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Warriors vs. Nuggets roster battles: Comparing backcourt depth

A preview into the roster battle found at the Warriors’ backup guard spot and who will fill the Nuggets’ starting point-guard role

NBA: Preseason-Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets
Duels at the guard position
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a crazy summer for the NBA, one full of superstar trades and political pettiness. But basketball is finally back in tow and I’m sure many of us can’t wait to see all the action unfold out on the court.

Sure it’s just the preseason — the stakes are super low and a lot of the minutes will be handed off to bench players in order to help teams preserve their starters’ health and shake out the bottom half of their rosters. But as the Golden State Warriors have demonstrated, roster depth is a key component to making a championship run, and I’m curious to see who amongst the league’s current role players will be making a push up the depth charts.

Tonight, we’ll be seeing the Warriors kick off the preseason against the Denver Nuggets, last year’s upstart team that made huge strides, turning in the second best offense from January through to the end of the season after Nikola Jokic joined their starting lineup. It’ll be interesting to see how he looks after a full summer of rest (he played for Serbia in the Olympics the previous offseason) and if his ascendancy towards NBA stardom continues at the same pace he set during the second half of last year.

If this was a regular season game, Jokic would probably be the key matchup to keep an eye on. But since this is an exhibition, it feels a little more “key” to instead highlight some of the internal battles found on both teams’ rosters.

For the Warriors, it will be interesting to see who will make the most of the minutes left behind by Ian Clark. The Nuggets on the other hand have an interesting competition brewing between Emmanuel Mudiay, Jameer Nelson and Jamal Murray for the starting role.

Picking Denver’s golden nugget

The Nuggets are surely looking to build off of last year’s improvement by making the playoffs this season. But in order to do so, they will most likely need to figure out who amongst their three point-guards will be able to give them the most consistent and positive production.

With Jokic and newly-acquired Paul Millsap on the roster, coach Michael Malone noted that the team isn’t looking for the prototypical point-guard. Instead, the right guy to fit their scheme will be the player who can best play off-the-ball and play defense.

First up is Mudiay, who came into the league as a highly-touted prospect and walked straight into the Nuggets’ starting point-guard role. He however had a disappointing rookie season and showed marginal improvement last year. One of the areas Mudiay has struggled mightily with is putting the ball into the basket, ranking near last place last season in eFG% and TS% for all qualifying guards in the league. Albeit an improvement — he ranked dead last in both categories his rookie year — this is far from the type of production the Nuggets will need in order to stay competitive in the Western conference.

The poor play from Mudiay eventually lead to the Nuggets benching him last season in favor of Nelson, who gave the team a veteran presence on the court and another floor spacer who was less turnover prone. He ended up having the best shooting season amongst the three Nuggets’ players and would be the safe choice for the team to proceed with.

However as he enters his 13th season, the team most likely doesn’t view him as their long-term answer for the starting spot, and I’m sure they would rather have one of their two young guys step up to fill that role.

That leads us to Murray, who turned in an impressive rookie campaign which saw him being named to the NBA’s All-Rookie Second Team. Considering he played the entire season with a hernia injury, it’s easy to see why many Nuggets fans are excited to see how he performs this season after having surgery in the offseason. If he’s able to impress across the preseason, he may very well lay claim to the starting gig.

In terms of how tonight’s game will end up effecting the positional battle, it’ll be important to keep an eye on who meshes better with Jokic and Millsap on the floor. The Nuggets’ coaching staff will also probably end up with plenty of footage to help base their final decision on, when it comes to how well their guards square-off defensively against Stephen Curry and Shaun Livingston. Those two highlight very different offensive styles and play them at an extremely high-level, which should provide a decent litmus test for the Nuggets.

Swaggy P vs. P-Nice

On the Warriors’ side of the court, we will finally get our first look at how Nick Young fits into the scheme of things. We’ve covered it here on GSOM: Young’s offensive game should mesh with the Warriors’ style of play. But we’ve all seen how sometimes, what looks great on paper, ends up not translating onto the court (hello, 2003-04 Lakers).

Furthermore on the defensive side, while Young has been praised on his efforts from last season, it remains to be seen if he can extend that consistently for another full year. He has all the tools to be another lengthy disruptor for the team — just check out the footage below from his early years in Washington.

But like J.R. Smith, effort will most likely be his limiting factor. It’s going to be exciting to see what Ron Adams can do with him.

Then there’s the all-mighty Patrick McCaw. Whether he’ll be able to add to his preseason legend this year remains to be seen. But considering the Summer League he just had, if he can continue to show improvements in his game, it’s not farfetched to believe him winding up with more of Clark’s minutes than some might’ve predicted.

Even despite him sitting behind Young on the depth chart, McCaw is the known variable at the backup guard position. We know what he looks like playing alongside both our starters and bench guys.

But one of the areas McCaw struggled with last year was being hesitant when it came to shooting the ball. It’s understandable considering who he’s playing with. But hesitancy can be one of the biggest disruptors to an individual’s offense — ahem, Harrison Barnes — which ultimately extends to the team.

This being McCaw’s second year in the league, we can expect him to be more comfortable in his role and the system Golden State employs. Hopefully that allows him to showcase the type of confident play he exhibited this summer where he averaged 20 PPG on 45.6% shooting.

Let’s get it started

Tonight’s game shouldn’t be taken into account too heavily, especially for Young. Considering it’s his first game with the Warriors, it’s reasonable to expect him to not fully gel with the team, even until a few months into the regular season. Nevertheless, Clark’s minutes will need to be distributed, and so it’ll be interesting to see who looks better as the preseason progresses.

Either way, it’s just great to finally have basketball return. And although the teams aren’t playing for anything substantial in tonight’s game, there’s still plenty of exciting things to watch for both on the court and on the coaching staff’s roster sheets.


Who will have the more impressive game?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    Nick Young aka Swaggy P
    (55 votes)
  • 72%
    Patrick McCaw aka P-Nice
    (145 votes)
200 votes total Vote Now

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