It’s a long mailbag from me today, and I believe it’s one of my best. Thanks for the excellent questions once again.

Let’s get into it!

I heard on a national podcast the other day (I won’t say which one) that Jamal Murray is the most inconsistent player in the NBA. It’s a criticism he has received frequently, and it’s what prevents many from seeing him as a legitimate star. “If only he could do it in the regular season” is a constant thru-line I hear from analysts, as if most stars that perform poorly in the playoffs aren’t ridiculed in the same, perhaps more vicious way.

Let’s start off by acknowledging that Jamal Murray isn’t fully healthy. In Game 3 of the season against the Houston Rockets, Jae’Sean Tate trucked him and nearly gave him a concussion. Murray was forced to sit out, and while the attention went to the potential injury on his noggin, the actual nagging injury came from Murray’s shooting elbow that Tate knocked violently to the hardwood floor.

To be crystal clear, I’m not here to make excuses for Murray. He HAS dealt with inconsistency. He goes through ups and downs in almost every game in which he tries to find the balance between aggressiveness and simple operation. I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the elbow though, especially following the video of Murray angrily chucking the padded shooting sleeve off the court on Tuesday night. I’d like to give Murray some time to heal up before making sweeping statements about his inconsistency.

Hopefully, that time off comes soon, perhaps coinciding with Michael Porter Jr.’s eventual return.

I love PJ Dozier’s game. He fits well as an ideal role player in almost every lineup he’s featured in. There’s a reason why Michael Malone is sticking with him—even at the power forward position—with the bench unit struggling to come together. His defensive versatility guarding point guards, big wings, playing as the low man on the weak side of pick and rolls, and even rebounding and blocking some shots has been incredibly helpful.

Dozier’s contract is now guaranteed this year and non-guaranteed for the 2021-22 season before hitting unrestricted free agency in 2022. After that point, Gary Harris and Will Barton will both have had the opportunity to test free agency themselves, as will the Nuggets. If the price is right, Denver will have an opportunity to pick and choose which players they want to return to the rotation. R.J. Hampton might also fit into the picture somewhere, as could Monte Morris. Dozier could be one of those options though. He might even be the ideal starter between Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. at the shooting guard position.

Whatever the case, Dozier has been solid, bordering on really good to start the season. Averaging 7.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, and shooting 40.3% from three-point range in 20.6 minutes per game is an impressive feat for the 24-year-old. It’s best to let the entire season play out before jumping to conclusions though. We’re only 20% of the way through this thing.

The minutes Bol Bol played with the starters last week could be an important building block for his career. He shared the court with Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Draymond Green, all while starting and playing with Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Paul Millsap, and Nikola Jokić. Talk about high IQ basketball and learning on the fly. Bol is such a unique talent, and he’s also a cerebral player. The game appeared too fast for him last week, but it was clear that, given time and opportunity, he could grow into a spot in the rotation and perhaps do more than that.

Unfortunately, the Nuggets don’t really have that luxury right now. The entire roster, outside of Morris and Jokić, has strung together incredibly inconsistent performances. Michael Porter Jr. is about to return and shift everything around as well (which isn’t his fault but rather the price of doing business). There’s just no room for Bol in the rotation right now.

Now, if Isaiah Hartenstein continues to struggle staying on the floor and Michael Malone chooses to trust JaMychal Green as the backup center instead, that could free up some time for Bol at backup power forward. Just a thought.

Ah, trades. I love talking about trades. My brain is hardwired to fix problems, both hypothetical (like a trade proposal) or interpersonal (like my impossible desire to be liked by everyone).

I could talk about trades today, but I’m not going to do so. The Nuggets are 7-7 with a +4.0 Net Rating that ranks 5th in the NBA.

Michael Porter Jr. has missed 10 straight games. JaMychal Green missed the four prior to that. Murray has been hampered by an elbow injury sustained in Game 3. The Nuggets have seven new players on their roster. Gary Harris is still 2-of-26 on above the break three-pointers, the very worst percentage in the NBA at 7.7%. All of those things should normalize. At least, I hope they will.

If there was a move to be made, it would be to replace Jerami Grant with someone quicker and more athletic on the perimeter than JaMychal Green with enough strength to guard the best big wings in the NBA. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Luka Doncic, etc. all give Denver unfathomable trouble, and not having the right personnel to match up with those players makes things even more difficult. There aren’t many players in the NBA available to Denver that could at least do a passable job in those situations. Denver lost two such options in Grant and Torrey Craig this offseason. If there were a player that checked those boxes for the right price, I’d be interested.

Completely unrelated, but what are Aaron Gordon and Otto Porter up to these days?

I’m not sure whether Malone will want to ease Porter back into the rotation by coming off the bench or immediately reinsert him into the starting lineup; however, starting small forward is where I expect Porter to be once everything stabilizes.

Here’s an example minutes chart for how I believe Malone hopes to utilize his starters going into a period with the full roster available:

This content is no longer available.

This won’t sit well with Facundo Campazzo or the passionate fan base that supports him, but the ugly truth of the matter is this: Porter returning to the lineup pushes either Gary Harris or Will Barton to the bench, most likely Barton. Campazzo, Morris, Barton, and Dozier don’t fit well together from a position and play style perspective, meaning one of the four will likely sit. JaMychal Green has been at his best when next to another center anyway, so Isaiah Hartenstein gets the nod. Barton has too much tenure with the roster. The Nuggets just extended Morris. Dozier has played well and adds some length and versatility to the group.

That puts Campazzo as the odd man out. It’s the price of having a roster full of capable talent that remains dependent on fit. Some players and teams don’t have to prioritize fit, but the Nuggets do, given the “role player” play style of each member of the bench. Campazzo will still get his opportunities, especially if Murray is forced to sit out some games to nurse that nagging elbow injury.

At full strength though, I wouldn’t expect Campazzo to play.

Unfortunately, I think I answered this question above: I doubt R.J. Hampton or Zeke Nnaji will ever receive legitimate minutes this season unless multiple injuries arise.

Instead, let’s take some time to talk about Denver’s two 2020 first round picks. Hampton has received 23 total minutes this season, some coming at the end of quarters when the Nuggets need additional athleticism and versatility for a defensive possession. Nnaji has received 16 total minutes, almost all of which have occurred in garbage time at the end of blowout wins. Both players appear tentative in their limited time, careful not to make a mistake. They each try hard and want to do right by their teammates, a good sign for young players that desire to make a name for themselves in their limited time.

It will likely take multiple injuries on top of some poor play from incumbent options before Malone decides to try out the two rookies. Hampton, a 6’5” guard with a skinny, hyper-athletic frame, could be a major threat in transition and as a slasher/cutter in halfcourt sets. Nnaji, a 6’11” big man with deft shooting touch and a nose for rebounds, could be an interesting power forward or center option in the mold of JaMychal Green.

Both players project to be helpful, just not right away.

I expect it to be Barton who goes to the bench, but I don’t think a bench role will be beneficial for him. I actually don’t think a bench role is beneficial for any of Barton, Harris, or Porter. The reason? Less minutes with Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray drawing defensive attention.

Harris would benefit the least from a move. His skill set remains a great fit for what Jokić likes to do. He plays within the flow of the offense and rarely oversteps his role. He earns easy points in transition with full-court passes. He cuts backdoor frequently and draws attention that way. In addition, he’s always an option for Jokić in the weak side corner where he’s hit 48% of his threes, compared to just 8% above the break where a larger proportion of his shots would come with a bench unit.

Porter simply needs the repetition with Jokić and Murray to become a better team player. Understand the sets, make the correct reads, and execute what Jokić and Murray need him to execute in order for the team to win. In a lot of those situations, Porter will be just a decoy. In many similar situations, Porter will rack up 30+ point nights by just being available and engaged.

Barton is the one of those three that can be seen as strong enough independently to survive moving to the bench. He handles the ball, spaces the floor, tries hard defensively, and has enough size to float between shooting guard and small forward next to PJ Dozier. His fit with Morris, Dozier, Green, and Hartenstein FEELS logical, or at least logical enough and talented enough that it could work from night to night. It would be a sacrifice for sure, but it’s a sacrifice that the Nuggets likely need Barton to make to be the best basketball team they can be.

I wrote about Monte Morris on Tuesday for Stat of the Week. Those numbers are a game old now, but they still resonate well. Morris is still averaging a career high in minutes and points per game. His five assists and one turnover on Tuesday night actually dragged his assist-to-turnover ratio DOWN to a league leading 7.50 on the season. He has been incredible for Denver to start the year and doesn’t receive enough credit for his consistency and poise in the face of change.

Going back to the question, it’s so difficult to compare starting point guards to backup point guards. The role is so different, and there’s no telling how a player like Russell Westbrook would play in Monte Morris’ role. Would he be more impactful in a shorter amount of time? Less? It’s a difficult question.

I will compare him to high minute backup guards though. 40 guards (as listed on Basketball Reference) have played at least 10 games and at least 200 minutes while starting three games or fewer. AKA, reliable backup guards. Among that group, here’s where Monte Morris ranks in the following categories (numbers subject to change overnight):

  • Minutes per game — 25.9, 6th
  • Points per game — 11.3, 10th
  • Assists per game — 3.2, 9th
  • Turnovers per game — 0.43, 6th fewest (which is unfathomable as a playmaker)
  • Field Goal % — 52.5%, 1st
  • Three-point % — 35.4%, 23rd
  • True Shooting % — 61.2%, 13th
  • Player Efficiency Rating — 17.1, 8th
  • Win Shares per 48 minutes — 0.159, 3rd
  • Box Plus-Minus — +0.7, 11th

Those numbers are impossibly good, given how erratic statistics can be for bench players at the beginning of the season due to a small sample size. Outside of three-point percentage, Morris ranks highly across the board. His defense has been solid despite being undersized when guarding shooting guards, and he just seems to make winning plays every single game.

Jordan Clarkson has really separated himself as the most impressive bench guard thus far, something Nuggets fans can attest to after Sunday’s game against the Jazz. Shake Milton of the Philadelphia 76ers has also been impressive. I would put those two above everyone else and rank Monte Morris third among bench guards in the NBA right now. Rookies LaMelo Ball and Tyrese Haliburton have been great overall, but there needs to be a larger sample size before ranking them too highly. Patty Mills and Goran Dragic have been consistently good, but Morris is a far superior defender to either of them.

It’s an impressive placement for Morris following an impressive season.