Denver Nuggets 2021 Training Camp Preview

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyroNBA

Mile High Basketball is back!

Sort of.

With the Denver Nuggets kicking off their 2021 training camp tomorrow and the first preseason game against the LA Clippers taking place in exactly one week, the grind of the 2021-22 season has begun.

Over the next three weeks, Denver will practice, scrimmage, and get a few tests against other teams in the Western Conference to iron out rotations, plays, and conditioning in preparation for that Oct. 20 opener against the Phoenix Suns.

The 2021-22 Nuggets will look very similar to last year’s squad, with Jeff Green and rookie Bones Hyland highlighting the additions Denver made to the roster. Green brings versatility and plenty of experience to the frontcourt rotation, while Hyland tantalized with his unique blend of scoring and playmaking in Summer League.

With camp opening tomorrow and preseason right around the corner, let’s take a look at some key storylines to watch for over the ensuing weeks as the Nuggets prepare for the regular season.

How will the guard rotation play out?

One of the major talking points surrounding this season’s Nuggets team is the absence of Jamal Murray at the start of the 2021-22 campaign. After suffering his injury in April, Murray will likely remain out until the All-Star break, but no timetable has been given for his eventual return to the court.

Denver has several options to fill in his place, led by Monte Morris and Facundo Campazzo. Morris has started 31 games over the past three seasons, while Campazzo started 19 games in his first NBA season last year. During the playoffs, it was Campazzo that started 9 of the 10 games, but Denver was also missing Will Barton and PJ Dozier throughout the postseason.

Morris was very productive in the playoffs, averaging 13.7 points and 5.5 assists per game while connecting on 40 percent of his 3-point attempts. No starting point guard has been named prior to training camp starting, so the coaching staff will have the next couple of weeks to see which player fits in best with the rest of the expected starting five (Barton, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Jokić).

Behind Morris and Campazzo, Austin Rivers, Dozier, and Barton will likely handle the remaining minutes in the backcourt. Dozier is one of Denver’s best perimeter defenders and took a step forward during the 2020-21 season on the offensive end, while Rivers proved to be a timely pickup towards the end of the regular season last year.

Barton’s presence will provide a big boost for Denver’s backcourt, as his blend of scoring, ball-handling, and playmaking will make him a key cog on the offensive end of the floor.

While rookies don’t typically walk into playing time during their initial NBA campaign, Hyland could provide a scoring punch and space the floor for Denver’s leaders if he is called upon during Murray’s absence.

The Green synergy

Last year’s Nuggets squad relied on a traditional backup center for parts of the season (beginning with Isaiah Hartenstein before a trade for JaVale McGee), but towards the end of the regular season and in the playoffs, head coach Michael Malone opted for a smaller second unit frontcourt comprised of JaMychal Green and Paul Millsap.

Based on Denver’s offseason moves, it looks like that will be the plan to begin this season, swapping Jeff Green into Millsap’s role.

Green brings a lot of versatility to the Mile High City on both ends of the floor. On the offensive end, Green had an elite 3-point shooting season as a member of the Brooklyn Nets last season (41.2 percent on 3.7 attempts per game), has been an impressive finisher around the rim in recent years (At least 72.5 percent shooting from within three feet of the rim in each of the past three seasons), and can still get up for dunks and alley-oops.

Meanwhile, JaMychal Green brought physicality and 3-point shooting to Denver last season and returned to the team in the offseason to play a key role in the frontcourt rotation.

In a league that has become more position-less in recent years, the two Greens will join forces in the second unit frontcourt to provide quality floor-spacing and versatility for Denver’s second unit lineups. The two veterans have been teammates before as members of the Memphis Grizzlies during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.

One could imagine a deadly second unit frontcourt that includes both Greens and Porter Jr., who could be subbed out of games earlier in the first and third quarters to be a focal point of the second unit.

Which young players will step up?

Denver’s rotation is made up of a healthy mix of young players and established veterans. While the team’s main core is made up of players 26 or younger (Jokić, Murray, Porter Jr.), the Nuggets will rely on players such as Campazzo, both Greens, and Barton to play key roles throughout the season.

However, beyond that main rotation, Denver has a group of young players that provide intriguing skillsets. From Hyland and Zeke Nnaji to Bol Bol, Denver’s bench could receive a lift from these players looking to carve out playing time.

Nnaji received limited run last year and impressed with his ability to space the floor on offense and guard multiple positions on the other end of the floor. Heading into his second season, Nnaji could figure into the frontcourt rotation with his shooting and defensive versatility.

Hyland showcased his scoring capabilities in Summer League, displaying his long-range shooting ability and crafty finishing around the rim. The 26th pick in the 2021 Draft also showed his passing ability, making several nice finds when operating in the pick-and-roll. Teams can always use more shooting on the floor, so Hyland could figure into the mix as a result of his ability to space the floor and hit from well beyond the 3-point line.

Another standout at Summer League was Bol, who once again impressed with his unique skill set at the center position. Turning 22 in November, Bol still has room to grow, but his talent is unquestioned. Capable of handling the ball, hitting 3-pointers, and blocking shots at an elite rate, Bol could work his way into minutes in the frontcourt during the grind of the regular season.

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