Everybody Ask Chris: August Edition
With the Nuggets schedule set, and the countdown in full effect winding toward training camp and the season opener, we crack open another mailbag and dive into your questions. In this, the August edition, seven questions are answered including queries on Michael Porter Jr., the difficult end of the Nuggets schedule, and a prediction on how many wins the 2018-19 Nuggets will have.
Q: As of right now, do you think MPJ will play this season and, if so, when? – greendalealumnus (@greendalealumnus)
A: greendalealumnus – My expectations for him have not changed in that I don’t think he takes the court for any significant time this season. But his quotes in a recent ESPN.com article were encouraging, to say the least. It was great to see him talk openly about the second back procedure and feeling pain free afterward. Still, here, to me, is the pivotal quote Porter told to ESPN.com: “I’m able to get on the court a little bit right now, do some different things. But my rehab has definitely been very conservative. They're really taking it easy with me, being patient with me.”
The crux of this is the last sentence. The Nuggets will absolutely, positively not do anything but stick to a very methodical, leave-no-stone-unturned plan to get MPJ back to full health. And then once he is healthy enough, he’s still got to get stronger, and he’s still got to get in NBA condition. This remains a long road. I think the best tact for all of us is to be patient with him and start off with no expectation to see him this season. Then, if he does take the court, it’s icing on the cake. But the Nuggets are a playoff team without him this season. What he’ll do next season and beyond is take the Nuggets from a team that makes the playoffs to a team that becomes a legit threat to make it to the conference finals and perhaps even the NBA Finals.
Q: As a big Nuggets fan, I am very happy with the moves the team made in free agency keeping their own players…I also like what they did in the draft… how many wins do you think they will have this season? – Ron White
A: Ron – Good question. I had the Nuggets as a 48-win team last season, and they ended up winning 46 games. This season, I think they can make the jump from 46 to 50. Here’s why: I think they’ll get at least most of a season out of Paul Millsap, who missed 44 games last season. He’ll help them shore up their defense on a nightly basis and be another weapon on offense as well as a calming, steadying veteran presence in pressure situations. I also think they’ll be better on the road.
The Nuggets regressed away from the Pepsi Center from the 2016-17 season to the 2017-18 season, going from 18 wins to 15 wins on the road. I think they get that number back in the 18-19 range, and keep their solid home play. The Nuggets won 31 games at the Pepsi Center last season. If they improve that by even two games, and get the road wins to 19, you’re looking at a team that wins more than 50. But my prediction will be 50 wins.
Q: Besides the obvious teams (Warriors, Lakers, Rockets) which is an under the radar team you are excited about seeing play at Pepsi Center? – Currency Kings (@currency_kings)
A: Currency Kings – I like this question, and it’s a pretty quick answer from me: The Chicago Bulls. This is the potential starting five for them: Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Jabari Parker, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter, Jr. The Eastern Conference is taking a lot of criticism – and rightfully so – but the conference is also harboring some of the NBA’s best young talent, and this team has a starting five that can grow into being as good as any in the league. I think they can be pretty formidable in just a couple of seasons with a great blend of athleticism, scoring, toughness, rebounding, and the ability to force matchup issues with Markkanen’s ability to step out and help space the court. They’ll have to shore up their bench, but the core is there.
Q: We have some tough games at the end of the schedule, which do you think will be the most important? – Erik Swanson (@thee_swanson)
A: Erik – I love the Nuggets end-of-season schedule. It is VERY difficult, to be sure: at Golden State, vs. San Antonio, home-and-home back-to-back vs. Portland, at Utah and home vs. Minnesota. All playoff teams from last season. But here’s what I like about it – the Nuggets have a chance to control their own destiny against competition they’ll be fighting against for playoff spots and/or seeding. Four of the games are against teams in their division – the toughest division in the NBA – which is great. They get the last game of the season at home this time, in case they need it to get in the tournament. The Nuggets are plenty good enough to navigate that gauntlet. This is not a team that needs to be wary of the challenge. They are one of the best teams in the West, and they’ll have to win the majority of those games against other tough teams to ensure they’re in the playoffs. I think they will.
Q: No doubt there is a great deal of optimism surrounding the fan base of the Denver Nuggets. Being a longtime fan myself, I am excited about the entertaining style of team basketball played last season. Most of what I read about players sounds spot on except for two people who, I believe, may be undervalued. Moving forward we still do not know what we have in Torrey Craig and Trey Lyles. It seems that both could become proficient scorers, continue to grow as defenders, and be valued complementary players as well. Could you please address the potential you see in Craig and Lyles and how their roles could change as they continue to develop? – Roy Setzer
A: Roy – Trey Lyles is my pick for breakout player of the year on the Nuggets. He did so many things well offensively, was a better player defensively than was given credit for, and will see his role increase this season. I think he’ll benefit from playing alongside Isaiah Thomas on the second unit. Thomas is the kind of player that can get right into the teeth of a defense, forcing help, and Lyles ought to get an array of open shots because of it. Torrey Craig should see more minutes as well, the first reason being he’ll be with the team all season long. But his ability to help the Nuggets defensively will earn him time under coach Michael Malone, who loves players who get down and dirty on that end of the court.
Q: Do you expect Torrey Craig to consistently be the backup SF? – Luke Engel
A: Luke – I do, if coach Michael Malone is rotating the game linearly. But it won’t always be that way. He’ll use big lineups. He’ll use small lineups. But I do see Torrey Craig getting consistent playing time no matter how the substitutions shake out on a nightly basis.
Q: Who do you think is/will be the Nuggets most underrated player this upcoming season? – Kelly Batt
A: Kelly – I think that will be Trey Lyles. There aren’t many people identifying him as a breakout candidate, and, to me, that is a mistake. To wit: Lyles’ Per 36 averages last season were these: 18.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists. And when Lyles played at least 25 minutes in a game, which occurred 23 times, he averaged 17.0 points, 7.4 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the field and 44 percent from the 3-point line. Lyles also had six double-doubles, which was second only to Nikola Jokić (38) on the team. That was remarkable given his unpredictable playing time. Here’s a bold(ish) prediction: Lyles will be the Nuggets’ fourth-leading scorer this season, behind Jokić, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris.
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.