Happy belated Thanksgiving to all. We here at Denver Stiffs are thankful for every single member of the Stiffs community, even the family members we may disagree with from time to time. There may be different ways to achieve certain goals, but the essence of fandom is rooting for the team together, and we feel very strongly about rooting for the Denver Nuggets to continue to move onward and upward.

One of the best aspects of Thanksgiving is the day of deals that immediately follows: Black Friday. First, some background information. The holiday began with a negative connotation initially. A gold market crash in 1869 prompted the New York Times to dub the day “Black Friday.” This event signified a major dip in stock prices around the United States, a largely negative time for the nation as a whole.

Trades in the NBA can bring negative connotations as well. Most of the time, teams that are willing to make trades must first acknowledge something is wrong with the current plan. This isn’t always the case, but more often than not, teams make trades to deviate from the initial plan. They look for solutions, either short term or long term, to holes that the initial plan left behind.

For most teams, especially teams at the top or bottom of the pecking order, it’s easy to identify certain problems. For teams at the top, there’s usually one or two missing pieces to creating a dynamic roster ready to compete for a title. For teams at the bottom, there are usually a variety of missing pieces, in which case most teams trade away some of their valuable assets and assets with depreciating time value (expiring contracts).

For teams in the middle though, it can be difficult to understand what the major problems are, let alone accept that they could hurt the team. Sometimes, these teams act quickly, which can lead to success or just as easily be shortsighted. Sometimes, these teams will preach patience, which can be a virtue or also kill any chance at the playoffs.

For the Nuggets, they are still in the middle looking to ascend. Given the recent injury to Paul Millsap, it will be difficult for the team to separate themselves from the middle of the pack though. At this current moment, nine teams are within 3.5 games of each other in the standings. The third place Minnesota Timberwolves and fourth place San Antonio Spurs are 11-7, and they aren’t likely to fall below .500 any time soon. The eight and ninth place Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers are 8-11, unlikely to see the other side either.

The Nuggets are in a three-way tie for fifth place in the West at 10-8. How can they separate themselves from the pack? I have solutions, but first, one must come to grips with the problem. Here are three problems Denver must solve if they want to be successful this season:

The bench production is terrible

Individually, the Nuggets have a variety of players who come off their bench that are very talented. Will Barton is a starting caliber wing, as he’s shooting 43% from beyond the arc, and his all around production and efficiency put him in elite company so far. The problem is that Barton can operate outside of the offense at times, meaning that the rest of the group also has to be focused and in line with what Denver wants to do. So far, that hasn’t been the case.

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Emmanuel Mudiay has struggled a ton lately, starting with his decision making and finishing at the rim. Among players with 50 field goal attempts inside five feet this season, Mudiay’s 49.1 FG% is the 9th worst mark in the NBA. No other Nuggets player is below a 60.0 FG% at the same pace and distance. It doesn’t get much better anywhere inside the arc either. He’s posting a 39.0 FG% inside the arc, and while he’s shooting really well from beyond the arc, his low 3-point rate would suggest that number is unsustainable and less valuable than a normal off-ball shooter. His turnover rate remains in line with his career averages as well.

The rest of the bench has struggled too. Mason Plumlee and Kenneth Faried are forced to stagger minutes, and neither player has been good enough this season to warrant full backup minutes. Both have flaws that are difficult to mask: Faried has defensive limitations and adds little perimeter spacing, while Plumlee has physical limitations and can’t shoot a lick either. Malik Beasley remains inexperienced, and while the tools are there, he has little effect on most lineups due to inactivity. Juancho Hernangomez and Trey Lyles have been solid in limited time, but neither player is good enough to lift up the bench production by themselves.

Point guard production is inconsistent

I already touched on Mudiay, so now I will speak on Jamal Murray. The kid may be special one day, and he may not be. His flashes are so inconsistent. When he’s on, he is ON LIKE DONKEY KONG, able to generate his shot from anywhere on the floor and make a game close or put it out of reach. He can (and has) also kill his team’s chances of getting back into a game with mistakes and a poor feel as a point guard. He can take control at inopportune moments, leading to turnovers and missed shots that break the team’s back.

Like it or not, he’s a point guard averaging 28.0% from beyond the arc and 2.3 assists per game in over 26 minutes a night. That’s…awful. The team would benefit from having a veteran point guard that can make shots, find Nikola Jokic and others with crisp passes, and be a consistent force every game.

Starting small forward

Wilson Chandler looked to be back in rhythm before Wednesday’s stinker against the Houston Rockets, going for just 2 points and 1/6 from the field. On the year, he’s averaging low counting stats, lower than most anything he’s contributed since his rookie season. He has lost his aggression completely, and while it’s led to some nice passing, he has simply adjusted poorly to his new role.

Now that the problems are out in the open, it’s time to find some sweet deals. It wouldn’t be Black Friday without cashing in at the end of the day, and there are potential opportunities for the Nuggets to explore that could lead to current and future success:

Option 1: George Hill and Kosta Koufus – Sacramento Kings

The Nuggets just played the Kings a few days ago, and it showed just how valuable a backup center in the right role could be. Koufus made floater after floater in the paint against the Nuggets, and in the right situation, the backup center can be an asset on low volume. Denver is that place. Nikola Jokic is ready to take the reins and be a center who plays 34 minutes a night. He also doesn’t need to share the court with another center. His body is well conditioned enough now to match the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns and DeMarcus Cousins at the position. He won’t always win those battles, but he won’t be a total liability either. What he needs is a stretch power forward and a backup center that he never has to play with. Denver may not have that player on their roster, but Kenneth Faried and Trey Tyles will do until Paul Millsap comes back.

The real prize is Hill, who the Nuggets were linked to in the offseason and hasn’t worked out with the Kings so far this year. He can still control the game as a point guard from time to time, but he’s at the point in his career where he needs the offense to work for him at times. It’s a good thing the Nuggets run that exact offense. He would probably begin his time as a backup, but eventually move his way into the starting lineup.

Option 2: James Johnson – Miami Heat

Johnson was one of my primary targets in the offseason, and it’s easy to see why with the season he’s had. Seven players match or exceed his 11.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 59.8% true shooting:

  • LeBron James
  • Stephen Curry
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • Nikola Jokic
  • Kevin Durant
  • Al Horford
  • Kyle Lowry

Ever heard of them?

The Miami Heat are 8-9 currently, but what they paid for in the offseason (Johnson, Dion Waiters, Kelly Olynyk, Josh Richardson) isn’t translating into more wins. They may be looking to sell contracts sooner rather than later because they are locked into this team for the foreseeable future. If they see no future, they should begin to sell.

The Nuggets should be there to pounce, and they should do it quickly. Johnson will be a hot commodity with his excellent versatility on both ends of the floor, and the Nuggets need a starter at power forward until Millsap comes back. Johnson would be an excellent candidate to add to the starting lineup and then resume sixth man duties when everyone’s healthy.

Option 3 – Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum or Jeremy Lamb – Charlotte Hornets

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The Hornets are in a similar situation as Miami. An identical record, combined with limited flexibility for upward movement, puts the fighting honey bees in a sticky situation. Walker has been excellent thus far, averaging 23.0 points and 6.2 assists on 44.5/38.9/88.4 shooting splits. Batum had only just returned from surgery on a torn UCL in his elbow but is back on the injury list with a contusion to the same elbow. Batum is owed $22 million this season plus nearly $77 million the following three seasons if he accepts his player option.

So why would Denver want him? To get Kemba of course.

The duo would add to Denver’s current ensemble to form one of the most feared starting lineups in the NBA (once Batum and Millsap return). Denver would likely lose Jamal Murray in any deal for Kemba Walker, but a chance to add an All-Star doesn’t come around very often, especially at a position of need. Adding Walker and Batum (or Lamb if the Hornets were feeling generous) would complement Denver’s current three best players in Harris, Millsap, and Jokic very well. The opportunity to stagger lineups would also be much more viable with quality playmakers at multiple positions.

This deal doesn’t get done unless Charlotte wants to bottom out, but they’d be hard pressed to find better prospects to do so with than Jamal Murray and Trey Lyles, two Kentucky alums and skilled scorers with high potential.

It’s difficult to admit mistakes in the NBA. With so little job security and so much at stake, NBA coaching staffs and front offices are hard pressed to rectify wrongs they may have created. The Nuggets have some issues, and while the 10-8 record is nice in it of itself, Millsap is out for awhile, and options at his position (and other positions) may not be the right ones to keep the momentum moving forward. Denver is in a precarious position, and one bad losing streak could put them behind the eight ball in the Western Conference playoff race.

After missing the playoffs each of the last four seasons, Nuggets fans are itching to return, and spoiling the consistency of the high quality performances from Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris may lead to a hotter seat than ever before for coaching and management.

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