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Michael Malone is wary of Gary Harris' minutes load: here's how he may adjust his rotation

Harrison Wind Avatar
December 18, 2019

Gary Harris is averaging 37.2 minutes per game over the Nuggets’ current three-game winning streak.

That’s too many for Michael Malone.

“The greatest challenge I have now is I can’t continue to play Gary Harris 38 minutes a night. I really can’t,” Malone said Tuesday. “Sometimes I get caught in the moment. I’m worried about the Knicks. We’ve got to win this game. And we just finished up eight games in 12 days. Crazy stretch. But if I’m playing Gary Harris 37 or 38 minutes that’s not going to be good for him long term.

Harris has played well as of late. He’s found a nice rhythm on offense and is averaging 13.7 points on 44.1% shooting from the field and 37.5% from 3 over the Nuggets’ last three games. His offense (along with the 26.4 points Nikola Jokic has provided over the current three-game winning streak) but also his steady defense has been paramount to the Nuggets’ recent success.

The Nuggets are sporting the NBA’s second-best offense over their last three games but their defense has slipped to 14th overall over that stretch, which is a chief concern for Denver’s coach entering Wednesday’s matchup with the Orlando Magic who bring a 12-15 record to town (7 p.m./ALT). The Nuggets are giving up around 53 points in the paint per game over their last three games, which is more than half of the 101.7 points per game Denver is allowing in its last three matchups.

But Malone’s right. Harris is playing too many minutes right now. Aside from how much he’s played over Denver’s last three games he’s also averaging 32.5 minutes per game this season, the second-most on the Nuggets behind Will Barton (32.6 minutes per game). Harris has stayed healthy this year but has an injury history that makes Malone wary of him playing this many minutes this early in the season.

“I have to get back to giving other guys a chance to play and trusting guys because I don’t want us to wear down in the middle of January,” Malone said.

How about Malik Beasley?

Beasley hasn’t played in Denver’s last three games but can offer some relief at the shooting guard position. He’s been in and out of the rotation all year, but the impending free agent who’s name has also been swirling in trade rumors over the last several weeks is staying ready. Beasley was back out on Pepsi Center’s main court by himself  around 30 minutes after Tuesday’s practice wrapped up shooting 3s with assistant coach Charles Klask.

Malone’s message to Beasley and the rest of Denver’s bench is to stay ready.

“It’s just going to be a constant flux, and I think our players understand the importance of staying ready because I’m going to go back to Malik. Malik could play 25 minutes tomorrow night and help us win the game,” Malone said Tuesday. “By no means is anybody written off. We believe in all of our players but it’s my job when we’re struggling to find something that will maybe give us a better chance.”

How about Michael Porter Jr.?

The rookie is firmly in the Nuggets’ nightly rotation but has seen him minutes fluctuate over Denver’s last four games. Porter played 14 minutes against the 76ers and then 10 two nights later against the Trail Blazers. He played just four versus the Thunder but then 11 Sunday against the Knicks. You get the sense the game still hasn’t slowed all the way down for him.

“It’s killing Michael not to play. So I think he understands when he’s given the chance to play he’s got to go out there and not play perfect, but understand what we’re trying to do on defense, adhere to our defensive rules. And then offensively, run the offense, space the floor, and when he’s open we want him shooting the ball, not hesitating. And I think the more minutes he gets, every opportunity he gets is only going to help him settle down.

“Because right now he’s still out there thinking too much. And I don’t think you can play effectively if you’re thinking about everything you’re doing. It’s got to become just a habit. And the more he plays those habits will become second nature for him.”

Porter agrees. The rookie said after the Nuggets’ latest win that the ‘terminology’ on the court has been the toughest thing for him to pick up on this season. It’s causing him to think instead of just playing.

“Last game when I was at the four I didn’t have the plays down like I should so I was thinking too much,” Porter said. “At the NBA level you just gotta play free.”

Malone is always exploring ways to tinker with the Nuggets’ rotation…when his team is struggling. Denver’s coach isn’t normally one to experiment with wholesale changes to his lineup when the Nuggets are piling up wins. But Harris’ recent minutes load could prompt changes to how Malone divvies up minutes beginning Wednesday.

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