Denver Nuggets’ Michael Malone trying to find balance with deepest team in his tenure
It’s a positive dilemma, but it’s a dilemma nevertheless.
The 2019-20 Nuggets roster is the deepest in head coach Michael Malone’s tenure and arguably in franchise history. Finding minutes to satisfy a talented group of players won’t be easy and Malone was blunt in providing his perspective of the situation.
“Do you want to be a part of winning team, or do you want to get numbers?,” he asked rhetorically.
Buoyed by the addition of Jerami Grant, the Nuggets are at least two deep in every position on the roster. In the case of small forward, the team has four legitimate players who could make their case to start on opening night in 11 days. Finding the right balance and rhythm could determine whether the Nuggets will deliver on expectations this season.
“If everyone is true to their word and if they are trying to buy into being a championship-caliber team, the word we talked about opening night [of training camp] was ‘sacrifice’,” Malone explained. “It's like a paradox, ‘How do I sacrifice in the moment for something that's going to help me in the future’? The reality is you want to be a part of a winning team.”
The Nuggets have shown some positive signs of growth in the first two games of the preseason. Due to the added athleticism of Grant, second-year player Jarred Vanderbilt, and rookie Michael Porter Jr., Denver’s defense looks even better than it did last season where it was a top 10 team. The Nuggets are holding opponents to 92.5 points per game (seventh in the NBA) and 38.6 percent shooting (sixth). They’ve also been effective in attacking the passing lanes as evidenced by their 11 steals per game, good for eighth in the league. Malone believes the added size from the three men has been a boost.
“There's been a couple of lineups where we're just so long and athletic,” Malone said. “We chart deflections and we want to contest every shot. When you have guys like Jerami, like Jarred, like Michael, who are not only tall and extremely athletic, but their wingspans are [also] a real factor out there.”
The speed and length has also been a boost on offense. The Nuggets are currently seventh in the NBA in fast break points at 21 per game, a healthy jump from last season where they averaged just under 13 in that category (15th in the NBA). In the previous campaign, the Nuggets had an incredibly efficient offense, but it struggled to score easy buckets. The preseason has yielded a small sample size, the strides made on both sides of the court has to be encouraging for Malone and his coaching staff.
“That's something we haven't had a lot of in the past couple of years, so it's nice to have that,” Malone said about the team’s increased athleticism.
Barring any setbacks, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokić are penciled in as starters for the Nuggets first game of the season against the Trail Blazers. Although Will Barton has started the team’s first two preseason games, Malone insists there’s no leader in the small forward competition. The coach will continue to rotate at that spot for the remaining exhibition to make a final determination at the spot.
Murray, the Nuggets’ point guard, didn’t appear to be fazed by having to adjust with whoever ends up in the starting lineup at the position.
“It doesn't matter who is on the court. Same ball, same plays,” Murray explained before joking adding, “Thrill, Torrey, Mike, Jerami, Bol Bol for matchup problems -- it doesn't really matter.”