The first significant test of the Nuggets’ 2023-24 season is here.
Jamal Murray suffered a right hamstring strain in the first half of the Nuggets’ 123-101 win over the Bulls Saturday at Ball Arena. Murray played nine minutes but didn’t return to the floor after leaving the game early in the second quarter.
I’m expecting Murray to miss a couple of weeks with the injury. The Nuggets, a typically cautious team when it comes to injury management, will want Murray to take his time getting back on the floor. Hamstrings can linger and be easily reinjured if they’re not approached with caution.
Reggie Jackson started the second half for Murray vs. Chicago and will likely continue to start in his place. That means Michael Malone probably needs to elevate a backup point guard to take Jackson’s spot with the second unit.
His choices if he goes that route are Collin Gillespie or Jalen Pickett, which I’d think would be the two potential options here. I don’t know if the Nuggets right now want to try and fit Christian Braun or Julian Strawther into more of a ball-handling-heavy role.
Gillespie got the first crack at that spot in the rotation. He logged 12 minutes (+12) and finished with 5 points, 2 assists, and 0 turnovers in the second half against the Bulls.
This was a timely pass that Gillespie made in a frequently-run Nuggets horns action.
Gillespie passed up what looked like could have been a 3-point attempt in the corner, but it came after he had already missed two straight triples. So I get it from that perspective. He penetrates and forces DeMar DeRozan to collapse off Aaron Gordon just enough to give Gordon a little extra airspace.
Gordon hits the catch-and-shoot 3 in rhythm.
Gillespie did take and make this 3 off the dribble after his defender went to double Nikola Jokic in the post.
The Nuggets have taken notice of how much Gillespie worked on his shot over the summer. He’s put in the time, those close to the team say, to become a better 3-point shooter off the catch and dribble.
Some of Gillespie’s deficiencies also showed in the 12 minutes he played against Chicago.
Coby White got to the rim without much resistance here.
White shook Gillespie easily here too.
Malone’s other choice at backup point guard is Pickett, the recently drafted rookie out of Penn State. Pickett’s best skill as an offensive player is his ability to set up his teammates, which we saw on display in the preseason.
Pickett moves slower and plays a more deliberate style than Gillespie or traditional NBA point guards do, but it looks like it can be effective.
His bigger and stronger frame would also allow the Nuggets’ second unit to keep their identity as a 1-5 switch-everything defense with Braun, Peyton Watson, and Zeke Nnaji. The Nuggets are confident in Pickett’s ability to guard up a few positions.
The Nuggets host the Pelicans tonight at Ball Arena (7 p.m., Altitude). New Orleans is already without injured starting point guard CJ McCollum and backup Jose Alvarado. It’s a prime opportunity for Malone to get one of his rookie reserve point guards comfortable ahead of a stretch of games where Denver will likely be without its starter.