Denver Nuggets Mailbag: Jokić’s MVP chances, Porter Jr.’s scoring, and more
The wait is over.
The NBA’s 75th anniversary season begins tonight, with the Denver Nuggets opening up their 2021-22 campaign Wednesday night against the Phoenix Suns.
This upcoming season promises to be a compelling and unique one for Denver, who will be without Jamal Murray to start the year. The growth of Michael Porter Jr., the further integration of Aaron Gordon, and the presence of new faces in Jeff Green and Bones Hyland will all be storylines to keep an eye on this season.
Before the games get going for real, let’s revisit our Nuggets Mailbag to answer some of the most pressing questions that Nuggets Nation has heading into the regular season!
Who’s the starting 5 going to be? - Dominic Denucci (Facebook)
Denver’s starting five appears to have been locked in several weeks ago, with Monte Morris stepping in to replace Murray to begin the season. Alongside Morris will be Will Barton, Porter Jr., Gordon, and the reigning MVP, Nikola Jokić.
This lineup played sparingly last season, sharing the court for 110 possessions in the regular season, according to Cleaning the Glass (which filters out garbage time statistics). In those possessions, the lineup posted a +1.5 net rating, exclusively as a result of an insanely high offensive rating of 134.5 points per 100 possessions.
Of course, this also meant that the group struggled to get stops in that small sample size, something that continued in the brief run this group had in the playoffs, in which the same lineup posted a 129.1 defensive rating across 56 playoff possessions.
Again, these are extremely small sample sizes, but there shouldn’t be any concern about this group not being able to put points on the board in bunches.
Porter Jr.’s growth and role in the upcoming season will be one of the key storylines to follow, especially at the beginning of the season while Jamal Murray is still out due to injury. Although he hasn't specifically set a numerical goal for his scoring average this season, a closer look at the numbers can allow us to make a potential projection for Porter Jr.'s 2021-22 campaign.
Looking at last year’s numbers can provide a clue into Porter Jr.’s potential averages this season. Over the course of the season, the 23-year-old averaged 19 points per game, but the third-year forward really increased his production after the All-Star break.
In 35 games after the break, Porter Jr. averaged 22.3 points per game on 56.4 percent shooting from the field, including 46.4 percent from beyond the arc. Of course, a good number of these games took place following Murray’s injury in April, which thrust Porter Jr. into a second option role on offense. With Denver returning nearly the identical rotation this season, look for Porter Jr. to jump up to an average of 22-23 points per game this season, with the potential for that number to increase upwards of 24-25 points per game with ease given the elite shot-making ability the former 14th overall pick possesses.
Porter Jr. certainly has just as good of a shot at winning Most Improved Player as any player in the league. As mentioned in the previous answer, Porter Jr. will likely increase his scoring upwards of 21-22 points per game (and that’s on the conservative side in terms of a projection).
Considering that Porter Jr. finished third in last year’s voting for the award, another step in his development while featuring in a larger role for most of the season could push him to the top of voting ballots this season.
As for Jokić, repeating as MVP is incredibly difficult. Although there have been three instances of repeat winners since 2010 (LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo), Jokić will face plenty of competition from the likes of Kevin Durant, Curry, Antetokounmpo, and other MVP contenders such as Joel Embiid and Luka Dončić.
For Jokić to repeat, he’d have to average similar numbers to last year’s historic season and lead the Nuggets to a top-four seed in the competitive Western Conference. One can’t rule that scenario out given the dominance the Serbian big man showcased last season.
This is a great question. Given the makeup of the current Nuggets squad heading into the 2021-22 season, the two names that come to mind right away are Fat Lever and Dikembe Mutombo.
Lever would provide Denver with a dynamic guard that can impact the game on both ends of the floor. Lever was a constant triple-double threat and steady playmaker while consistently grading out positively on the defensive end of the floor (Lever made an All-Defensive Team in the 1987-88 season). With how much Denver’s guard depth will be tested this season, Lever would be a great addition.
However, the Nuggets would certainly benefit from an elite rim protector and shot blocker like Mutombo. The fit alongside Jokić would be pretty tricky on the offensive end of the floor, but even if Denver deployed Mutombo in a smaller role, he would do wonders to impact the team’s interior defense.
If Murray was completely healthy, I’d lean towards Mutombo. But with Denver needing additional guard depth, Lever probably gets the nod this time.
Can I see Monte/Bones/MPJ/Jeff green/Joker Starting? - Kobe Kobayashi (Facebook)
Although this won’t be the starting lineup, there is a chance that fans will see this lineup (or a group that resembles this one) during the early stages of the season.
Hyland impressed enough throughout the preseason to receive consistent praise from head coach Michael Malone, increasing the chances that the rookie could receive some regular season playing time to begin the year.
Meanwhile, the intriguing aspect of the Jeff Green signing this offseason was his ability to play both the four and five positions given his shooting, ball-handling, and versatility on the defensive end of the floor.
Playing alongside Jokić in this group would allow Green to space the floor, cut to the basket, and even get involved in the pick-and-roll (as a ball-handler or roll man) with Jokić, which could be an unstoppable action given the shooting that would surround them in Morris, Hyland, and Porter Jr.
Sign me up for wanting to watch this group put points on the board in a hurry!