|Gary Harris is back. Photo Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA Today Sports.|
If the 2016-17 NBA season ended today, the Denver Nuggets would face the Oklahoma City Thunder in a No. 8 vs. No. 1 playoff matchup, respectively. Yes, there are still 76 games left to play, an NBA eternity, but these Nuggets have the talent to be in the playoff race all season long. The ultimate goal is not just to make the playoffs, but to be an actual title contender.
Baby steps. Ask any NBA player and the game changes in the playoffs and according to the Nuggets' Mike Miller, in a podcast with Matt Moore of CBS Sports, really intensifies in the Finals. While some put more worth into playoff experience than others, it would be nice to see Emmanuel Mudiay and Co. get a taste of post-season life in Denver. There is no reason why the Nuggets shouldn't be in post-season contention this season, they have the talent to get there. With that said, let's get into eight things that have been rolling around in my dome over the last week or so...
1.) Gary Harris' return will indeed make life easier on everyone, especially Emmanuel Mudiay. Lost in the shuffle of the start of the season is the on-court chemistry between Mudiay and Harris. The two became close off the court last season and know each other well on it. Harris unlocks a lot for the Nuggets and in his first game back against the Celtics we saw Mudiay erupt for 30 points.
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2.) Jamal Murray has seen a few shots go through the hoop. Murray's 7-33 (21.2 percent) start to his NBA career from the floor hasn't been pretty to see, but the rookie is 7-17 over his last two games -- including 3-8 from deep -- and can breathe a sigh of relief at finally making a shot.
|@BeMore27 via Twitter|
As Jeff Morton and I discussed on the CSG Podcast, the game will slow down for Murray and he'll be just fine on the offensive end. Think about any job you've started, the first few days were a learning experience or even perhaps the first 60-90 days. Patience. Let the game come to you and all that jazz.
3.) Rotations Rotations Rotations. One item I've found to be true of any fanbase is that they all typically gripe about "their" Coach's rotation. Once upon a time, I recall a few Nuggets fans clamoring for Rick Adelman to replace George Karl. I scoured the interwebs for feedback from Rockets fans and came across many a fan-comments ripping him for his player rotations. So, while we all may gripe about Michael Malone's rotations, there has to be hope that he'll tinker enough to find the right combinations and use them accordingly.
The Nuggets' offense seems to come to life when either Jokic or Nurkic is on the floor anchoring the team at center while being surrounded by guards, wings and stretch fours. Things also seem to go well when Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler man the small forward and power forward positions.
4.) Team meetings and player only meetings seem a little much after just six games. After the Nuggets got beatdown in Detroit, reports surfaced that there were team meetings and a player's only meeting. That sort of makes one scratch their head as the smell of training camp and preseason is still in the air. How did things get off track so fast? Could there really be post-season hope for a team that has to regroup already? No matter what is said publicly about the meetings, we won't know what was said behind closed doors and that's probably best.
Malone also came out after the Pistons loss and barked about lineup changes and effort and yada yada yada... Malone can get a little hot under the collar in the moment, but cooler heads usually prevail the day after a game, especially in Malone's case. Whatever was said and done seemed to work as the Nuggets delivered their own beatdown to the Celtics in Boston, but will it last? That's the biggest question with this team. The roster allows for so many combinations, but at some point they must find the best foot forward and then bring the consistency. While Mudiay's career-high tying 30-point night was great, it doesn't mean much if he goes 2-9 in the next game. (But that 24 point quarter was a sight to behold.)
5.) Bench production is something all teams need and the Nuggets have. Watching the Nuggets face the Blazers, Raptors and Timberwolves one thing was clear, the Nuggets bench was much better than any of those teams. With Jameer Nelson (9 points per game), Wilson Chandler (15.7 ppg) and Kenneth Faried (7.7 ppg) anchoring the second unit, and now with Darrell Arthur back and Garris (whether Garris starts or Murray), the Nuggets depth is an asset to their youth.
While the Nuggets don't have that stud No. 1 option like the Blazers with Damian Lillard, they have all the other parts that a team needs. It seems "incomplete" teams are either looking for a star player or depth to help their stars out. The Nuggets might gamble on one or two of their young guns becoming a star, or they may look to trade for one at some point, but their depth continues to be a strong point and not something that the fanbase should overlook.
6.) Danilo Gallinari ranks 5th in the NBA in minutes played. Good or bad, Gallo has played 224 minutes this season or 37.3 per game for the Nuggets. It seems a bit risky for Malone to saddle him with so much court time, and we'll see if the gamble pays off. It would be good to get Gallo some rest, but close games don't provide a ton of breathing space for one of the team's key players.
7.) Send the Nuggets home already. There is just one more stop on Denver's five-game roadie (2-2 thus far) and it comes in Memphis. The team can return to Pepsi Center with a winning record on this roadtrip, and that's a great sign... even if they blew that thriller in Toronto.
8.) What is the Nuggets identity? At some point this season we should be able to point out the strong suits of this team and their brand of basketball. We are not there yet and the roster allows for so many different possibilities that is almost could be seen as a detriment. It's Malone's challenge to shape this team the way he wants it and we'll see how that unfolds.