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Where do the Nuggets turn in the wake of Mason Plumlee's foot injury?

Harrison Wind Avatar
January 22, 2020

When it rains it pours, and the Nuggets, who were already playing without three starters — Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Paul Millsap — need to find an umbrella, fast.

The team announced Wednesday that backup center Mason Plumlee has been diagnosed with a right cuboid injury and his status will be reevaluated in approximately two to four weeks, meaning that he will miss at least Denver’s next five games and likely more.

Plumlee, who will see his consecutive game streak of 149 games come to an end, was injured in the first half of the Nuggets’ 107-100 win in Minnesota on Monday but returned in the third quarter and was placed on Denver’s injury report Tuesday evening with a right cuboid injury. The cuboid bone is one of the seven tarsal bones in the foot. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Plumlee is expected to miss two weeks to a month.

The ramifications of Plumlee’s injury are significant. With Millsap sidelined with a left knee contusion/sprain, Plumlee had been soaking up all of Denver’s second unit center minutes and was also garnering playing time next to Nikola Jokic at power forward, a combo which has been deadly for the Nuggets so far this season. In 68 minutes the Nuggets have outscored their opponent by 25.9 points per 100 possessions (127.3 Offensive Rating, 101.4 Defensive Rating). It’s Denver’s most efficient two-man combination that has played at least 60 minutes.

For the Nuggets, the injury couldn’t come at a worse time. Denver faces Houston (twice), Utah, Milwaukee and New Orleans, who the Nuggets have already lost to twice this season, over the next two weeks. The Pelicans are also set to get No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson back from injury Wednesday night. The Grizzlies, Denver’s other matchup over its next six games, have won seven of their last eight.

Expect the Nuggets to immediately look internally to help soften the blow of Plumlee’s injury. Denver recalled Houston native Jarred Vanderbilt from the G League last weekend and the third-year power forward is likely in line for his first rotation minutes of the season against the Rockets tonight in his hometown. Harris (right adductor strain) is listed as doubtful for the matchup while Murray (left ankle sprain) and Millsap have already been ruled out.

Vanderbilt, a 6-foot-9 forward who’s only logged 13 minutes for the Nuggets this season, tallied 13 points, 13 rebounds, and two assists in 26 minutes for the G League’s Windy City Bulls last week before joining the Nuggets’ on their current three-game road trip which wraps up Friday in New Orleans. The 2018 second-round pick is a gifted rebounder and ranked eighth in the G League in Rebound Percentage (15.9). He’s also top-10 in Defensive and Offensive Rebounds Percentage, important statistics considering the Nuggets have been the NBA’s best rebounding team over the last 10 games but will miss Plumlee’s constant presence on the glass.

The Nuggets could also continue to downsize in the frontcourt like they did in the second half against the Timberwolves and have rising rookie Michael Porter Jr. along with Juancho Hernangomez log minutes at power forward. Porter is coming off one of the more impressive games of his rookie season in Minnesota, a 20-point, 14-rebound, 4-assist effort. Expect Jerami Grant to continue to spend time at backup center as he has over the last few games and rookie forward Vlatko Cancar could garner spot minutes as well.

Another option the Nuggets have in the wake of Plumlee’s injury is to sign another big man, and with an open roster spot it’s an avenue that Denver feels comfortable exploring if it needs to. Free agents like Tyler Zeller, who was with the Nuggets at training camp, Joakim Noah, Amir Johnson, and Lance Thomas are waiting on their couches for a phone call.

Last summer’s second-round pick Bol Bol, who’s averaging 12 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks in eight G League games this season, isn’t expected to be called into action. The Nuggets want to take it slow and conservative with the 7-foot-2 rookie who is coming off a foot injury that required surgery and ended his freshman season at Oregon prematurely.

The upcoming Feb. 6 trade deadline also offers the Nuggets a chance to recalibrate. Denver didn’t figure to be in the market for a big man, and likely won’t as long as Plumlee’s injury doesn’t linger into the final two months of the season, but can still get a good sense of who’s available and who isn’t in the coming days. Big men begin to hit the buyout market over the next month as well.

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