Denver Nuggets Mailbag: Murray and Harris development, Jokić’s MVP chances

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@Eric_Spyros

With training camp just a few weeks away, the 2019-20 Denver Nuggets season is right around the corner. There is less than one month left before the team’s first preseason game, and with the FIBA World Cup coming to an end this weekend, players will be returning to Denver to prepare for the upcoming campaign.

This week, we are answering questions sent in from our fans on Weibo. For those unfamiliar with the platform, Weibo is a Chinese microblogging website that as of late 2018 had 445 million active users. This week’s questions address everything from Juancho Hernangomez’s playing time to Jamal Murray and Gary Harris’ development, and Nikola Jokić’s MVP chances.

It is important to note that all opinions and ideas expressed below are the author’s and do not reflect any views of the Denver Nuggets’ front office and coaching staff.

Without further ado, let’s dive into this set of questions.

Will Juancho get steady playing time next season? - 超级儒儒 (translates to “Super”)

The forward position group is arguably the deepest group on the Nuggets’ roster. Will Barton, Paul Millsap, Jerami Grant, Michael Porter Jr. and Torrey Craig will all be looking to secure rotation spots this season, which will make things challenging for Hernangomez.

Hernangomez had an up-and-down 2018-19 season. In the first half of the season, he made 25 starts and averaged 11.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game while connecting on 42.5 percent of his 3-pointers. A core injury derailed the second half of Hernangomez’s season, but he has showcased his talents throughout the FIBA World Cup.

READ MORE: Hernangomez impressing during World Cup

In six games, the 24-year-old forward has averaged 10.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, and has shot 57.5 percent from the field, including 42.1 percent on 3-pointers. If Hernangomez stays healthy and knocks down his 3-pointers at an elite rate, he may be able to carve out steady playing time next season, especially with his comfort playing alongside Jokić.

How much potential/development space do Murray and Gary Harris still have in the future? - 星际迷踪 (translates to “Starlost”)

After signing a five-year contract extension this summer, Jamal Murray enters his fourth season in the league with expectations of further development. At just 22 years old, Murray is still incredibly young for a starting point guard on a team that is coming off a Western Conference semifinals appearance.

While Jokić handles the majority of playmaking in the starting unit, Murray can continue to improve as a passer and lead initiator of the offense. Doing so will make it even harder for defenses to stop him, as they must always be aware of Murray’s shot-making abilities. The former first-round pick has already shown that he is capable of knocking down tough shots from all over the court. Consistency will also be key for Murray as he looks to become a 20 points-per-game scorer in his fourth season.

Gary Harris is a wildcard for the Nuggets this season. After several injuries disrupted his 2018-19 season, Harris will be looking to bounce back to the heights he reached during the 2017-18 campaign. In that season, the 24-year-old guard averaged 17.5 points, 2.9 assists and 1.8 steals per game and shot 39.6 percent from beyond the arc.

Harris has continued to develop as a defender in recent seasons, so look for continued growth on that end of the floor moving forward. If Harris is able to avoid injuries and bring his 3-point shooting back to an elite level, he could very well re-establish himself as the third member of Denver’s own “Big Three”.

Will Jokić shoot/have more attempts to up his scoring and enter the Top 3 for MVP? - 斯呆芬-库里 (translates to “Steph Curry”- seriously)

This is a fascinating question, as it gets to the notion of MVP criteria, which appears to change with each passing season. What has stayed the same over the years is the need for impressive counting stats (points, assists, rebounds per game) combined with an impressive team record. When Russell Westbrook won the award in 2017 on an Oklahoma City Thunder team that won 47 games, he was the first player to do so in a non-lockout shortened season since Moses Malone won the award on 46-win Houston Rockets squad in 1981-82.

It’s safe to say that the Nuggets will have to win more than 50 games to give Jokić a real chance at winning MVP, which shouldn’t be an issue given the team’s talent and quality depth. Now, there does appear to be a focus on high-scoring numbers in recent MVP races. Although Jokić finished fourth in last year’s voting for the award, his 20.1 points per game was the lowest among the players that made up the top ten in voting.

Looking at the top three players who received votes last season, there is reason to believe that Jokić could enter that elite status with another impressive season. While Giannis Antetokounmpo will look to defend his MVP crown in 2019-20, runner-up James Harden will have a new teammate in Russell Westbrook, which may take away some of Harden’s shine and impressive statistics. The same can also be said for Paul George, who finished third last season but is coming off of double shoulder surgery and joins a new situation alongside Kawhi Leonard, which may impact his numbers.

While Jokić may not increase his shot attempts or scoring numbers given Denver’s focus on managing regular-season minutes and the nature of the team’s ball-movement offense, he may have a better shot at the MVP award were he to increase his assist numbers, if players above him fall in the voting and if Denver has a very strong regular season. The short answer is that the 24-year-old All-Star may not have to score more to jump into the top three of MVP voting.

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