Let’s say you’re Nuggets coach Michael Malone. Suppose you are tasked with sketching the master plan for another rhubarb conference with the Lakers.
Who monitors LeBron?
Who monitors AD?
Suppose the Clippers have the ball last, Nuggets two, in a winner-take-all Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinal.
Who guards Kawhi?
Who guards Paul George?
Michael Porter Jr.?
Come back, Paul Westhead. Everything is forgiven.
We’re kidding. Kind of.
After free agency’s insane opening hours, the 2020-21 Nuggets look like they’ll have to outdo the snot of people at height, like the Michael Adams and Orlando Woolridge days of yore.
(Remember the winter of 1990-91? The Nuggs, in Westhead’s first crazy season as a coach, scored 119.9 points per game. They also gave 130.8 points a tilt and finished 20-62, the worst record in the West. Although it also helped them land Dikembe Mutombo with the # 4 pick of the ’91 NBA Draft, so there is.)
In the blink of an eye, the Western Conference runners-up saw three of their best defensive pieces, including two of their best fullbacks, walk out the door. On Friday, attacker Jerami Grant and backup center Mason Plumlee agreed to make free-agent deals with the Detroit Pistons. The next day, the Nuggets withdrawn their qualifying offer to defensive specialist Torrey Craig, making him an unrestricted free agent.
Grant and Plumlee were respectively No. 3 and No. 5 in the Nuggets in terms of Basketball-Reference.com Defensive Win Shares during the ’19 -2020 regular season. Grant was in fifth place, Craig sixth and Plumlee ninth in the post-season of Defensive Win Shares, although those numbers were skewed by playing time. Millsap, who returns with a $ 10 million one-year deal, was ranked third among the playoff defenders and sixth during the regular season.
And it’s true: Plumlee and Craig were relatively non-factors on that magical Orlando run. As for Grant, we’ll always have Disney.
The boy reportedly wanted more photos, and it never happened here. The Post’s Mike Singer reported that the contract offered by Nuggets president of basketball activities Tim Connelly was largely the same deal that the Pistons fell to the table: three years at $ 60 million.
For a guy who scored negative plus / minus on 35 of his 71 regular season appearances (49.3%) in ’19-20, that’s a lot of bread. The man who more or less exchanged Connelly for Grant, former Clippers forward / center JaMychal Green, finished last season with a negative score in 23 out of 67 regular season games, or just 34.3% of the time.
Where Grant is taller is on the eye test. The Nuggets will miss its defensive versatility, the ability to guard the 2-5 spots on the floor, depending on the opponent and the circumstances. The former luminary in Syracuse does the little things that stand out more in playoff series, where possessions are increased and crapola defenses have long been fishing.
He became one of Malone’s favorite matchup toys in the bubble, a dude you could use to throw length at Utah sniper Donovan Mitchell or blast attackers like Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
It was a glorious luxury to have in the late season, where Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray needed defenders who could cover in space and pull more on the rope on that side of the floor.
Green is similar in build to Grant in terms of height (6-8) and wingspan (7-2 ½). He held his own against the Nuggets in Orlando as part of the three-man anti-Joker platoon that threw Doc Rivers at Big Honey. He is a better career shooter at a distance (37.4% on treys) than Grant (34.7%) and reportedly more comfortable as a 3D role man.
But this is no longer about building the best season roster, building for the marathon. The Nuggets should now be past that point. A berth is assumed for the playoffs. The goal is to add pieces to Murray-Joker-Porter’s superstar core that will help push him through a Western bracket that hasn’t gotten any less deep. Or not sparingly.
To put it another way, say you are Malone, you are three against two against the Jazz. Tell me Mitchell has another one Forsaken by God, tears NBA Jam where thunder can’t miss.
Who are you putting in his grill now? Who will stop the bleeding? Why did this weekend feel like three steps back for a franchise that took two steps forward for most of 2020?