During a normal year, the Nuggets would have had more than two days between the NBA draft and the start of free agency.
They could have laid down their plans, discussed them appropriately, and checked three times with their free agents what their intentions were. In a normal season, a season that isn’t so weird as to require a “Bubble”, Jerami Grant can’t turn Denver’s off-season plans upside down. What happened a week ago on Friday, when Grant signed with Detroit, caused a shock to the organization. If not, it should have underlined how fragile championship windows are.
One minute you think you have a reliable answer to defend LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard, the next you are looking for a starting force less than two weeks before training camp starts.
Months of a traditional low season were consolidated into weeks, and here we are. Nuggets training camp starts on December 1 (which is a surreal phrase to write after leaving Orlando two months ago).
The Nuggets have more question marks than you’d want as a title contender and only have a few weeks to tackle them. Coach Michael Malone’s goal has never been more difficult: to assimilate a team with five new players, develop young talent, breathe new life into old talent and compete in a fraught Western conference.
These are his most pressing questions with a training camp on the horizon.
5. What is Will Barton’s status?
The Nuggets have said little about Will Barton, who was Denver’s third most reliable player last season. After an injury-marred season in 2018/19, Barton returned with career highs in rebounding, assists and shooting percentage. When the shot clock ran out, Barton was one of the few players who could still create something productive. His absence from Orlando, due to a knee injury, was evident. Michael Porter Jr. played well in his place, which begged the obvious question: is the budding little forward Porter losing to lose?
Perhaps more importantly, has Barton recovered from his knee injury and can he contribute at all? If not, does that elevate rookie Bol Bol to the little back-up attacker? Much will be answered about Barton in the coming days. The depth chart on small forward is probably the smoothest in the team.
4. Can Gary Harris recover his old form?
Harris is in a slightly better position than Barton as he diligently rehabilitated his hip in the “Bubble” and eventually was able to contribute to their 3-1 double comebacks against Utah and then the Los Angeles Clippers. His defense remains untouchable, meaning he will never find himself in Malone’s doghouse. But his offense over the past two regular seasons has diminished dramatically.
In Orlando, Harris averaged only 7.4 points on 37% shots. To be fair, those were his first games in six months. On several occasions, Malone offered passionate defense to Harris, the surviving Nugget. The question to him becomes, how much longer does Harris earn the benefit of the doubt?
Harris hesitated too often to pull the trigger or hesitated to attack the basket. Depending on Malone’s appetite for rookie RJ Hampton, a three-tier scorer can be on hand.
3. Who is the starting force forward?
It’s significantly easier to tell (or sell) a $ 10 million a year player when he gets off the bank than a $ 30 million a year player. That’s the world Paul Millsap finds himself in now, having been a starter on several playoff teams for the past decade.
The Nuggets wanted to bring Millsap back all off season, but they had to get him back after Grant’s abrupt departure for Detroit. The question Malone faces is whether he should lean back on Millsap as a starter again this season – a decision he probably never thought he would face – or whether he should take on the newly acquired JaMychal Green, who is five years younger. to use that role. Both are versatile, skilled defenders who shoot surprisingly well from the outside.
It might be much easier to start the season with Millsap as the starting four and switch to Green later if necessary. Green has started only seven games in the past two seasons.
2. How do the new boys take in?
The team that lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals may have a very different feel to the one starting this season. From are Grant, Mason Plumlee, Torrey Craig, Keita Bates-Diop, Troy Daniels and Noah Vonleh. In his Green, Facundo Campazzo, Isaiah Hartenstein, RJ Hampton and Zeke Nnaji, with also two new two-way players.
In the backcourt, Campazzo is most likely to be seen minutes from the jump. It is doubtful he would have left Real Madrid without the assurance that he was going to play. Green will be a fixture in the rotation, and Hartenstein may be given backup center jobs. Then attention turns to the two incoming rookies, Hampton and Nnaji. (Don’t forget that Bol is also technically a rookie). Of the two, Hampton’s skills are more unique. If he can prove to be a reliable 3 point shooter and a skilled defender, he may be more useful than a typical rookie.
1. Have Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic recovered?
It hasn’t been that long since Murray was swinging Blue Arrows and carving out all the defensive cover in his way. To what extent was his 26.5 points per game on 45% 3-point shooting in the postseason an aberration? With far more time between March and August than September and December, how much more could Murray realistically have added to his game? In the past year, he got noticeably stronger, did more on the defensive end, and offensively exploded his game. A notoriously slow starter, how quickly can he find his rhythm?
Likewise, it wasn’t that long ago that Jokic made his way through Anthony Davis on his way to that bully in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. No one needs a reminder of what happened next. Back home in Serbia, Jokic spent his off season getting married and relaxing. Is he ready for another mental rut so soon after the last one has just ended? We will find out.