Following the team’s improbable and historic run to the Western Conference Finals, Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone spoke to the media Thursday to review the season and preview the upcoming offseason.
From discussing his top memories from the experience inside the Orlando bubble to the growth of players such as Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., Malone shared his thoughts on a variety of topics surrounding the team, including where the Nuggets go from here.
Here are three takeaways from Malone’s final media availability for the 2019-20 season.
“He’s a big part of our future”
If you guessed that this quote was about Jerami Grant, you are correct. Grant, one of the standout performers throughout Denver’s playoff run, has been a hot topic of conversation among Nuggets fans and analysts heading into this unusual offseason.
After trading for Grant during the 2019 offseason, there was plenty of excitement surrounding his potential role and on-court versatility. That was most evident throughout the playoffs, where Grant slotted in as the team’s starting small forward for the majority of the 19 playoff games. Grant did so following a regular season in which he almost exclusively spent time at the power forward and center positions.
“Jerami was a tremendous part of what we were able to accomplish,” Malone said Thursday. “Defensively, he was amazing in all three series.”
It was on the defensive end where Grant made his mark during the postseason. The 26-year-old was tasked with guarding the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, LeBron James and even Anthony Davis.
Malone also pointed out the challenge that this presented Grant, who spent the majority of his time at the four and five positions during his tenure with the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, given the makeup of the teams Denver faced in the 2020 postseason (most notably the two LA teams), Grant was forced to move up a position to defend the elite wings in the Western Conference.
While noting that free agency will play itself out, Malone emphasized Grant’s importance to this Nuggets squad.
“He’s a big part of our future. He showed everyone in Nuggets Nation just how valuable he is during those playoff games.”
The growth of Jokić and Murray
The 2019 playoffs were a learning experience for the Nuggets. For the majority of the players and coaching staff, it was the first taste of postseason basketball. For Nikola Jokić, it was a bigger platform to showcase his greatness, which is exactly what he did.
On the other hand, although Murray displayed his shotmaking abilities and prowess for coming up clutch buckets, there were inconsistencies in his performance, which caused doubts about Denver’s ability to win big in the playoffs heading into the 2019-20 season.
Well, those doubts are certainly gone now following a historic playoff run from the 23-year-old guard. Yet beside the on-court statistical production, Malone was most impressed with the leadership that Murray brought to the team during the unique bubble run.
“What Jamal Murray did in 19 playoff games, from a production standpoint, from an efficiency standpoint, from a consistency standpoint, was incredible,” Malone said. “But even more so when you put in the emotional leadership that he provided for our team, especially in that first round against Utah. (We were able) to witness up close a personal growth of a young superstar.”
With both players shining on the national stage, it should excite fans just as much as it excites Malone.
“Just like the Lakers have a two-star attack and the Clippers have a two-star attack, we have a two superstar attack as well in Nikola and Jamal.”
The message to MPJ
One of the major storylines throughout the 2019-20 season for the Nuggets was the debut and growth of Michael Porter Jr.
Although the regular season had plenty of ups and downs, Porter Jr. received an opportunity during the eight seeding games in the bubble and certainly made the most of it.
“Michael was just terrific. It was important for him and great for us, but more important for him to get that confidence,” Malone added.
When asked what his message for Porter Jr. is heading into this offseason, Malone cited the importance of staying healthy and continuing to work on the defensive end of the floor.
“I saw an improvement (on defense) from Game 1 against Utah all the way through Game 5 against the Lakers,” Malone said. “Now that improvement is great. But there still is more improvement needed. He wants to do everything he can to not be that guy (that teams target on defense).”
Porter Jr. dazzled with his shot-making and rebounding abilities, and now that the 22-year-old can have a healthy offseason to continue working on his game, the sky could be the limit.
“He's a gym rat. He loves the game. He's always working on it. I'm excited to see what he can bring to the table next season.”