Nuggets face big test without Jamal Murray: More on plate for Nikola Jokic; Michael Porter Jr.’s time to shine

Jamal Murray happening with a torn ACL within the second week of April was one of many greatest intestine photographs in a 2020-21 season stuffed with crippling accidents. With Aaron Gordon on board and Nikola Jokic on his technique to a landslide MVP, the Nuggets had been a legit title menace. They nonetheless managed to win their first-round sequence over the Blazers, a commendable achievement with a beginning backcourt of Austin Rivers and Facundo Campazzo, however had been finally left questioning what would possibly’ve been as they had been swept by the Phoenix Suns within the second spherical. 

Murray’s damage was doubly damaging in that it figures to maintain him out the majority of this common season, too. There is no timetable for his return, however primarily based on a typical 12-month — give or take — ACL restoration time, there’s an opportunity Denver will not have him accessible till the playoffs, assuming they make it that far. Chances are high, they may. Jokic is that superior, however he’ll must play north of 70 and even 75 video games once more. From there, others must step up. 

Here’s a have a look at Denver’s roster together with three issues to know because the Nuggets embark on the 2021-22 marketing campaign.

Denver Nuggets roster

With Murray out, Porter, who signed a five-year extension this summer season that could possibly be value as much as $207 million, is primed to take the following step in what seems to be to be a future-All-Star ascension. Porter is a world-class shooter who at 6-foot-10 is basically unaffected by even sturdy contests. He averaged 19 factors per sport final season however 22-23 must be in his vary this season. He shot 45 % from 3 final season, and his 133.2 factors per 100 photographs makes an attempt ranked within the 96th percentile amongst all forwards, per Cleansing the Glass. 

If Denver’s first preseason game is any indication, Porter is already in midseason kind. On Monday night time, he went for 23 factors and 7 assists on 9-for-15 taking pictures, together with 3 of 5 from 3, towards the Clippers. We have seen Porter dominate playoff video games at the same time as high-level defensive consideration tilts his method. 

This season, an enormous query is whether or not Porter can take a step ahead as an off-the-dribble creator. He is not notably fluid with the ball in his palms — stiff might be the best phrase — however his size permits for pull-up jumpers regardless of minimal area creation. If Porter can develop as a pick-and-roll/dribble-handoff playmaker with Jokic, proceed his enchancment as an in-the-lane finisher and discover at the least some success in attending to the free-throw line extra typically, the sky is the restrict offensively. 

Defensively, Porter has gotten higher. Nevertheless it was a low bar. Once more, his stiffness hurts him; he does not change course fluidly and he is very upright. However his size is there and if he simply cuts out the psychological lapses, he could be nice. 

By way of his first two seasons, Porter has gone from a venture to a binge scorer/shooter to a core piece on a group that expects to win a championship. This season, it is in regards to the transfer into stardom. Not top-tier stardom. Perhaps not even All-Stardom. However a star within the sense that he can, and does, carry the offense alongside Jokic because the alternative for Murray in one of many league’s finest one-two punches. He has that form of capacity. 

2. Aaron Gordon has to search out proper stability

When the Nuggets traded for Gordon (whom they re-signed this summer season to a four-year, $92 million extension), the thought was for him to be an athletic, versatile defender and a fill-in-the-gaps man on offense (a cutter, transition athlete, make a number of bounce photographs right here and there kind factor). However now that Murray is out, Gordon must step up as a extra outstanding scorer — notably if Will Barton is not in a position to do the identical — as Denver fights to take care of its top-tier standing in a cruel Western Convention that can relegate even group akin to Denver to the play-in event, if not the lottery, with out blinking. 

That mentioned, Gordon cannot attempt to do an excessive amount of. Play off his chemistry with Jokic, however the self-creation must be tempered. Perhaps get again as much as 4-5 3-pointers per sport, however understand that Gordon solely shot 26 % from deep over 25 video games with the Nuggets final season and has by no means been even a median marksman. 

Gordon was terrific when he first received to Denver in that he match instantly, instantly discovering his place and stability among the many clearly established scoring hierarchy of Jokic, Murray and Porter. Now that hierarchy has modified, and Gordon’s strategy should, to some extent, mirror the brand new actuality. However overdoing it could be a straightforward factor to do for Gordon, who has to stroll the nice line between glue-and go-to man on the offensive finish till Murray returns. 

3. Protection will nonetheless be a problem

Merely having Jokic, notably with the extent of continuity that exists on this roster and a team-wide dedication to taking pictures extra 3-pointers (which is the plan), is probably going sufficient to maintain the Nuggets within the prime 10 offensively; if Porter and Gordon have large years, prime 5 just isn’t out of the query even with out Murray. The protection is the difficulty. 

Final season, Denver ranked eleventh defensively, per CTG, permitting 112.5 factors per 100 possessions, which is not dangerous. It was roughly equal to the Milwaukee Bucks. The distinction is within the elements of these two defenses. Whereas Milwaukee has elite defenders who can flip it on when essential (Jrue Holiday, Giannis Antetokounmpo, even Khris Middleton at occasions), the Nuggets, from a personnel standpoint, look like topped out as a sub-top-10 unit, and so they have specific holes that make them weak in playoff matchups. 

Jokic has gotten higher, however he is not going to protect on the perimeter and he could be exploited as a pick-and-roll defender; Chris Paul chewed him up within the second spherical. And who’s going to strain the ball? Whereas a man like Vacation can, and did, swing a sequence along with his point-of-attack strain, Denver lacks that form of on-ball defender. Austin Rivers can defend. So can P.J. Dozier. However whenever you’re weak on the level of assault and within the lane, you are in hassle.  

Gordon, in principle, can roam and make performs and plug some holes, however he is not even near a Giannis in that capability. And there is method an excessive amount of to make up for, anyway. It is laborious to see how Denver turns into a greater defensive group than final season until Porter and Jokic are in a position to take a a lot greater steps than I can personally visualize. | Nuggets face large take a look at with out Jamal Murray: Extra on plate for Nikola Jokic; Michael Porter Jr.’s time to shine


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