The entire city of Denver was holding their collective breaths on Monday night. Jamal Murray, the unquestioned alpha of this team and second star, suffered a devastating ACL injury, that will sideline him the rest of this season and most likely the majority of next season. Even though Murray is out for a significant time, the Nuggets still have the talent on the roster to make a championship run.
Murray is irreplaceable
Jamal Murray is irreplaceable on this basketball team. Can you find an individual to replace his scoring production on a nightly basis; possibly, but the scoring will come from somewhere. Where Murray’s presence will be sorely missed is as the Nuggets alpha. The man is that dude. Jamal Murray has the intangibles of a player who is productive and raises the level of play around him.
Jamal Murray is also a bonafide closer. By closer I mean the man will close out as a defender when called upon, he will close a game and even a playoff series. Murray may not be the MVP candidate, Nikola Jokic is, but Murray ain’t no sidekick either. His alpha mentality and toughness remind me of a more offensively skilled Russell Westbrook, and he has won an MVP.
Jamal Murray is the vocal leader and face of the Nuggets outside of the court, in regards to his social movement and charity work. On the court, Murray is the voice of the players and a direct extension of coach Michael Malones’ philosophy and direction. In Denver, Jamal Murray is the Khawi Leonard to the Spurs’ Tim Duncan from several years ago with a Championship as a result.
Where will the bench production come from?
The biggest adjustment to the loss of Murray for the next year or so will be the bench rotation and productivity questions. Who will be coming off the bench, when, where, and who will be leading this group? I am assuming coach Malone goes with a starting lineup of:
- PG: Monte Morris
- SG: Will Barton
- SF: Aaron Gordon
- PF: Michael Porter Jr.
- C: Nikola Jokic
There are several opportunities for the following individuals to contribute to this team in Murray’s absence, that include:
Javale McGee: The Nuggets will need his defensive presence from here on to prevent the Western Conference guards from thinking the lane is easily accessible. His shot-blocking and defensive rebounding will increase the number of possessions in the game, dramatically if given 15-20 minutes a game.
Paul Milsap: He has taken a lot of heat from Nuggets fans and the Denver media the past four years for his productivity not matching the nearly $100 million he has earned in his tenure in Denver. Milsap needs to be the captain of the bench squad, a veteran voice along with McGee, and a calming presence for this team. Paul Milsap cannot afford to continue to be an offensive liability on the floor with poor shot selection and turnovers.
PJ Dozier: Torrey Craig and Gary Harris are no longer in Denver because of the confidence that Dozier can be a lockdown defender on an opposing team’s best scoring option. With the addition of Aaron Gordon, Dozier should be guarding the second-best opposing option. His struggles have been defensively and his offensive output this season has been just that, offensive. A productive PJ Dozier would see him play a Marcus Smart role in Denver with scrappy play in the playoffs.
Malone will have to adjust his coaching style
Coach Michael Malone has lost his second-best player, without a doubt. Yet, Malone has the brevity of talent still on that roster. He has the MVP favorite and best center in the NBA. Michael Porter Jr’s offensive production keeps growing and his defensive lapses are continuing to decrease. Aaron Gordon can effectively guard your opponent’s best scorer and still be capable of putting up 20 points a night.
Monte Morris and Facu Campazzo are above average at the point guard position and are capable of running an uptempo offense. Milsap and McGee bring that old veteran voice, calmness, and playoff experience needed in moments that can derail a young team in postseason play.
Michael Malone will have to put aside whatever reasoning he had for limiting the playing time for players who could be surprisingly valuable this season and next. Remember, Jamal Murray is not a guarantee to be ready for the playoffs next year, so who can Malone give a head start, to possibly find a diamond in the rough?
Bol Bol has the shooting touch and length to cause opponents problems, but he is a defensive liability. Still, what do you have to lose by playing him five-six minutes, when you can’t seem to buy a bucket? Why is Markus Howard, the sharpshooter you drafted from Marquette, not getting a look? Howard averaged nearly 27 points a game last year, yet we haven’t seen much of him at all this season. How does a player with his scoring ability, not see time on the floor, especially when the team has had struggles with creating shots and outside shooting?
It’s time for the coach to break the emergency glass and take these next 18 games to find his diamond in the rough. In doing so, he should also explore nights of rest for Jokic and MPJ to keep them fresh for the postseason.
Championship expectations shouldn’t disappear
I do not believe in allowing a team’s championship expectation off the hook due to injuries. There is talk among Denver media, that the Nuggets championship window is already closed. There are rumblings that the team is doomed this season and the next couple due to Murray being out. I am even hearing on the airwaves that the expectation is a first-round playoff exit.
Why would anyone let this team’s championship aspirations die off? The Nuggets have the best frontcourt in the NBA. Any of Jokic, MPJ, and Gordon, could take over a game and be an unstoppable force in a playoff series. Monte Morris and Will Barton provide enough scoring to keep opponents honest and away from playing off them.
The bench has three veterans in McGee, Milsap, and JaMychal Green, who can play physical, scrappy, and keep this team calm in moments where games can slip away in five to seven-minute increments.
The Nuggets have the league’s MVP front runner in Jokic. He alone should be enough to carry this team out of the first round. There are also two additional superstars in Michael Porter Jr and Aaron Gordon. Those two players should be enough to help Jokic close out series against Phoenix, Dallas, Memphis, San Antonio, and Portland.
As the Denver Nuggets progress in the postseason, the bench roles and coaching strategy need to be flawless against the Jazz, Clippers, and Lakers.