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Winners and losers from the Nuggets' preseason

Harrison Wind Avatar
October 14, 2018

Hallelujah!

The preseason is over. Denver went 4-1 in preseason play with wins over the Lakers (twice), Perth Wildcats, and Bulls. The Nuggets’ one loss came against the Clippers and you guessed it, Boban Marjanovic.

Before we turn out attention to the regular season and Denver’s opener Oct. 17 against the Clippers, here are some winners and losers from the last few weeks.

Winners

Michael Malone

Getting his starters on the same page and establishing a pecking order off Denver’s bench were two of Malone’s goals entering training camp. Both of those were accomplished. But more importantly, Malone exited the preseason with his roster healthy and fully intact — the top priority of any coach, especially one entering a season with such high expectations. Like any team, Denver endured its fair share of minor bumps and bruises along the way. Nikola Jokic jammed finger prior to training camp and it still bothered him at times throughout the preseason. Jamal Murray’s ankle, which was also a pre-training camp injury, gave him trouble in the Nuggets’ first few preseason games. However, it doesn’t look like those injuries will carry over to the regular season. Malone enters the year with 17 healthy players at his disposal.

Nuggets’ bench mob

There were major question marks surrounding the Nuggets’ bench this offseason, specifically at point guard and on the wing. But Denver proved over the five-game preseason slate that its second five should be able to hold their own when Nikola Jokic and Co. rest. Isaiah Thomas is still rehabbing from hip surgery and doesn’t appear to be close to returning. That’s quite alright considering reserve point guard Monte Morris hasn’t let the Nuggets’ second unit miss a beat. Morris handed out 25 assists to just nine turnovers in the preseason and commanded his group with the moxie of a 15-year veteran. Mason Plumlee also enjoyed a standout preseason and looks more athletic after offseason surgery to repair a core muscle injury. Plumlee shot 25-37 (68 percent) from the field across five games and 12 of his 25 field goals were dunks. Behind Jokic, Plumlee gives the Nuggets arguably the best depth at center in the league. Joined by Trey Lyles, Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez and Torrey Craig off the bench, Denver brings a deep 10 or 11-man rotation into the regular season.

Trey Lyles

The hype Lyles generated throughout training camp was backed up by a strong preseason where the 6-foot-10 forward established himself as the focal point of Denver’s second unit. The Nuggets ran their offense through Lyles when their starters went to the bench and he responded by averaging 12.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists in just 23.6 minutes per game. It wasn’t just his scoring either. For the first time in his Nuggets tenure, Lyles put his playmaking ability on display. The 22-year-old registered four or more assists on three separate occasions this preseason after only hitting that mark three times in 73 games last year. Lyles will command at least 20 minutes per game off the bench alongside both Jokic and Plumlee.

Malik Beasley

Beasley was another standout from Denver’s second unit. After making mechanical adjustments to his shooting motion over the summer, the third-year guard shot 12-23 (52 percent) from three-point range. In Denver’s Friday night dress rehearsal for its regular-season opener, Beasley was the second substitute off the Nuggets’ bench, a sign that he likely has a spot in Malone’s rotation to begin the year. Beasley has played within himself and is keeping it simple on offense, two aspects Malone wanted him to focus on this season.

Denver’s aggressive defensive scheme

The Nuggets showed flashes of a more aggressive defensive scheme, with Jokic playing up at the level of the ball when defending pick-and-rolls throughout the preseason. Against Chicago, the Nuggets had their best showing on that end of the floor. Denver generated 13 steals versus the Bulls, forced Chicago into 19 turnovers and scored 20 points off those takeaways. Murray had five steals against the Bulls, while Harris, Will Barton and Paul Millsap recorded two each. Can the Nuggets put a league-average defense on the floor this season? If Jokic continues to defend to pick-and-roll as he does in the clip below, which ends in a Zach LaVine travel, that’s a real possibility.

 

Losers

Paul Millsap’s offense

As anticipated, Milsap was Denver’s best defensive player throughout the preseason. He recorded at least one steal in all five games and was always in the right position to clean up his teammates’ mistakes on the defensive end of the floor. Millsap finished the preseason with six blocks, three of which came against the Clippers. But Millsap struggled to get in a rhythm on offense. He shot just 9-28 from the field in four games and was 0-8 from three. Millsap’s the fifth option in the Nuggets’ starting five but Denver will need his veteran savvy and ability to hit big shots late in games this year.

Denver’s end-of-bench

The Nuggets’ third preseason matchup versus the Perth Wildcats was supposed to be when the end of Denver’s bench saw the most playing time. But Perth hung around which forced the Nuggets to play their key reserves late into the fourth quarter. 2017 first-round pick Tyler Lydon and two-way player DeVaugh Akoon-Purcell only logged 22 and 11 minutes respectively in the preseason. Both could spend a large chunk of the year in the G League.

Pepsi Center familiarity

With only one preseason game at home, the Nuggets have spent a limited amount of time on the Pepsi Center main court this preseason. With Denver playing 10 of its first 15 games at home, the Nuggets will need to get comfortable with their surroundings in a hurry. Don’t be surprised if the team holds a couple practice on the arena’s main floor instead of the practice court over the next week. Shooting in an 18,000 seat arena versus a practice gym requires an adjustment period.

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