Happy Saturday everyone! The Denver Nuggets play the Charlotte Hornets in an afternoon game today, so take an opportunity to use today’s mailbag as some pregame reading. There were many great questions this week, so let’s get right into it.

Let’s break this down. Per 36 numbers for Jamal Murray with and without Monte Morris:

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It’s tough to gauge whether Monte Morris’ presence on the floor massively alters Jamal Murray’s effectiveness. Murray certainly changes his identity just a tad when Morris is next to him, going from more of a facilitator to more of a scorer. It’s an interesting dynamic. Let’s see the same graphic for Murray but with Nikola Jokic as the factor instead of Morris:

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Unsurprisingly, Murray has been the better scorer and shooter next to Nikola Jokic than without him on the floor. Jokic creates so many great looks for his teammates, namely Murray, that separating the two, while it may seem to be in the group’s best interest, may actually not be. Murray’s scoring and efficiency numbers with the bench unit have been far worse than his numbers with the starters for awhile, and while Denver’s most common bench rotation of late has involved Murray spending time as the primary scorer with the reserves, Denver may want to trend away from that if possible. Murray’s been a flamethrower when paired with Jokic, especially lately, and Denver could move to maximize that, especially as other guard options in Gary Harris and Will Barton return to full form.

Let me direct everyone a passage from Zach Lowe in his latest “10 Things I Like and Don’t Like” column:

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Basically, the Nuggets are destroying teams with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray involved in the pick and roll, especially when Jokic starts with the ball and “inverts” it, using Murray as the screener to pop or cut to the rim.

With as great of a handler of the basketball as Jokic is and as great of a screener as Murray is, the Nuggets generate an advantage scenario most of the time down the floor. Even when the defense plays the concept perfectly, Jokic can just lob the ball over the defense’s outstretched fingertips.

The Nuggets don’t need a “closer” by its very definition. When Murray is on absolute fire, as he was against Sacramento, it’s fine to give him the ball and get out of his way. Still, Denver’s best option in crunch time is to let Jokic do what Jokic does best: create plays for others, then for himself if necessary. Game 82 last year showed that Jokic had the capability to score 1-on-1 in a pressure environment, especially in an advantageous matchup against Karl-Anthony Towns. When the Timberwolves put Taj Gibson on Jokic, he still scored a little bit, but Denver’s best option at that point was for others to hit shots when open, and Denver didn’t do that.

I’m not worried about the Nuggets in crunch time. Our own Adam Mares compared Jokic’s special passing to Stephen Curry and his special shooting. The best thing both teams can do in crunch time is to use the THREAT of that special skill to open up opportunities all over the floor. If that means Jokic gets to score 1-on-1 in the post because opponents are scared of him passing to open guys, then so be it.

I don’t think they would consider a big blockbuster deal if they’re still sitting in the top two or three seeds in the West at the trade deadline, and even if they did, there’s not a lot of options out there. The obvious landmark trade would be to move hell and high water for Anthony Davis and pair him with Nikola Jokic, but I don’t think that happens for obvious reasons. The Nuggets have a great thing going with the core that they have, and the New Orleans Pelicans are unlikely to make Davis available to ANYONE until the offseason.

That leaves…who exactly? 14 teams in the West are trying to make the playoffs. Only Phoenix is a true seller, at least right now. Memphis and Minnesota may eventually become sellers if they continue falling, but do Mike Conley or Marc Gasol really make sense for Denver? Robert Covington would make sense, but Minnesota just traded for him and likely won’t give him up now. Every other West team is unlikely to sell off their pieces.

In the East, multiple teams could be interested in making some deals, but it’s hard to find a great fit. The Washington Wizards could look to move Bradley Beal or Otto Porter now that John Wall is out for the season, but neither contract makes sense for Denver unless they are willing to part with Will Barton or Gary Harris. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Kevin Love were recently brought up as possible targets, but I have my doubts that Denver would commit to that money and a complete ideological shift for an injury prone big that can’t defend and is owed $120 million over four years. Not a lot of other teams have high profile guys that make a ton of sense on the trade market. Denver needs time to see if their current roster can compete, and even if the answer is no, starting 25-11 warrants them at least trying with the current ensemble.

These questions are similar about Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez, so I will share my thoughts here:

Some team is going to pay starter money for Malik Beasley in 2020 Free Agency and give him an opportunity to earn that contract. He has been sensational for Denver, especially of late, giving the Nuggets a capable replacement for Will Barton as a bench scorer on the wing. Similarly, Hernangomez has been solid as Denver’s starting small forward this season. He won’t blow the doors off anyone, but his versatility on both ends of the floor to fill the gaps around certain lineups makes him very valuable for Denver going forward.

At the beginning of the season, I said the Nuggets should prioritize Juancho, and I’m sticking by that. Even though Denver has some young forwards potentially on the way in Michael Porter Jr., Jarred Vanderbilt, and Vlatko Cancar, it’s very difficult to find a shooter capable of doing what Juancho does at 6’9 and taller, and he gives Denver rebounding and very few mistakes offensively when he’s out there. Furthermore, the Nuggets have Harris and Barton currently entrenched on the wing as starter caliber pieces. If I were the Nuggets, I would prioritize Juancho because he’s likely to cost less, plays a position Denver still needs, even if he’s a bench guy, and already fits like a glove with both the starters and the bench. If Denver wants to keep Beasley, they may have to trade Harris or Barton. I wouldn’t do that though, as both guys have established high levels of play already.

Let’s go through it. I see the following players as Under 25 superstars and POTENTIAL superstars that could possibly be traded for:

  • Ben Simmons
  • Pascal Siakam
  • Jaylen Brown
  • Jonathan Isaac
  • Brandon Ingram

Of those guys, Isaac and Ingram are the least likely to be stars. Simmons is the most likely to cost Jamal Murray in a trade, and I doubt the Nuggets want to trade Murray. That leaves Siakam and Brown, both guys who could be caught up in the finances of teams looking to re-sign players and may have to make tough choices.

Siakam is awesome. I think he should be an All-Star this year. It would be tough to acquire him, but maybe the Raptors would be interested in acquiring some other young players like Beasley and Hernangomez that would cost the same price as Siakam will. Brown has been moved to the bench in Boston, and while I don’t think that means anything regarding Boston’s long term plans with him, it might mean they are more willing to listen to potent offers. Boston may demand Murray, but if they don’t Denver should consider that deal. Brown is perhaps the perfect player to pair with Nikola Jokic at small forward long term.

I think Isaac is still worth mentioning though. He hasn’t quite figured out for to put it together in Orlando. The Magic, who are sure to be desperate for guard and wing talent going forward and are unsure if Isaac, Aaron Gordon, and Mo Bamba pair well together long term, may consider clearing that jam a bit. If it’s Isaac they look to move, Denver should consider calling.

My biggest fear is that there are too many cooks in Denver’s rotation, and it could yield some issues for Denver and cost them games they should win. Against the Kings on Thursday, there were a number of lineups utilized due to the need to have each player play at least some minutes. That won’t change when Will Barton comes back either. Denver will have 11 solid players and a coach that prefers to use a nine or ten man rotation. That’s not even counting Isaiah Thomas if he can ever get back. How the Nuggets respond to some players having roles altered and minutes cut will determine what seed they get in the playoffs this year.

My biggest area of confidence is Denver’s hunger to stay at the top of the West. It’s very clear that the Nuggets are happy with how things have turned out thus far, but that doesn’t mean they are content. The message from Pepsi Center has been a consistent barrage of “why not us?” The Nuggets are putting that into practice by finding ways to win around Jokic and Murray. Jokic is unique in that sometimes he doesn’t appear to have the same intensity as a Kobe Bryant type, but make no mistake about it, missing the playoffs last year got to him too. He and Murray have truly set the example for winning every single game if possible. Denver has lost on occasion this year, but never for lack of effort or intensity. They bring it every night, and that gives me confidence when they run into a gauntlet of a schedule in February, March, and April.