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Eight nuggets for the eight buckets Monte Morris scored in a 105-99 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday.
1. The revamping effort involved thousands of reps, two-a-days and a Spearmint gum wrapper. This summer, Monte Morris reworked his jump shot. Nuggets coaches noticed Morris’ guide hand was causing his shot to spray sideways. Their goal was to minimize its impact so Morris could shoot the ball straighter more consistently.
To work towards a smoother release, Morris held his left thumb and index finger close enough together to grip a gum wrapper. His new approach didn’t pay off at first.
“It was annoying,” Morris said. “They weren’t falling at all. Everything was short or long. I just couldn’t find it.”
It wasn’t until after Summer League in July that Morris began to feel comfortable. Five months later, it’s evident the tweaks he made are paying off. Morris drilled 4 of 5 3-pointers he attempted in Denver’s gritty win over the Grizzlies. He’s canning 43.8 percent of his 3-point looks — a major improvement from the 33.1 percent he shot from deep in the G League last year.
“It feels good,” Morris said. “Just doing two-a-days in the summer time. Missing a bunch. They was just telling me it was a marathon. At the end of the tunnel it’s going to be success. It’s hard to take all that in at once. I’m a guy who wants success right away. But if it was easy then everyone would do it. I just tried to stay the course.”
Morris poured in big shot after big shot on his way to 20 points, which tied a career high. He scored 15 in the second half alone as the shorthanded Nuggets ended a two-game skid.
“I’ve always known I could score,” Morris said. “People always put my scoring under the rug because I get so much attention for my assists. In college I averaged 17 my senior year. I can score the ball. I’m not just one dimensional.”
2. Morris appeared in three games with the Nuggets in 2017-18, so he’s technically not a rookie. But don’t tell Michael Malone that. “I know they don’t consider him a rookie for some reason, but he’s a rookie,” Malone said. “When you play 25 minutes one season and come back, you’re still a rookie.”
At one point during Denver’s recent five-game road trip, Malone reminded Morris he’s already earned carte blanche to freelance.
“The opposing guards were really getting into him and pressuring him, and he was still trying to run the play,” Malone said. “I grabbed him. I said, ‘Listen, if they pressure you, forget the play. Go by him and make a play.’ Once I said that, he said, ‘Bet. I got you.'”
That a 23-year-old point guard in his second season has gained Malone’s trust so quickly is no small feat.
3. Morris provided support. Nikola Jokic did the heavy lifting. The Nuggets needed him to step up with Gary Harris, Will Barton and Paul Millsap all unavailable. Jokic dominated his matchup against Marc Gasol, almost singlehandedly keeping Denver in the game until the cavalry (and some staunch defense) arrived in the fourth quarter.
Jokic scored 27 points on 9-of-14 shooting. He got to the free-throw line nine times, converting eight of those freebies. He forced Gasol into early foul trouble and held him in check; Gasol finished with seven points on 2-of-6 shooting.
Even though Jokic had a second consecutive strong scoring game, he pushed back on the idea that he needs to be more aggressive because Denver is missing so many key pieces: “We just need to play the same way. That’s how we’re going to be good. I think nobody needs to force anything. We just need to play like we’re used to when the roster was healthy.”
4. The shot of the night: This weird riff on Dirk Nowitzki’s one-legged fadeaway Jokic hit in the first quarter.
Nowitzki juts his right leg in the air when he falls backwards; Jokic raises his left. Jokic told BSN Denver he started toying around with this shot while he was recovering from a sprained ankle last season.
“I think I can jump more off my right leg than my left leg,” he said. “It’s just kind of easier for me just to let it fly.”
5. Injuries to his starting 2, 3 and 4 forced Malone to get tricky. Malone decided to insert Torrey Craig, Juancho Hernangomez and Mason Plumlee in between Jamal Murray and Jokic. It was just one game, but that starting group didn’t fare well. That five-man lineup got outscored by nine points in 17 minutes. It had a hard time generating good looks as it shot 10 of 25 from the field and committed five turnovers.
Memphis blasted Denver coming out of halftime. The Nuggets only hung on because they held the Grizzlies to 16 points in the fourth quarter. Jokic and Plumlee closed alongside each other, and they played well together. There just wasn’t a lot of space to operate when Craig (seven points on 3-for-9 shooting) was out there with them.
6. When Malik Beasley builds up a head of steam, look out.
Beasley is hammering everything in transition right now. He’s the most gifted leaper on the Nuggets roster by, well, leaps and bounds. Gasol wanted no part of contesting this.
“Definitely got out of the way,” Beasley said. “I just like to jump high and take off. Hopefully they jump. I’m trying to get a poster this year.”
7. The Nuggets only went eight deep against the Hawks on Saturday. Malone was hesitant to dip deep into his bench even though Denver was on the second night of a back-to-back and the final leg of a five-game road trip. Malone tried to give his regulars a little bit more of a break Monday by subbing in little-used power forward Tyler Lydon. But Lydon’s stint lasted 2 minutes and 10 seconds before he returned to the bench for good without registering anywhere on the stat sheet.
Four Nuggets players — Jokic, Hernangomez, Murray and Plumlee — logged at least 35 minutes. Those numbers might fall a little bit once Nick Young, who has yet to practice as a Nugget, is ready to play. But until some of the starters come back, this might be the new normal.
8. The injury list only gets longer and longer. The Nuggets are so snakebitten that their play-by-play announcer joined it Monday. The great Chris Marlowe lost his voice during the second half and was unable to finish calling the game. Altitude analyst Chris Dempsey filled in for him. What did Denver do to anger the basketball gods?