Although tonight’s game between the Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets might not seem very exciting, perhaps this isn’t a team we should just overlook — as things currently stand, this is a potential first round playoff matchup.
The Nuggets are currently tied with the Sacramento Kings for eighth place in the Western Conference with a 14-19 record, but have lost three of their last five games including a tough one to the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday.
So with some small tweaks at the trade deadline, this team could go from fringe playoff team to an up and coming future threat. And leading the way is former Warriors assistant Mike Malone, who a fair share of us had some interest in as head coach before he was hired.
For some insight on the state of the Nuggets now and their direction moving forward, Basketball Jonez and I came up with some questions for Adam Mares of Denver Stiffs for a Q&A to get us excited about tonight’s game.
Q&A with Denver Stiffs
GSoM: What's the consensus on how Mike Malone handled this team as coach?
Adam Mares: There is no consensus. Last year, he did a great job of refocusing the team after the Shaw era ended in turmoil but there were real, lingering questions about some of his on-court coaching chops. This season the honeymoon is over and some of his issues — like always running out of timeouts, awful lineup combinations and rotations, etc — have taken center stage. Then there is the fact that Nikola Jokic, the team’s clear best player, started the season playing out of position before being put on the bench. So I still have hope that he’s just young and still has the ability to adapt, but there are a lot of question marks about his instincts as a coach.
GSoM: I know you have been high on Jokic for a while, but what has surprised you most about his game this season?
AM: His scoring. It was very clear last season in limited minutes that Jokic was a special passer. I knew all along that with a spread offense he’d turn into the league’s best passing center and there is no question in my mind that he is already head and shoulders above guys like Marc Gasol, Al Horford, and Mason Plumlee in terms of passing. But I didn’t think he’d be a prolific scorer. Over the last few weeks, teams have taken away the passing lanes and he’s responded by putting up some fairly impressive scoring performances, including 20+ point games against Joel Embiid and DeAndre Jordan.
GSoM: Hmmm...Jokic sounds like he’d be a good fit for a team with lots of shooters...What would the Warriors look like with Nikola Jokic starting at center?
AM: The Warriors would go 82-0 with Jokic at center and they wouldn’t play a close game all year. Remember how good Bogut was at hitting cutters and running dribble handoffs around the perimeter? Jokic is like that but 10 times better. Jokic averaged 7 assists per 36 minutes in December. That number isn’t a fluke. His assist numbers will rise as the year goes on now that the team is actually giving him the ball on offense. He’s also really good at posting up mismatches when teams switch the DHO. Those two things alone would make him unstoppable with the cutting and shooting of the Warriors. He’d average 10 assists per game and the Warriors insane offense would be 20% more efficient than it already is.
Fun thought experiment.
GSoM: That was fun. Anyway, as Warriors fans, we’re familiar with embracing young talent and looking toward the future...so what do Nuggets fans think is the best way for the Nuggets to move toward contention given what they have now?
Adam Mares: Just don’t mess with Nikola Jokic or Jamal Murray. There are promising pieces on the Nuggets roster including Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, and Juan Hernangomez and it’d be great to see those guys stay for a bit longer (at least) as well, but this team belongs to Jokic and they should build around his passing and playmaking.
GSoM: Looking ahead to the trade deadline, what would you like to see the Nuggets do?
AM: Trade Kenneth Faried. The Nuggets can and should be opportunistic with all of the “assets” that the team has collected. In short, the Nuggets have too many guys that need minutes. Faried is my first pick to go, mainly because I don’t think he wants to be here and he takes minutes away from guys like Jusuf Nurkic, Juancho Hernangomez, and Darrell Arthur. Paul Millsap is rumored to be on the trading block and he’d be incredible alongside Jokic. He’d add much needed defense and toughness on one end and fit very nicely alongside the hyper-passing style the Nuggets have adopted over the last 8 games.
GSoM: If they don't trade Danilo Gallinari, what's the plan with his impending free agency?
AM: Gallo has said several times that he loves the city of Denver and doesn’t want to leave. Unfortunately, this team belongs to the young guys now; Jokic, Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray, and Gary Harris. So if Denver doesn’t move him at the deadline, I hope that they don’t overpay him since he’d start 2017 as the team’s 2nd best player and only slide down the ranks from there.
For more insight on the Nuggets, check out Denver Stiffs.