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New for the New Year: Getting More Players into the Rotation
At different junctures in the Nuggets game against Philadelphia last Saturday, the toll the early season had taken on coach Michael Malone’s team was noticeable.
“Will Barton was sitting on the floor of the court the other night, like ‘coach I need a blow,’” Malone said. “Wilson Chandler, ‘coach I need a blow.’ Gary Harris, he had a look on his face, he looked just so fatigued and tired. And every time he shot the ball I didn’t think it had any chance to go in. He was that fatigued down the stretch.”
Malone aims to do something about it.
The minutes starters and other key players are playing, Malone said, are beginning to get out of control. So, one of his New Year’s resolutions, from a coaching standpoint, is to get the bench more involved.
“(We are) 6-6 in the last 12, but in the last 12 games we are seventh in defensive efficiency, eighth in offensive efficiency,” Malone said. “We are doing some really good things. If we can stay at that level, offensively and defensively, the rest of the year, we are going to be a pretty good basketball team. But while doing that, and the defense improving, I’m asking too much of Gary and Will and Trey (Lyles) and Jamal (Murray) and Nikola (Jokić), all of those guys.
“So that’s where, whether it’s Malik (Beasley), whether it’s Juancho (Hernangomez), Richard (Jefferson), Kenneth (Faried), Darrell (Arthur) or Emmanuel (Mudiay), I have to find a couple of guys that I can use to spell our starters and our key players so they are just not dead. I think last game was an example of us just being really, really tired.”
Harris has averaged 38.2 minutes in the Nuggets’ last five games. Jokić has played 35.5 minutes, Jamal Murray 35.0, Wilson Chandler 34.3 and Barton 31.1. Lyles is also playing over 30 minutes in this span.
Overall this season, Harris is averaging a career-high in minutes at 34.8. Barton’s (31.3) and Jokić’s (30.3) minutes are career-highs as well. But Malone is most concerned about the trend in recent games. He’s stuck to an air-tight rotation of seven or eight players.
“I went to a small rotation for a reason,” Malone said. “Early in the season we had a rotation, we were playing guys, nine, 10 deep. Obviously, I went to a seven, seven-and-a-half-man rotation, and it’s been pretty good to us.”
Malone wants to prevent future issues. A weary-legged Nuggets team shot just 40.2 percent in the loss to the Sixers, their fourth-lowest shooting percentage in a game this season. Malone noted that many of those missed shots were open looks.
Asked how many readjusted minutes he wanted his top seven or eight players to play, Malone hedged.
“It’s nothing crazy, except Gary Harris,” he said. “I would say if I could keep Gary Harris to around 34 minutes a night – even though it’s just four minutes (fewer than recent games), it doesn’t seem like a lot but I think that helps him. If I can keep Nikola to 30-32, and it’s hard. If the guy’s on the bench and guys go on a run, well, gotta get Nikola back in.”
It isn’t as easy a flicking a switch, he said. Malone wants the team’s improved defense and their recent strides in reducing turnovers to stay trending in the right direction.
“My message to the team was listen, I think we’re missing shots because we’re tired, and I think we’re tired because I am not trusting our bench more,” Malone said. “I’m playing starting five, and I’m playing Will Barton and Trey Lyles and a half of Torrey Craig. So, I have to find ways to trust our bench, play more guys, so I don’t run our players into the ground. It’s a long year, there’s a lot of basketball left.
“And I don’t want seven or eight guys in that locker room saying, ‘man, those guys are so tired but he doesn’t trust any of us.’ That’s bad for morale. So, I’ve got to find a way to get those guys in, and those guys have to understand – whoever I do play – that we are defending at a high level. If you go into the game, you have to help us continue to defend at a high level. So, it’s one of those things, I have to trust, and people have to show they are trustworthy.”
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.