As I talked about in my most recent podcast, the Nuggets have been a team on the rise over the past month. After a torrid month lead by the stellar play of Nikola Jokic, I’m impressed, but also trying to get a feel for how the rest of this team pieces together.
While the frontcourt rotation has been mostly solidified; Millsap has been Denver’s defensive fulcrum, Jerami Grant providing great energy and switchability off the bench, and Mason Plumlee as a solid all around backup center. Michael Porter Jr has also thrown his name into the conversation after his breakout perfomances this past week.
The backcourt has been a different story. Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Gary Harris, Monte Morris, and Malik Beasley have combined for a mixed bag. All together solid, but I think this collection of talent is too much of a good thing. While that may seem like nonsense, you have to look at it objectively and recognize that talent doesn’t just stack neatly. When looking at players at the same position/with similar skillsets, you have to take into account overlap of skills and also understand that the ball can only be in one player’s hands at any given moment.
Will Barton has been arguably the best all around backcourt player for Denver. While he has spent much of his time at the three, it’s been mostly out of necessity as Denver lacks a full time three. While he doesn’t need the ball to thrive, he is at his best as a secondary ballhandler and creator.
Jamal Murray has struggled overall from the field this year (43% overall and 33% from three) and while he’s shown improvement on the defensive end, he’s still been a defensive minus. He’s taken the majority of his shots from the mid range (45%) and while he converts them at an above average rate, he can ball stop at times and the offense would benefit if he cut down on these attempt. Murray is a mostly average at rim finisher so when his shot isn’t falling from beyond the arc, his efficiency drops remarkably (He’s posting a 47.8% effective fg % which is in the bottom third for guards).
Gary Harris, who has been a mainstay at two-guard in Denver since his sophomore season, is one of the integral pieces of the Nuggets’ guard rotation. Harris is having a fine statistical season in his sixth year, however, Harris has shown intriguing flashes in his career. Harris in his 4th season put up 17.5 pts on 48.5% from the field and 39.6% from three while playing stellar defense. Since then, he’s dealt with a myriad of injuries and combined with the emergence of Murray, has yet to return to his level of production. His usage has fallen dramatically over the past two years (Nearly 20% two years ago, down to 14.6%). I’m curious to see if he can return to those levels of production with an inreased offensive role.
Beasley has had a decreased role this year after a phenomenal shooting year last year showing immense potential as a 3 and D wing and Morris has continued to be a steady hand off the bench (He is currently tops in the league in Assist to Turnover ratio).
So while all of these players are individually good and promising for their own reasons, they are collectively messy. And here’s where our problem lies; should Denver cash in their wealth of depth to acquire an established star? And who should they ship out/keep?
While Barton has been of great importance to Denver’s season, he appears to be the odd man out. He turns 29 in three days putting him squarely outside of Denver’s core going forward. He makes roughly $13m this season which is a mid-tier contract that hinges most deals for max level players. But, I would argue that he has arguably been Denver’s second best player and is integral to what Denver accomplishes the rest of this year.
Murray shows flashes of brilliance, but his inconsistency has hurt Denver since he entered the starting lineup. We’re having this debate because he hasn’t been able to show that he is the 2nd best player on this team on a regular basis. He’s been option 2.5 seemingly and that’s been the only issue for this Denver team. A lot of good to very good players, but only one great player in Jokic.
I’m not trying to shit on Denver I think they’re incredible, but I think it’s clear that without a second star, Denver will struggle to be a legitimate title contender. There’s nothing wrong with being a perennial playoff team, however this team has the potential to win a championship.
If I’m Tim Conelly (Denver’s President of Basketball Ops) I think sell high on Murray. He’s an incredibly promising young player, but I’m unsure of his long-term potential. He’s a combo guard that struggles to defend with consistency problems, and while I think he’s a steal if he were at $18-20m, he starts a max contract next year and I question whether he’s worth that right now (I hope he proves me wrong, I love the dude’s game, I’m just being honest). Murray is difficult to trade this year due to the Poison Pill Provision https://www.hoopsrumors.com/2018/10/hoops-rumors-glossary-poison-pill-provision.html so I think you ride it out with him this year and see what he gives you, and then try to package him along with some picks to Washington for Bradley Beal when he can be traded for over the summer. Or, they try and craft a deal with New Orleans for Jrue Holiday this season for an immediate return.
These are all just speculations, but I thin that multiple players in Denver’s backcourt will be moved. They all provide different options and capabilities for Denver, but they also need a clear upgrade. Not every guy can have the ball, and many of them could do a great deal more with more on ball opportunities
What are your thoughts on Denver’s backcourt? What changes do you want to see them make? Let me know down below