Thursday, December 29, 2016

Nate's Eight: Drafting Emmanuel Mudiay allowed for point-Nikola Jokic

Nikola Jokic is revolutionizing Denver hoops. Photo credit: USA-Today Sports.

Now that the holiday season is basically over, I can come up for air. New job, tons of hours and the best part is I can wear headphones while I work; so staying up on Nuggets talk via Adam Mares, Harrison Wind, T.J. McBride and Jeff Morton has been amazing. Many thanks fellas!

A lot has been going on with the Nuggets and we'll be getting back to more CSG podcasts this week, so you'll be saved from the solo-Morton-casts that he seems to dread, but I think are actually very fun to record and listen to. But I guess that is neither here nor there, but it might be everywhere... sort of like the Nuggets rotation...

Let's get into eight items that have been on my mind recently with the Denver Nuggets.

1.) Drafting Emmanuel Mudiay made the creation of Point-Nikola Jokic a reality. Imagine if the Denver Nuggets had won a top three pick and were able to draft a major target of theirs in D'Angelo Russell, where would that leave Jokic? Mudiay seems to be a good compliment for Jokic as he can play well off the ball, but his lack of consistent shooting does hurt his gravity and Jokic's assist numbers. It would be neat to see Jamal Murray at the point spot with the starters (Gary Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Jokic), as Murray has the deadly outside shooting that could really make that starting group go.

This whole point-Jokic thing has reached awesome levels. During the Timberwolves game, players were actively looking to get Jokic the ball after defensive rebounds in the backcourt. There was even a moment in the second quarter where Jokic was sharing the floor with Jameer Nelson and looked him off as he dribbled up court with the ball. He's a seven-foot point guard, it's that simple.

It'll be interesting to see how Mudiay can adapt to not needing to be the full-time point guard, so far he has seemed to do pretty well with it and his ability to cut to the rim helps in that area. However, Mudiay also has tremendous court vision and can make beautiful passes, so Denver may lose out on a little bit of that, but Jokic's passing ability more than speaks for itself. Another underrated aspect of Mudiay's game is his catch-and-shoot ability. He's shooting 35.7-percent on the year on catch-and-shoot threes, which is better than his 31.9-percent on the season.

2.) Give me less Jameer Nelson and more Jamal Murray. The Nuggets are now 5-2 since Michael Malone shortened his rotation to nine players (or 10 depending on how he's getting along with Jusuf Nurkic...) and changed the starting lineup to one that makes a ton of sense. However, as the season progresses it would be nice to see Murray and Nelson flip-flop on their minutes. Nelson has been a steadying force for Malone and he has played well, at times, this season. But with Murray's mental makeup, it doesn't appear that the Nuggets would lose much by playing him 20+ minutes a night and Nelson 10-20. Might that lead Nelson to wanting to be moved? Then so be it. It may not be imperative for Denver to make room for Murray's minutes this season, but I actually think he'll help just as much in a playoff push as Nelson will.

But the Nuggets also need to figure out if Murray is going to be a point guard who can play in a lineup with Jokic (as noted above) or if he's a shooting guard that will have to fight with Harris for minutes. As of now, it looks like Denver should look at the point guard option as Harris might be more secure in his role with the team than Mudiay -- although all three guys are super young still and have a long way to go.

3.) Jusuf Nurkic needs to be in the rotation at backup center. We can toss out a bunch of numbers about Denver's poor defense and paint protection, but a lot of that can be solved by Malone just playing Nurkic. We saw it vs. the Wolves, Nurkic makes scoring in the paint very difficult on the opponent -- he's also quick enough to guard guys on the perimeter and should just be playing. Easy enough right? Well, just like last season, there appears to be more going on with Nurkic than meets the eye.

As you can see above, Matt Moore is saying something with Nurkic, "...looks different the closer you get." Last season a similar scenario played out where Nurkic wasn't handling his inconsistent playing time well, but a lot of that was put on him returning from injury. If Nurkic is again not handling his situation well and that has led to his benching, well... what can the Nuggets do? Denver could look to deal the talented youngster and hope it doesn't come back to bite them, or just keep him here and keep giving him tough love.

If Jokic proves capable of playing big minutes, then what is the point of having Nurkic in Denver? Would Nurkic just waste away his career as a backup center? My guess would be that he'd bolt in free agency as soon as he could, so the window to try to trade him for something might be starting to close.

4.) Nurkic is more than a post-up big man. My biggest gripe about the "Jurkic" lineup is that whenever it gets deployed, Nurkic always wants to post-up, or prefers it. Denver went to Jurkic for 1:21 vs. the Wolves and it was a disaster, as Harrison Wind pointed out. Again, the main problem was that Nurkic wanted to post-up and that stalled the offense. Nurkic has shown he can hit jumpers and played out of the high-post as a rookie and showed off some tremendous passing skills himself, and if he's part of this future in Denver, he needs to get back to expanding his game a little bit to fit with the spacing that Denver thrives in.

5.) Malone could learn a thing or two from Mike D'Antoni. Depending on who you talk to within the Nuggets' organization, D'Antoni's re-hiring as the Nuggets coach might have been closer than you thought. Who knows how that would have looked, and part of me is glad it didn't happen because we might not have ever seen point-Jokic, but D'Antoni has some great philosophies when it comes to his players. Read this quote on D'Antoni not taking guys out for mistakes:

Malone has been guilty of taking guys out after mistakes, note Mudiay's exit from the Timberwolves game in the last two minutes after he attempted a shot in the lane that was stolen. Nelson came in for him and closed the game as Mudiay was left to sit on the bench and think about what he had done. You typically want to take thinking out of the game, but Malone may leave some guys thinking too much.

6.) Will Barton has picked up the slack left by Wilson Chandler moving into the starting lineup. I finally caught the Jamal Crawford podcast with Woj from Nov. 30th and in it Crawford discusses his acceptance of being a sixth man and how he went about it with the Atlanta Hawks. Crawford realized the importance of the role and has flourished in it for the second half of his career. Chandler seemed to accept that role with Denver after starting in 77.2-percent of his career games with the New York Knicks. One has to wonder if Barton will accept that role going forward, and this blogger hopes he does for his duration with the Nuggets because he's electric off the bench.

7.) Part of being a mediocre team is not being able to close games. The Nuggets are 5-2 with their new starting lineup and 14-18 overall. Had the refs not boned the Nuggets in two games they'd be 16-16, they had six total games where they could have added six wins and been 20-12. How much different would the perception of the team be if they were 20-12? Again, losing close games is part of being young/inexperienced/mediocre or whatever you want to call it, but it is interesting to look back and see how close this team is to being a real part of the Western Conference playoff race -- where they currently sit tied with the Sacramento Kings for eighth in the west.

8.) If Denver trades Kenneth Faried, what would they target in return? I think this is a very difficult question. What do the Nuggets need in a trade? About the only thing you can really argue is a wing player with good size. Gallo and Chandler are not on the exact time table as Jokic/Murray/Mudiay/Harris/Nurkic and Juancho might be more of a power forward than small forward. So, if Denver looks to make a deal they may want to go after one of the harder positions to find in the NBA -- a wing with size. Perhaps the draft is the best place for Denver to look for a long-term replacement for Gallo/Chandler if/when that day comes.

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