used him against both the Blazers and Raptors, but for now, I’d say go with Chandler at the 2 and let Harris get back to full strength.

Sterne: I don’t think we have a choice. No Barton and no Harris is bad, real bad. I don’t think Murray is ready for the starting spot yet considering his play so far. However, we cannot force Harris on the court if he is not ready. Ill Will tried that, Nurk tried that, it doesn’t seem to end well. Let’s rest him till he’s ready, and throw Murray out there and see what he can do.

Should the Nuggets consider shelving the Jokic-Nurkic lineup?

Lewis: No, it’s still too early to call it a failure. This is something the coaching staff likely worked on for a good portion of the offseason, and tossing it aside after a few games seems foolish. If things aren’t better by Christmas or the All-Star break, then maybe it’s time to consider a change. I think it’s more effective to stagger them throughout the game, but if the two bigs play together for portions of the game, I think that’ll be an effective lineup. 

Mikash: I think you go with Jurkic for a couple more weeks. If you’re sitting there around Thanksgiving and your 5+ games under .500 and Jokic is still a shadow of his rookie self when Nurkic is on the court then it’s probably time to think about switching it up. As awesome as Nurkic has been, Jokic has really struggled offensively when he’s on the floor at the same time, as the Denver Post’s Chris Dempsey pointed out this week. The problem is both Jokic and Nurkic appear to have the talent to be a 30 minute a game guy, and I’m no MIT grad but I’m pretty sure you can’t get them 30 minutes a piece in a 48 minute game without at least 12 of those minutes having both guys on the floor. If they can’t make it work at some point the Nuggets are going to have to make a tough decision: Nurkic or Jokic, they can’t have both.

Koehler: Once we get more comfortable with having two big guys on the floor and really use this as an advantage, I see a really effective line-up that can beat contending teams. The problem with going big is that there’s no real big guy sitting behind them. Nurkic and Jokic won’t be able to play 30+ minutes a night due to their physical play and lagging athleticism/stamina. I’d like to see at least one of them on the floor at least 40 minutes per game and that’d mean one of them has to sit earlier and be replaced by the other. So there’s enough minutes for Faried (paired with Jokic only) and Arthur (with Nurkic). I think we do have some great options with at least one spacing big man on the floor all the time. This is all about being patient and getting used to the system. It will eventually pay off.

Sterne: No. It may not seem inconsistent at the moment but I say let’s stick with it and see what it can turn into. It’s only been 3 games guys. Jokic has struggled defensively at the 4 spot, and Nurkic sometimes appears to be in Jokic’s way offensively. However, other times this Balkan combination reeks of potential. Let’s be patient and let this seed grow. We could have a powerful weapon on our hands.