Nuggets Mailbag: Who should Denver front office target at NBA trade deadline?

Beat writer Mike Singer opens up the Nuggets Mailbag periodically during the season. Pose a Nuggets — or NBA — related question here.

What position (guard/wing/big) are the Nuggets most likely to trade for at the deadline? The Nuggets front office makes a move at most deadlines, but it seems like the bench has more needs than years past.
— @JokicWonMVP21 via Twitter

The Nuggets need help, and are looking, on the wing. If a player can shoot and defend and doesn’t cost an inordinate amount, the Nuggets have probably considered him. Given that they’ve cornered the market on smaller guards, any upgrade probably needs to be a bigger wing, too.

In terms of expected sellers, keep an eye on Orlando, Indiana, Portland and Sacramento. Within that, there are some names to monitor. Justin Holiday (wing with good size), Robert Covington (Blazers are going nowhere, fast, and he could help a contender) and Terrence Ross (appears on at least one trade wish-list every season). I also think Utah’s Joe Ingles might be available (though out of the Nuggets’ price range), or even Philadelphia’s Danny Green. Or, deep breath, what if Gary Harris became available in a buy-out situation? I think there’s a relatively deep pool of available reserve wings.

Mike, I got two questions. The first is do you see Matt Ryan getting a call-up from the Nuggets as he has shown that he can light it up from 3? And the second: Is Markus Howard’s return to the G-league a rehab assignment or has he fallen out of the rotation now that he’s playing in the G-league?
— Uday Chaudhary, Cypress Texas

First off, appreciate you asking about the G-Leaguers. Matt Ryan is a sniper. He’s shooting 40% from 3-point range on over 11 attempts a night. A few games ago, he set a career-high with 39 points. Is his production blossoming because other Gold players (Lance Stephenson, Nik Stauskas) haven’t been there? Perhaps, but his quick trigger looks like an NBA skill. The Nuggets might need outside shooting more than any other skill, hence the Bryn Forbes trade. I haven’t heard his name yet, but I’ll ask around.

Howard has already been recalled from Grand Rapids after returning from his leg injury. Michael Malone sees Howard as a valuable floor spacer, especially with how depleted their backcourt has become. That said, it’s hard to see Howard supplanting Forbes in the rotation.

RELATED: 🔊 Nuggets Podcast: Nikola Jokic’s MVP moment, Bryn Forbes’ addition, potential trade targets and All-Star starters

Any chance the Nuggets give Marc Gasol a ring if the Boogie experiment doesn’t pan out?
— @j_middles via Twitter

I don’t have a feel for their opinion of late-stage Marc Gasol, but I’m answering this one because of this: When you watch Nikola Jokic defend, think of Gasol. Neither are elite athletes but both process and anticipate the game at an elite level. I was once told the Nuggets envisioned turning Jokic into their own version of Gasol. With Jokic’s leaps defensively, it’s not that crazy.

With so many guys like Bones Hyland, Zeke Nnaji and Davon Reed getting meaningful minutes with all our injuries, how does coach Michael Malone get them minutes when we get healthy? They are too good to not be on the floor, but you can’t not play Murray, Porter, etc. either.
— Brad Bonesteel, Westminster

It’s a great question. While the above inquiry asked about trade targets, no one’s asked what it might cost. In my opinion, Nnaji might be a player to dangle in trade talks. He’s young, promising and needs time to develop. Once Porter returns, that development will be inhibited. I just wonder if he’s completely on the team’s timeline. I could be wrong, but there aren’t many obvious choices for trade bait.

I realize that’s not the question you asked. Of the three, I think Hyland stands the best chance of cementing a role in the team’s optimal version. He’s like a Will Barton-lite, capable of igniting and creating offense in the second unit. That’s a significant component. Reed, in my opinion, will turn into more of a Torrey Craig-type and likely play spot minutes in certain matchups. Assuming he’s not traded, it’s tough to know what Nnaji’s minutes look like when Porter and Jokic are the starting frontcourt, and JaMychal Green and Jeff Green make up the reserve frontcourt. He’s not going to get much better playing sparingly.

Given the disparity between starters and bench, why don’t the Nuggets try Monte Morris off the bench for the cohesiveness of that squad. He could still play 30 minutes, just a different rotation.
–Jim Clawson, Denver 

I like the idea, and I have a theory why it hasn’t happened. Have you seen what happens when Facu Campazzo or Austin Rivers play alongside Nikola Jokic? Teams aren’t honoring their outside shot and therefore devoting even more attention to Jokic.

Monte is a career 39% 3-point shooter. This season, he’s at 37%. The Nuggets are already asking Jokic to carry so much that taking away one of the team’s best 3-point shooters probably adds more work for Jokic in the long-term. Adding Morris to the second unit, no doubt, would help stabilize their wild swings. I just wonder about the cost.

Mike, I am sick and tired of these Nuggets second-half collapses. They blew a 25-point lead to the Clippers and lost (Jan. 11). The game before that they blew another big lead against OKC, but hung on to win. It’s become nearly a nightly occurrence from these Nuggets — no lead is safe. The reason this bothers me is because it smacks of 1 of 2 things: either poor coaching (being out-adjusted at halftime) or poor effort. Mike Malone certainly seems to think effort is a problem — he publicly blasts the team often enough. Why can’t he get more out of them?
— Sam, Seattle

The Nuggets are 29th in the NBA in second-half plus/minus at -3.1, sandwiched in between the Pistons and the Kings. That drops to last when you account strictly for fourth quarters. The Nuggets tend to build big leads and then get complacent. The ball stops moving, with their fluid offense deteriorating into isolation plays, and the turnovers start mounting. Couple that with their inconsistent 3-point shooting, and no lead is safe.

Some of this falls on the players. If you can’t take care of the ball, or start relying on early shot-clock 3-pointers, you’re doing the opponent a favor. The 3-point shooting is also something Malone can’t control. In general, they’ve been pleased with the looks that they’ve generated. In terms of motivation, though, he needs to impress on his team that double-digit leads mean less and less in today’s game. It’s about consistency and bringing the requisite respect to an opponent for four quarters. It’s also an indication of how tenuous a lead is for those hold-your-breath stretches when Jokic rests.

I was really glad to see Aaron Gordon speak about the lack of respect from refs that Jokic gets. I know you mentioned in a previous column that the team has been in communication with the league about this, but are there are plans for more public outreach either via TC or Malone?
via @saintmiles_

That was about as honest an answer from Aaron Gordon as you’ll ever hear on the topic. Michael Malone alluded to the free throw discrepancy but went nowhere near as far as Gordon did. The Nuggets, generally, keep their dirty laundry out of the public sphere. There’s no doubt they’ve reached out to the NBA regarding Jokic’s whistle but we’re unlikely to hear more about it. Malone has been wary in the past about it becoming a talking point. My guess is they don’t want it to come off as pandering or pleading, but when it comes from Gordon, in an organic, impassioned manner like that, I’m sure they didn’t mind.

Odds we see a Joker-Jamal Murray-Michael Porter Jr. trio on the floor together before next season?
— @EvanPfaff via Twitter

Man, I really don’t know how to answer this one. Murray recently went on a podcast and said it took him 72 hours before he recovered after doing his windmill dunk on Instagram. He only recently began 1-on-1 contact work. My read has always been a March/April timeframe, but others have speculated it’ll be earlier. As for Porter, all I know is that seven weeks after back surgery, he’s still got the purest jumper on the team. The possibility of their return should keep everyone engaged until the postseason. (First-ballot Hall of Fame cop-out, right here).

A morose question for you: The Nuggets decided MPJ was untouchable last year and passed on the chance to cash in on his upside and go get a last piece for a championship push. Ughhh. Which “get-able” player from last year would you most like to have instead of MPJ’s massive contract and empty seat on the bench right now? Jrue Holiday, Bradley Beal, James Harden, Kyle Lowry, Lonzo Ball….
— Alan, Colorado Springs

This is dark. Too dark, in fact, less than 48 hours after Nikola Jokic just authored an all-time performance. But forced to choose, I’m going with Holiday after he went to Milwaukee and proved to be the missing piece to a title. The Nuggets harbor hope that Porter is their own missing piece. And the best part about it is that they might still be right.

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