The Argentinian has provided much-needed production from the guard spot amongst all these injuries, but should he remain the starter when Monte returns?
The question is posed for the current state of this Nugget’s roster. Of course, when Jamal Murray comes back there is no question Facu rides the bench, but both Facu and Monte have value in the starting lineup. Since being inserted into the starting lineup, Facu leads the Nuggets in minutes at 33 per game. Say what you may about his deficiencies but whenever a player leads the team in minutes, that often means they have the coach’s trust. That trust is also not obtained without good play. With that being said, Monte is one of the most reliable players on this team and might be considered more consistent and dependable than Facu. There are definitely two sides to the coin here but both players bring a different impact to the lineup.
Although Facu’s scoring production is scattered, his imprint on the offense is not. His 8 assists per game in the last three contests leads the team by a wide margin. The next closest is Barton with 5.3 and Jokic with 3.7 per game. Monte provides great ball movement as well, but Facu has the ability to create plays out of the improbable. Against Houston, he once again put on a theatrical display of passing with highlight dishes that surfaced throughout social media. Not only did he throw out 12 assists that game, but he also dropped 22 points on 7-11 shooting and 3-5 from beyond the arc. He was the MVP in that game but also supplied Denver with infectious energy.
Monte, on the other hand, is a reliable and consistent force. While Facu offers highlight excitement with his passing, his inclination for risk does put Denver in some disadvantageous situations. Monte is known for his ball security and for much of his career, has been among the league’s best in assist to turnover ratio. He presents consistency for Denver in that category but also scoring the basketball as well. Monte has the finishing, mid-range, and three-point stability that Facu does not. In Monte’s last seven games, he averaged 14.5 PPG and shot the three-ball at a high clip.
If this is a problem, it is a good one to have. The Nuggets have two point guards that are worthy of starting duties to hold the fort until Murray returns. The decision on who should start is subjective to us fans. It is based on the preference of style you would like the Nuggets to perform with. This piece will highlight the pros to each player’s status in the starting lineup and hopefully will provide context to the decision.
Facu is one of the more unique players in the NBA. His style of play and energy is unmatched on this Nuggets squad and is rare to find throughout the league. Part of Facu’s identity as a basketball player is the notion that he is somebody you would want on your team but would hate to play against. You want him on your team because he does the dirty work and is willing to put his body on the line. You don’t want to face him because he is an annoying pest that doesn’t offer any room to breathe. Now some fans might say they don’t want him on their team regardless due to his lack of statistical production, but I feel every team needs a gritty, vigorous competitor like Facu.
Playing at a high pace is not a necessity for success but it is critical for a Nugget team that does not play at a very high pace. They like to play methodical half-court offense which works with Jokic, but when Facu speeds up the game it appears to provide the Nuggets with infectious energy. That energy leads to aggressive play at the rim and tenacity on defense. Not only does he elicit high-energy play from his teammates but he loves to get downhill towards the rim.
In many possessions, his goal is to attack the paint and persuade the defense to crowd the inside of the paint. If they don’t create density in the paint, the layups will be there but if they do, open shooters will be ready on the outside. Even when he has zero intentions of shooting a layup, he still crashes the paint with the ball in an effort to move the defense. Since he entered the starting lineup, the Nuggets score 32.7 points in the paint per game which is tied for the team lead alongside Jokic. The Nuggets often struggle scoring in the paint so Facu is a necessity for them to produce in that category.
Facu might not be a better scorer than Monte but he has improved from last year. He increased his field goal percentage to above 40% and his three-point percentage to nearly 36%. Even with this improvement, Monte’s shooting numbers are significantly better but that is also a positive to the idea where Facu starts. It’s no secret, Denver’s bench struggles to score the basketball. They rank 21st with 32.3 PPG and often relinquish leads because they go through lengthy scoring droughts. With Monte as a backup, he can provide the bench with a steady offensive punch and can work in concert with a microwave scorer like Bones.
Furthermore, Facu is the better defender and some would trade defense for offense within that starting lineup because the offense is most lacking from the bench. Pound for pound Facu might be the Nugget’s best defender. Aaron Gordon probably stands atop that conversation but Facu is a close second. Where Facu gets himself into trouble is where he is physically overmatched and when he over-rotates and helps when it is not needed. Other than that, he is nails on the defensive end and can bother any guard on any night. When the Nuggets defeated the Warriors in Golden State, Facu helped hold the game’s all-time greatest three-point shooter to just 5-14.
Facu is not perfect. He has his deficiencies but so does every other player in this lineup. With his flaws in mind, he supplies more electricity on both sides of the ball than Morris. The electricity he brings can be fickle at times, but the spark he creates disseminates throughout the whole group and often makes his teammates better.
Monte’s greatest attribute is his consistency and that is something Facu does not have on the offensive end. Morris is a very reliable ball-handler and he is significantly more efficient shooting the basketball. This year, he is averaging 12.6 PPG and 4.3 assists on 48% shooting from the field and 38% from three. The points per game and assists are career-highs for him and his shooting percentages have remained steady throughout his career. In his last seven games played, he leads the Nuggets in 3P% with players over 4 attempts per game. His 48% shooting from beyond in those games was a revelation for his production. When Monte is on the court, the Nuggets shoot 48.7% from the field versus 43% when he is off the court.
Through the majority of the season, the Nuggets offense produces at a higher clip when he is on the court but the two-man game between him and Jokic cannot be understated as well. Yes, Facu has great chemistry with Jokic because they see the game in similar ways but so does Monte. Jokic and Monte are very methodical players who like to probe around until they find a time to strike. Their pick and roll is some of the most patient in the league and more times than not, it results in an open shot for Denver.
Although it would be nice to have Monte off the bench, it is also just as necessary for him to be in the starting lineup as well. The Nuggets offense, whether the starters are in or not, has struggled all season and the steady production Monte offers remains critical in that starting lineup. Denver desperately needs a second scorer with all their injuries. Sometimes it’s Barton, Gordon, Monte, or Bones but they rarely all click at the same time. For the most part, when Monte is in the starting lineup you can almost be sure they will at least get double-digit scoring out of the point guard spot.
Although the Nugget starters are talented offensive players, they have not produced according to that notion. They are 18th in the league in starter scoring at 73.5 PPG and also rank 18th in 3P% at 34.8%. If you insert Facu into the starting lineup, the ball movement probably does increase a little but that does not directly translate to scoring. Players have to make shots and that is a major factor in Facu’s production. He needs others to make shots to display his statistical value. So does Monte, but he can get provide offense alone much more frequently than Facu. When Denver is in the midst of a scoring drought, it is often Monte that scores a layup or a mid-range shot to restore order. Monte is clutch in the aspect that when Denver is struggling, in desperate need of a basket, at any time in the game, he can and often comes to the rescue.
Overall, I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer here. I think both players impact the game in different ways but they also contribute well in the starting lineup in my opinion. Again, it all comes down to preference. If you want a lineup with a little more grit and physicality, then Facu might be your answer. If you want a starting lineup with a point guard who can score on his own while maintaining great ball security, then Monte is probably your guy. It’s a conflict between two differing viewpoints but either way, the Nuggets need to start making a push. They need to stack wins, obtain a decent win streak, and reclaim their status among the league’s best. Which player gives them the best shot to do so?