After a slow start that sunk them to the bottom of the NBA’s Western Conference at 1-4, the Denver Nuggets have seemingly turned a corner going 4-1 in their last five games. Now some may roll their eyes at the aforementioned “turning of a corner,” as four of Denver’s five wins have come against teams who at the time of playing the Nuggets were missing players due to COVID protocols or injuries – and one would be completely justified in doing so.
However, in Denver’s defense, they have yet to play a game with their desired lineups as their biggest free agent acquisition, JaMychal Green, missed the first four games and Michael Porter Jr. has been sidelined for the last six games and counting due to COVID protocols. As a result, Denver has had to get creative with their lineups. I’m talking P.J. Dozier seeing time at power forward type of creativity. In addition to key pieces missing, Denver has struggled to find consistent scoring from the second unit, forcing head coach Michael Malone to play Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray more than he would like.
Fresh off of a Western Conference Finals appearance, many in Nuggets Nation still hold championship expectations on this team despite the biggest roster turnover in Malone’s tenure and are a bit concerned about the outlook of the team moving forward. So from a front office, is there anything Tim Connelly and company can do to ease alleviate those concerns?
If I were the GM of the Nuggets, here is what I would do…
Stay the course, for now
For those in Nuggets Nation who already have a bleak outlook for the Nuggets season and how it might finish, this may seem disappointing to hear. While I understand their frustration, I believe it is hard to obtain a full evaluation of a team when key cogs, like JaMychal Green and Michael Porter Jr, are missing. Both Green and MPJ pack a scoring punch, which Denver desperately needs, and having not had them both available for a game lowers the offense’s ceiling. Denver’s offense is already a top three unit in multiple categories. Imagine what they could do with both guys available.
In addition to their productivity offensively, both Green and Porter prove effective in other areas of the game as well. While he may not be of the same caliber defensively as Jerami Grant, Green is a solid defender who also brings a “dog-like” mentality. MPJ on the other hand has the potential to be an elite rebounder, which the Nuggets could definitely use each night. So before we make sweeping judgements about this team, let’s see what they look like at full strength.
Hang up the phone and believe in Gary one more time
It’s no secret Gary Harris has been tough to watch offensively over the last couple of years. That may be putting it nicely. He’s battled through injuries, a lack of confidence and even a drop in rank when it comes to the Nuggets scoring options.
There was a time when Harris was the third or fourth scoring option. Now, he might be fifth or sixth. Despite all of that, Harris has quietly gotten off to a solid start offensively.
Of the 10 games the Nuggets have played thus far, Harris has scored at least 10 points in seven of those contests. In four of those seven games, Harris has scored a minimum of 14 points, with a season-high 21 points taking place last Saturday versus Philadelphia.
On the year, Harris is shooting 46% from the field, which is good news! Unfortunately, it isn’t all positive with Harris’ offense as he is shooting an abysmal 27% from three. Then again, Harris is coming off of two games where he shot 62% and 50% from three, so maybe he is finding a rhythm there as well.
With all that being said, I think Harris has done enough to quiet some of the trade speculation for now. But he must prove he can be this productive for the entire season, which is something we haven’t seen in quite awhile.
Consider convincing Malone to add some “Thrill” to the starting lineup
Perhaps the biggest storyline for the Mile High Crew, outside of Jerami Grant’s non-future with the Denver Nuggets, was whether or not Michael Porter Jr. would solidify himself as a starter this year. With Will Barton coming off an injury and going into a contract year, it wasn’t shocking to see Barton’s stance on why he should be named the starting small forward.
In his four games of action this year, MPJ has shown what we all know to be true about him and that is the fact he can score anywhere, any time. In all four games, he managed to score in double figures, with two of the four seeing him score 24 and 30 points, respectively. But a deeper look into the numbers shows Porter’s fit with the starters still needs some kinks ironed out. In the two variations of lineups Porter has played with this year, both lineups not only have a negative point differential but also struggle defensively.
Conversely with Barton in the starting lineup, the Nuggets point differential jumps from a -7.7 with MPJ to +18.9. And while the Nuggets starting lineup still struggles defensively with Barton instead of Porter, it isn’t to the degree that it normally is with MPJ in the lineup.
Some Nuggets fans may hate this idea and I understand. Before the year started, I was adamant about starting Porter over Barton. But if the goal is to play the five players who play best together as Malone said in the preseason, then this may be the route to go.
The Nuggets don’t need a massive overhaul. They don’t need a splashy trade. They simply need to get all of their pieces on the court at one time, so they can find the winning combination.
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