Ryan responds to questions submitted by Denver Stiffs readers on hot takes, JaMychal Green, Jamal Murray, and other topics.
We’ve reached a very interesting part of the NBA calendar.
The Denver Nuggets game versus the Brooklyn Nets was postponed yesterday, and because of that, Denver’s two days off on Monday and Tuesday will suddenly build on two non-game days over the weekend. With Nikola Jokić playing just 26 minutes on Friday night, everybody should be rested heading into a back-to-back on Wednesday and Thursday against Oklahoma City and Charlotte.
With that in mind, it’s time to answer the Denver Stiffs mailbag once again. Our readers came through with plenty of interesting questions primarily centered around roster moves, and I picked some (not all) of those to frame general trade discussions. In addition, there are some rotation, G League, and playoff related questions as well. I’m looking forward to answering them all!
Let’s get into it:
Mid-season Lull, what is your hottest take at the moment?
— Derrick Valdez (@derrickvaldez67) December 20, 2021
This question caught my eye and allowed me to share a thought about the Nuggets that seems crazy to some and maybe not so crazy to those that are watching closely: Aaron Gordon is the best role player Nikola Jokić has ever had to play with.
The amount of time Gordon spends defending the opposing team’s best player is absurd. He’s often forced to expend energy chasing around small guards, playing physically with bigger forwards on the interior, fighting through screens, rebounding, screening for Jokić, passing for others, and THEN thinking about his own scoring. The Nuggets have a 12-4 record when Gordon takes fewer than 12 shots in a game, and it’s often his willingness to take a back seat as a scorer while focusing on other things that allows Denver to succeed.
When Jokić and Gordon share the floor together, the Nuggets have outscored opponents by 186 points in 686 minutes, the fifth highest margin in the NBA behind four duos playing on the best teams in the NBA record wise. Once Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. ultimately return to the fold, it will be easier to see and appreciate the gaps that Gordon consistently fills as a role player. Even if it’s just Murray this season, Gordon will benefit greatly from the added attention of another strong playmaker on the roster. His defensive role will be crystal clear, his shots on offense will narrow toward his best possible shots, and the team will benefit as a whole.
That’s what being a role player means: focusing on the best traits to form a better team. Gordon has even more to give as a role player, and his willingness to do so will benefit the Nuggets for years to come.
What player would you like to see get more designed plays called for them? Is there anyone that could use a system boost to improve their shooting & offense this year?
— Jason Halprin (@HalprinJason) December 20, 2021
If there’s one player that I think should be involved more, it’s Zeke Nnaji. Though he’s down to 51.4% from three after starting out red hot, he’s still shooting 51.4% from three. The Nuggets have used him as a roller lately in pick and roll situations, and it as certainly benefitted the guard scoring. As a result, Nnaji is averaging fewer in-rhythm shots than he was as a wing, despite playing fewer minutes before.
Nnaji should have a play or two drawn up for him every single game to utilize his outside shooting ability. He was a 2020 first round pick and has turned into quite the useful player doing the dirty work defensively while setting screens on the other end. Throwing him a dedicated shot attempt every now and then will not only keep him screening hard and defending harder, but it will also help develop his overall skill set using experience as the best teacher.
When JMyke returns, what do you expect his role to look like? Is zeke getting booted?
— Zach (Enjoys every Nuggets tweet) (@bighoneyz) December 20, 2021
This is one of the more interesting questions for the Nuggets. With Zeke Nnaji playing backup center for the Nuggets over the last few games, the Nuggets have found bench success without JaMychal Green. Green sprained his ankle on the last day of Denver’s seven-game road trip against the San Antonio Spurs. Though there were some good signs in Green’s play before he exited, he has mostly been really bad in his minutes this year, shooting inefficiently, struggling to protect the rim, and seeming ill-equipped to handle backup center duties. Nnaji offers a shooting element that JaMychal hasn’t replicated, and Nnaji’s mobility and athleticism has also helped Denver as a rim roller and switch defender.
That being said, I still think JaMychal returns to his rotation spot when he heals up and the Nuggets play both Nnaji and JaMychal together off the bench. In 77 minutes this season, the Nnaji-JaMychal duo sans Nikola Jokić has just a -3.7 Net Rating. That’s good enough to be willing to try again with the Facu Campazzo, Bones Hyland, and Austin Rivers trio. That would most likely involve roughly 8 to 15 minutes off the bench, possibly staggering with Aaron Gordon and Jeff Green as the other big next to Nnaji as well.
If it doesn’t work, Denver can pivot from there.
Is there a scenario that the nuggets could land Sabonis or turner from the Pacers? Probably a multiple team trade.
— PirateJay (@Jay2Pirate) December 20, 2021
The easy answer is no. There isn’t a scenario where Denver could acquire Domantas Sabonis or Myles Turner. Nikola Jokić is untouchable in trade talks. Jamal Murray is also basically untouchable. Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon cannot be traded due to salary cap limitations immediately following a contract extension, of which both Porter and Gordon signed prior to the regular season.
That leaves Monte Morris and JaMychal Green as two of Denver’s largest contracts. If you threw in Bones Hyland, Zeke Nnaji, and a 2027 first round pick, Denver’s next most desirable players/picks in a trade, then maybe the Pacers would listen. I doubt it though, and there are financial issues with trading four players for one that just doesn’t make a deal like this palatable for either side.
Best trade deadline moves to improve our roster? and should we sign Davon reed for longer than a 10 day contract?
— Jokic Burner (2022 NBA Champion!) (@MikesMajorTakes) December 20, 2021
I will maintain that another Indiana Pacers player, Justin Holiday, makes the most sense for the Nuggets within their price range. Other teams will be interested in him too, but there are very few players in the NBA capable of filling that 3&D role on the wing as well as he does. He battles against bigger opponents, harasses smaller opponents, moves the ball offensively, and hits enough shots to be respected on the outside.
The fact is: the Nuggets aren’t going to win a championship this year unless they improve their perimeter defense. Teams like the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, and Golden State Warriors will abuse their bad defensive rotation, putting Jokić in a compromising position that better defenders could alleviate. Holiday represents one of those players, as does Josh Hart on the New Orleans Pelicans or Josh Richardson on the Boston Celtics. They aren’t the best defenders, but there’s a functionality there that could assist Jokić (and eventually Murray) in different lineup configurations. Another sleeper: Cam Reddish of the Atlanta Hawks isn’t a veteran, but he has a skill set readymade to help the Nuggets when they return to full strength and could be a great fit long term.
As for Davon Reed: the Nuggets SHOULD sign him to longer than a 10-day contract via the hardship exception, but they don’t have any full-time roster spots available. If that changes, expect Reed to be made part of the team.
Has having their own G League team made a difference this season? Too early to tell?
— david kahn (@kahnnn) December 20, 2021
It’s too early to tell to be perfectly honest, but it’s certainly cool that the Grand Rapids Gold has now played host to a number of former NBA players looking to find a way back into the league. First, it was Reed, Lance Stephenson, and Nik Stauskas putting on strong performances. Then, it was Isaiah Thomas signing, playing one game and scoring 42 points before being signed by the Los Angeles Lakers days later. Now, it’s Mario Chalmers and Shabazz Muhammed, former NBA players with plenty of talent and a desire to get back to the big stage.
Due to Denver’s injury situation, they haven’t been able to use the G League as a standard proving ground for young players. Instead, Bones Hyland, Zeke Nnaji, Bol Bol, and Markus Howard have spent their time entirely at the NBA level. If Murray’s was the only injury, then there might have been some more G League assignments for that quartet. Until then, we don’t know how Denver will use the G League for their young, developing prospects just yet.
What chance is there, if any, that the team holds Jamal out for the remainder of the season? Like, is he 100% to return or is it closer to 50/50?
— Greg Sobetski (@GSobetski) December 20, 2021
Call it 95% to 5% that Murray returns sometime this season. I’ve heard he’s tracking well on his road to recovery and will start live repetitions within the next month. He has progressed well during his rehab, and there’s no reason to delay his return if he feels 100% and doctors have cleared him. The best thing for him to do once he’s fully cleared is get used to playing basketball again, and waiting an extra six months from April to October of 2022 doesn’t seem like the prudent move.
Murray is itching to get back on the court. He wants to play, and he’s taking all of the steps in his rehab seriously enough to return sooner than the average ACL absence in the NBA. That doesn’t mean he will be awesome or horrible or anything when he returns. Denver will just have to wait and see.
Which former Nuggets could the Nuggets potentially reunite with through trade? Craig,Plumlee Beasley?
— Deakota (@DMarq0812) December 20, 2021
Give me Juancho Hernangomez. Let’s see him bomb threes next to Jokić and brighten the mood around the team with an infectious smile.
Just as long as I get tickets to the new Adam Sandler film.