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Five takeaways from Nuggets media day

Harrison Wind Avatar
September 27, 2016

 

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DENVER — Nuggets media day at Pepsi Center was a smashing success, except for Kenneth Faried and Jusuf Nurkic, who did not make themselves available to the media, but we did get a good look into what the Nuggets players and management expect this season.

Training camp begins Tuesday in Omaha, Nebraska, but first, let’s go over what we learned from the first official day of the 2016-17 season.

The next step (in the player’s minds) is playoffs

“I think our team goal should be to make the playoffs and I think it’s a realistic goal that we can accomplish.” – Gary Harris

“I need to carry the team and need to be consistent every game and take the team to the postseason.” – Danilo Gallinari

“It’s going to be playoffs, that’s our goal.” – Nikola Jokic

The front office, of course, is a little more hesitant to come out and say playoffs are the end all be all for the Nuggets and solely define their season, but based on their comments this summer and at media day, their line of thinking is similar to their players.

Coach Michael Malone discussed how the team won’t improve unless they shore up their play on the defensive end of the floor and for him, progress always starts with internal growth. The Nuggets put a lot of emphasis and time into player development and it showed last season; Emmanuel Mudiay, Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, and Will Barton all took their games to another level. Connelly noted how he’s as excited as everyone else to see who takes that step this year.

So what will the Nuggets have to do to reach the postseason?

For one, like Malone and Connelly mentioned Monday, they need their younger players to take another leap like they did last year. As I explained this week, that involves Mudiay, Jokic, Harris, and others finding ways to make a bigger impact on the game night in and night out.

Secondly, it means Denver stays healthy. “We’re getting close but the most important thing is we need to stay healthy,” Gallinari said. “This roster hasn’t played together over the last 3 years.” 70+ games from Gallinari and Chandler are vital to the Nuggets success this season.

Jokic and Nurkic will play together

Last season, Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic shared the court for a total of 92 minutes over seven games. When that duo was on the court together the Nuggets had a 96.2 OffRtg and 103.4 DefRtg, meaning they scored the equivalent of 96.2 points and allowed 103.4 points per 100 possessions.

If those marks stood for the entire Nuggets team, it would have placed Denver 30th in offensive efficiency and about the middle of the pack in defensive efficiency, but you can’t draw definite conclusions on a lineup based on just a handful of minutes played during the final stretch of the year.

Malone was adamant during Monday’s press conference that the two bigs will share the court together and that their presence is one of Denver’s biggest strengths. The Nuggets aren’t going to follow the recent trends of the NBA if they don’t have the personnel to do so – they’ll play to their strengths.

Take a look at Malone’s comments about a potential lineup featuring Jokic and Nurkic:

“A lot of times in the NBA there is a herd mentality and everybody wants to – Golden State’s doing it, San Antonio’s doing it, let’s do it,” Malone said. “We don’t want to be a team thats going to follow current trends. We look within, see what our strengths are and what allows us the best chance to have success.

The team that comes to mind is Memphis. Memphis is kind of the outlier of the group they play two bigs, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and they’ve had tremendous success with that. What we like about both Jusuf and Nikola is that not only are they big but they have a skill set unlike most bigs.

They can both step out, two very good passers, we saw Nikola leading the break quite a few times last year, making spectacular plays. Yeah, it’s easy if you have Durant, Curry, Klay Thompson, let’s shoot 30 threes but we feel we have two young bigs that we can play through in the post, on the elbows, in the high post they are going to make plays for each other.

That’s something that we want to be on the floor this year, just a little bit. Better ball movement, more unselfish and really try to make a play for a teammate mentality. We’re not going to follow the trend. We think we have two young bigs that can play together. But we also feel that when we go small, we have a lot of capable playmakers out there that make us very hard to guard.”

It seems as though Jokic is on board with this plan as well.

“Everybody likes to play small ball, but maybe we’re going to change that we’ll see,” said Jokic. “I like to play with Nurkic, we know each other we have a similar style of basketball, but I accept every role the coach gives me so whatever he offers me I’m going to accept it.”

We should get a feel for how often Malone wants to deploy the Jurkic lineup early on in preseason.

Wilson Chandler is this year’s x-factor

A lot was expected from Wilson Chandler last season before he underwent hip surgery that caused him to miss the entire 2015-16 season and he may be called on for an even larger role this coming season with Denver.

“Having Wilson back is such a blessing,” Malone said. “When he went down last preseason that was a really devastating injury to have missed a whole year because he’s a guy that probably when you look at it checks more boxes than anything else with what he brings to the table.”

Malone the expanded on what how he sees Chandler fitting into different lineups this season:

“But Wilson’s versatility is what sets him apart,” explained Malone. “He can guard probably four positions on the floor. You can play him at the three, the four, if you go really small you play him at the five. So his scoring, his defense, his toughness, all the things, intangibles that he brings to the table. He’s like a free agent signing. Just having him healthy is going to be an added boost to our team.”

I can see Wilson along with Barton leading Denver’s bench unit, who when healthy has a chance to be a top-5 group in the league and doing a little bit of everything on the court. The lineup I’m most excited for is a Mudiay, Harris, Gallinari, Chandler and Jokic combination which would highlight the playmaking ability of Jokic with the high IQ play of Mudiay, Harris, Gallinari and Chandler. That lineup could also switch one through four, providing enough versatility and size to matchup against a lot of potential closing lineups Denver would see.

Will Barton isn’t satisfied with last season

Barton arguably took the biggest leap forward of anyone on the Nuggets roster last season. He averaged a career-high 14.4 points, shot 34.5 percent from 3-points range and placed fifth in Sixth Man of the Year voting. Barton also carried the Nuggets during their most injury plagued month last season and averaged 32.9 minutes, 20.8 points, shot 39.3 percent from three and attempted 16.5 shots per game in December – 4.5 more than he averaged throughout last season.

“Now that I’m going to be counted on playing for a lot of minutes, I can’t stay up as late as I used to,” Barton said. “Try and get more rest, take care of my body more and know now there are certain things I can’t do anymore.”

I follow Barton’s thinking when it comes to taking care of his body differently now that it’s taking more of a beating, but it’s hard to envision the 25-year-old playing more minutes than he did last season. The return of Chandler and rookie Jamal Murray figure to cut into Barton’s playing time on the wing. Still, Barton feels like his growth as a player isn’t finished and he wants to take on an even larger role one day.

“One of my goals is to be a starter,” Barton said. “I don’t want to be put in a box yet. I feel like I’m still young in my career, still young in age, so I feel like I can still become a starter and be a good starter. So I’m definitely striving for that in my career, but as of right now I’m going to do whatever coach needs me to do. Wherever he puts me at I’m just going to do what I got to do, but I definitely want to be a starter. I feel like I can take that next leap.”

Emmanuel Mudiay is ready to assert himself

In Mudiay’s rookie season, he was shy on and off the court. He’d be the first to admit that he got much more comfortable when he missed almost a month with an ankle injury and got to sit back and observe the game from afar. It was evident this summer in Las Vegas that Mudiay is much more comfortable in year two. Not only on the court but off it as well; interacting with teammates, coaches, media, etc…

“One thing about me and my personality is I grew up kind of to myself a little bit,” Mudiay said. “If I can’t trust nobody or it’s hard for me to talk to somebody I’m just going to keep it to myself or keep quiet. Sometimes you have to come out of your comfort zone and that’s what I had to do last year. It’s fun being around these guys who love basketball.”

Mudiay realized last season that a point guard is sometimes looked at as the leader of a team even if they aren’t the most vocal ones. That scenario played out last season when veterans went down with injuries and suddenly the then 19-year-old was shouldered with even more responsibility.

“Being a point guard, no matter if you’re the veteran of you’re the youngest one on the team, I think that’s one thing I’m going to be big on myself about this year, just being more vocal, being more of a leader,” Mudiay said. “Challenging guys, also challenging myself. That’s one thing I really have to do this year for us to try and make it to that next level. We need a voice on this team so I’m going to try and speak up.”

Like I’ve stressed it’s going to take even more development from Denver’s young players to sniff the eighth seed and a playoff birth, but Mudiay is ready to lead them to the promise land.

“I am an alpha player,” he said.

Be sure to keep it locked to BSN Denver throughout training camp this week for video, analysis, and news from Omaha, Nebraska. The Nuggets first preseason game is Oct. 3 in Calgary where they’ll take on the Toronto Raptors.

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