Yesterday, the Nuggets struggled against the Utah Jazz — which was far from what fans had hoped to see from a team with title aspirations. The team came out flat, and looked like they didn’t know they had a game for the first half. The starters were a normal amount of bad, but the bench made it even worse — even as there was hope in the second half it was too little too late. So let’s take a look at what went wrong, what the Nuggets can do to fix those issues, and if they’re big issues moving forward.

Bones Hyland’s Defense

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Bones Hyland had an underwhelming first game of his second season. On the offensive end he put up 10 points on 3/8 shooting while forcing up some tough looks that were unnecessary. His real issues came on the defensive end though, where he was repeatedly cooked by Utah’s guard rotation.

He was getting blown by, making wrong rotations, getting out muscled, and in general put up a paper thin defensive showing. Collin Sexton was looking for him every time down the court and saw easy looks most of the time that Bones guarded him. In the clip above, Bones tries to jump a screen in anticipation of Collin Sexton using it. Alas, Collin Sexton just rejects the screen and gets an easy look at the rim with no resistance from DeAndre Jones or Bones Hyland.

Michael Malone only played Bones for 16 minutes last night, and for the Nuggets to reach the heights they’re trying to achieve, they’ll need more from the sophomore. In his 16 minutes played, the Nuggets got outscored by 9 points. Going forward, he’ll need to tighten up in general — especially on defense.

KCPs Fit

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One of Denver’s major offseason additions made his debut for the Nuggets last night, and it was evident what Denver saw in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He didn’t score much, only making two free throws on the night, but was fantastic in every other facet of the game. KCP had 6 assists last night and was connecting well with his teammates. The process comes naturally to him — he’s a very intelligent player and knows where to be on the court at any given time.

Once his shot starts falling, fans will see that he’s the perfect fifth option for this starting unit. That’s just on offense too, with his main draw being his defensive savvy. His hands on defense are surgical, always in the right place at the right time. He finished with 2 steals and a block, but he disrupted a fair share of drives to the rim. In a game where the defense was the main issue, it was clear how solid KCP is on that end of the floor. The veteran can stay in front of his assignment, make smart closeouts, and generate turnovers at a rate that has rarely been seen by Nuggets players in the Jokic era.

Take this possession as an example. He gets caught on the pick set by Walker Kessler, but even though Jordan Clarkson gets by him, he recovers quickly and gets a steal from behind. Then he throws it up for a bucket in transition to Michael Porter Jr. — he just plays the right way for a role player to play. He was one of the few bright spots in this game.

The Bench Needs Work

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Last night was not a great night for the starters, especially in the first half. At the final buzzer though, MPJ and KCP both had positive plus minuses with Nikola Jokic and Aaron Gordon only being slight negatives. Jamal Murray is the outlier for the starters at -19 on the game, but he was part of the bench unit that really struggled in the second quarter. Jamal Murray was definitely not himself, but the Nuggets will just have to deal with that for the time being. It’s to be expected.

What can be dealt with right now though is the lineup that the Nuggets were running. The unit of Bones Hyland, Bruce Brown, Davon Reed, Jeff Green, and DeAndre Jordan won’t work. It’s not an overreaction — it’s just an observable fact. There’s a difference between something that could work and hasn’t yet, and something that I just can’t see working. That lineup falls in the latter. Davon Reed played poorly against the Jazz with mistakes on both ends. He had careless turnovers, defensive lapses, and overall didn’t look like he was ready to play. Jeff Green and DeAndre Jordan both played lackadaisically, letting people go right by them and doing next to nothing on offense.

Michael Malone will likely ride with this unit for a little while longer, but eventually changes should be made. Give Davon Reed a bit longer of a leash, but Jeff Green and DeAndre Jordan should be looked over to at least see what Zeke Nnaji has in the tank while staggering MPJ with him. If the Nuggets need ball handling and shot creation, put Ish Smith in for Davon Reed. Try Bones Hyland, Ish Smith, Bruce Brown, MPJ, and Zeke Nnaji as your bench lineup. It gives you far more spacing and shot creation than you have at the moment while also being more defensively sound. If you wanted a more defensive oriented lineup, you can try putting Christian Braun in for Ish Smith. There are a lot of different looks you could try, but the lineup the Nuggets run right now for the bench isn’t one you should look twice at. It didn’t work in the preseason, and won’t work in the regular season.

Overall, yesterday was an ugly game with very few bright spots, but it’s game 1 of 82. There’s a long road ahead of the Nuggets and the season opener shouldn’t change your outlook on the team. Jamal Murray is still getting back to what he used to be, and will be for a while. Give him patience. Most games will have better shooting from the Nuggets and worse shooting for their opponents. If they start 0-2 don’t panic, it’s a long season. Michael Malone has said they’re going to take a big picture approach to this season, and you should too.