DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 17: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets looks on during the game against the New Orleans Pelicans on November 17, 2017 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado.
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Several Players Already Stepping up Production in Paul Millsap's Absence

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider

The first question asked of Nuggets coach Michael Malone after one of his star players, Paul Millsap, went down for significant time with a wrist injury was basic, yet complex. Who steps up while he’s gone?

Lineups would have to be adjusted. Players who had settled into certain roles had to get used to new responsibilities. Others, who played sparingly, found more playing time. Right off the top, the Nuggets knew they had to lean on do-everything center Nikola Jokić even more.

Jokić quickly showed he could be counted on down the stretch and in clutch moments with his big fourth quarter performance against Memphis.

“We lost our go-to player in Paul Millsap, who we’ve gone to a lot down the stretch,” Malone said. “And now Nikola is a guy that did a lot for us last year. Obviously, coming off the game he had, that fourth quarter against Memphis – 14 points, seven rebounds and makes big play after big play. And it’s my job also to make sure in the fourth quarter that he’s touching the ball.”

How is the team managing without Millsap? Well, so far. They are 2-1 and have averaged over 104 points per game. There remains work to be done, but offensively the Nuggets have already seen players assume a bigger piece of production. To wit:

- Jokić: 15.3 points per game before the Millsap injury; 20.3 points per game since he’s been out.

- Kenneth Faried: 4.4 points per game before the Millsap injury; 10.0 points per game since he’s been out.

- Will Barton: 14.3 points per game before the Millsap injury; 18.0 points per game since he’s been out.

- Trey Lyles: 3.2 points per game before the Millsap injury; 7.0 points per game since he’s been out

- Juancho Hernangomez: 2.0 points per game before the Millsap injury; 7.7 points per game since he’s been out.

The latter two, Lyles and Hernangomez, have not only seen increased playing time, they’re seeing a lot more time on the court together.

“It’s been really good,” Malone said. “Trey Lyles is a good player. …Juancho and (Lyles), you have two skilled players, wings, that can shoot the ball, that can put the ball on the floor and space the floor really well for our other guys. So, I think those two together has been really good for us.”

Lyles has taken advantage of the playing time, which has been just under 20 minutes per game.

“It’s getting better,” Lyles said. “I’m getting used to playing with different lineups, and now I’m starting to play with the starters a little bit here and there. And of course, playing with the guys coming off the bench as well. I’m getting more comfortable and I think it’s starting to show.”

With Lyles and Faried soaking up most of the power forward minutes, Malone has shifted Hernangomez into playing more minutes at small forward. Hernangomez played exclusively at small forward in the Nuggets’ win over Memphis on Friday night.

Though he’s been more of a ‘stretch four’ power forward in his still-young NBA career, Hernangomez says playing small forward is fine.

“A player wants to play, it doesn’t matter what position they play,” Hernangomez said. “If they want me to play point guard, I’ll play it. I need to watch more film to be ready for the games to play small forward, and it’s okay.”

Hernangomez has played 19.4 minutes per game since Millsap has been out.

“I feel great,” Hernangomez said. “Every day I feel a little bit better, and I’m glad to be part of the team to help the team.”

Christopher Dempsey: and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.