Reliving the pain: A late “live” tweeting of the 3/20 Nuggets at Rockets game

HouLoss

I’m posting this late because I just finished it. I watched the first half before the March 22nd Cavs game, and the second half after. Although it’s one of the worst losses and most difficult pills to swallow of this season, it is also an important moment in shaping the development of this young team, who bounced back and responded exceptionally well by trouncing Cleveland in the following game.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Okay, sitting down now to watch the replay of the last #Nuggets game (loss in Houston). I’ll be “live” tweeting it. Bracing for the pain.

Perhaps this tiime it’s fortunate that I already know the result. Tomorrow I’ll be doing the same w/ Cavs game, but spoiler free if I can.

I do know the score to this one, so I won’t feel the shock, though I’m sure I’ll feel the frustration. But I don’t know the details well.

Okay, here we go, opening tip goes to the Rockets, Harden misses the 3 after Plumlee switches onto him, Harris drives in for the layup.

Houston getting to the rim pretty easily on some possessions. Seems like a no-brainer that the Nuggets need better rim protection but…

…when they’re doing such a poor job of denying at the perimeter, we got sort of a chicken/egg situation.

Rockets go up 12-6 early on a Harden steal, Malone wants to put the brakes on it and calls time out.

Jokic rightfully has gotten the lion’s share of the limelight this season, but Harris is really emerging as such a complete player.So good.

Nuggets continue switching Plumlee onto Harden, with mostly not-great results.

This Rockets announcer guy: “Why would you want to call yourself Yokic, and not Jokic? Because you wouldn’t call yourself the Yoker.”

“If you didn’t like the Yoker, what would that be, egg whites or something?” Are these words really coming out of this dude’s mouth?

Another turnover for Jokic. Whenever he gets doubled, the Nuggets seems to always have 4 guys loaded up over on the weak side.

Gotta do a better job of sending help his way so he has better options to pass out of the double.

Nuggets sloppy with the ball here in the 1st. Out of the timeout Jamal immediately turns it over. Ariza steal and dunk. Bad look.

9 points off turnovers already with about 2 min left in 1st Q. Malone must have been superfly TNT.

Nuggets close the gap from (iirc) 12 to 7 to end the 1st. They might survive bad defense OR too many turnovers vs good teams. But not both.

I’m still catching up after being out of town. Is Malone actually trying to fold Mudiay back into the rotation, or is it just bc injuries?

This Jokic-Juancho-Barton-Mudiay-Murray lineup putting together a huge run for the Nuggets. Feels counterintuitive to me.

Trying to pinpoint reason why I feel like that lineup should be less effective than it has. Think it’s having both Barton & Mudiay in it.

Barton hacked by Gordon, no call. Mudiay hacked by Gordon, they get it right the 2nd time. And Emmanual sinks both his FTs.

Mudiay has actually looked really solid in this game. Are we seeing this season’s episode of a better Mudiay emerging after a hiatus?

Was this our first time to see this #Nuggets lineup of the future this season? Off the top of my head, I think maybe so.

If Nuggets players as much as fart in the general vicinity of Harden he gets the whistle.

Overall a pretty great 2nd quarter from Denver, especially by their young bench unit. Tons of promise in the #Nuggets’ future.

Unfortunately, it’s just after 3 a.m. and I’m just a primate who requires sleep to function, so I’ll have to save the 2nd half for later.

I never finished watching/live tweeting the 2nd half of the 3/20 #Nuggets @ #Rockets game. So bc I’m a glutton for punishment, here goes…

I know it’s a few days late, so apologies in advance if it causes confusion. But this is my chance to get caught up b4 the Indy game.

Nuggets start the 2nd half with the ball, 3 points up on the Rockets. Both teams start off cold, only scoring on 1 of about 5 possessions.

Jokic, taking  scoring initiative, gets Capela in foul trouble & D’Antoni sends in Nene. But Jokic scores on post-up w/ Anderson on him.

Harris w/ a great drive & floater for the and-1 chance. Ryan Anderson, maybe the NBA’s most egregious flopper now, flails on the ground.

Halfway through the 3rd quarter, both teams keeping apace of each other, Nuggets maintaining their 3-point halftime lead.

After going up by 5, Nuggets leave Ariza wide open in the corner, and his 3 caps a 7-2 HOU run that ties up the game. Malone calls time.

Harden loves getting bigs switched onto him. Abused Juancho earlier, froze up Plumlee on a drive just now. Little they can do to stop him.

And Harden gets Juancho switched onto him again, makes a nice fake to create space, sinks the 3.

Murray hits a big 3 from 4-5 feet behind arc to tie it back up. His execution on it’s still inconsistent, but he’s got that killer instinct.

D’Antoni absolutely screaming at the refs when Harden gets called for a foul on Murray after pretty much bear hugging him from behind.

D’Antoni absolutely screaming at the refs when Harden gets called for a foul on Murray after pretty much bear hugging him from behind.

Okay here we go, start of the 4th quarter of the 3/20 Nuggets at Rockets game. Dreading what comes next. #couragemerry #courageforourfriends

Jameer over-dribbling gets a ton of hate. But let’s be honest, Jamal does it pretty often, too. Eg 1 min into the 4th between Gordon’s 2 3s.

That’s not to say expectations shouldn’t be higher for Jameer as vet (they should) or that value of Jamal getting time isn’t higher (it ist)

Which doesn’t answer the strategic/philosophical question of development vs win now, but maybe Jameer gets a worse rap than merited.

But I do think it’s fair to say that expecting better outcomes *right now* by playing Jamal over Jameer could also result in disappintment.

After a loose ball scramble resulting in Mudiay fouling Beverly, the latter hits a big 3-pointer & HOU goes up 3, crowd goes wild.

9:50 left in the 4th, Murray gets ball at arc w 10 sec left on shot clock, dribbles back nearly to half court, then…

…runs the clock down to 4 seconds without moving the ball, and takes a 3 from about 8 feet beyond the arc.

I love Murray as much as any Nuggets fans, all I’m saying is maybe before bashing Jameer too badly, be cognizant he does this stuff, too.

The Rockets had gone up 6, but Nuggets go on 5-1 run as Harris hits a 3 to close the lead to 2 – and get his career high 28 points.

Harden’s ability to switch speeds multiple times when driving to the rim never stops being impressive.

Just >3 min left, Juancho switches onto Harden at the elbow. Actually does a solid job staying in front of him, beard sinks the j anyhow.

Jokic gets the ball in the low post, gets doubled, powers in for the layup anyhow.

Refs correctly reverse offensive goaltending call on Juancho, Nuggets close to within 2 w/ 1:41 remaining.

Glad I already know the results of this one so I can avoid falling into the trap of getting my hopes up.

Harden & Barton trade 3s, Nene turns it over, Barton floats it in, and completes the 3-point play to put DEN up 1 w 42.1 left.

At this point I believe it is incumbent upon me to provide a trigger warning for those of you who may find reliving this moment too painful.

Annnd there’s that very terrible horrible ending I’ve heard so much about. Yep – bad as advertised, in just about every possible way.

Jameer should definitely have gotten the ball to Jokic early in the possession. That was a massive mistake for sure.

That should be a hard and steadfast rule for the Nuggets in game-on-line situations: A.G.J. Always Get it to Jokic.

And letting Harden go coast to coast is inexcusable, as was the final ATO play (whether or not it was run as drawn up). Ugh.

Well, that’s it. All caught up now & ready to get about 4 hours sleep before the Pacers game, which will hopefully have a happieer ending.

 

Recap-ish: Quasi-live tweeting of the Nuggets’ huge win over the Cavs

Jokic

Although I wasn’t able to watch Denver’s big win over Cleveland live, I stayed spoiler-free, and “live”-tweeted as I watched it after the fact. That live tweeting thread is what follows.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Back from work. Kept spoiler-free on the Cavs game, so I’m about to watch and “live” tweet it post hoc. Won’t be reading/replying till done.

I said before the game I thought the Nuggets had a shot, so I already either look smart or dumb for that. About to find out which.

Nuggets go up 10-9, but it’s 5 2s for DEN and 3 3s for CLE. Doesn’t bode well for DEN to let them shoot open 3s all game.

After Chandler misses another 3, Faried steals, Jameer opts out on a 3, passes to Jokic, who dishes it back to him for C&S off screen.

Once again Nuggets seem not to be getting their offense consistently running through Jokic, but when they do, results (usually) good.

2nd straight possession, Nuggets pass on worse shots, run it throuh Jokic who finds a cutting Chandler for easy layup. Good sign (I hope.)

Nuggets doing a good job executing their offense so far. Korver returns to action for this one – that’s a concern.

Shump wears his headband in a weird way.

Frye tries a post-up on Juancho, who defends it well and gets the rebound.

Harris just powers right through the Korver-Frye double and draws the foul driving to the basket.

Cavs trim the Nuggets’ lead down to 3 on a Korver 3 to end the 1st quarter, which for the most part was pretty solid for DEN.

Ball movement absolutely dies to begin 2nd quarter. Murray dribbles, Barton dribbles, Plumlee dribbles. Clock reset, Juancho dribbles, miss.

Uh-oh. LeBron has awakened and started LeBron-ing. 2 straight drive & dunks, Malone calls time.

Afer missing a short jumper, Murray nails a 3. Nuggets could really use him heating up right about now, especially with Gallo out.

And boom, there it is, Jamal dribbles out to the arc and hits another 3 after a Chandler miss.

Murray makes ANOTHER 3 and suddenly the Nuggets are up 10. No matter the outcome of this game, this is beautiful to see.

Well that was a crazy sequence capped off by Jefferson’s hard foul on Juancho.

I don’t think that was intentional by Jefferson, but flagrant 1 was the right call. He smacked Juancho right in the honker.

Juancho hits 1 of 2 on the flagrant FTs, Barton sinks a 3, Nuggets go up 61-47. But now LeBron’s pissed on that no call, so I’m worried.

w/ 2:36 left in 2nd Q: Harris > Nelson > Barton > Harris (Jokic screen, Harris drive & kick) > Jameer D&K > Barton > Harris for open made 3.

When the Nuggets are playing ball-sharing, unselfish offense like that, it truly is a thing of beauty.

And another made 3 by Harris from the same spot puts he Nuggets up 20. So add another 15-20 points to that lead and it might be safe.

NOT a foul by Harris, he totally avoided contact. But of course the refs reward Irving anyhow bc obv the defending champs need their help.

Ball lie.

Nuggets, Cavs trade a couple of 3s, then a couple pairs of 2s, DEN maintaining their 14-pt halftime lead, timeout CLE.

Had that wrong before, Nuggets lead was 16 going into the timeout, but LBJ hits the J off a screen to cut it to 14.

With about 9:35 left in the third, Nuggets killing it in the paint, 34-14.

Had been waiting for the other shoe to drop, and there it is. Cavs cut the lead to 7. No lead is safe with the Nuggets.

Faried putting in some great minutes here and giving the Nuggets a badly needed spark of energy to quell CLE’s momentum. DEN back up 13.

Lue gets T’d up after Jameer’s hard foul on Irving.

3:01 left in the 3rd. Jokic isos, posting up against LeBron, who defends him pretty well, but not well enough. Jokic hooks it up over him.

And the Pepsi Center goes wild.

Jokic misses a 3 in transition. Probably not his greatest decision of the night, but he’s so reliable, hard to second-guess him.

Nuggets take an 11-point lead into the 4th, but momentum is going the Cavs’ way. High anxiety time.

4th Q opens w missed Cavs 3, Murray to Kenneth for 2, another missed Cavs 3, Wilson with a bigtime tough shot and-1 (made). DEN back up 16.

LeBron lowers the shouldner into Faried, Faried gets called for the blocking foul. Of course.

Chandler now 2 of 3 backing down Korver. Smells blood there. Nuggets up 18 with 8:53 remaining. More nervous than ever now.

Jamal Murray, with 7:27 remaining in the 4th: 14 pts on 5/9 shooting (3/6 from 3) in 16 minutes. (Maybe actually 16 pts after the made FTs.)

Absolutely stunning reverse layup by Harris with 7:00 remaining in the 4th. Nuggets up 17. Can I dare to dream yet…? (Nope. Not yet.)

Cavs announcer: “Standing ovation at the Pepsi Center, and frankly well deserved. The Nuggets have been in attack mode from the get-go.”

But this ain’t over yet. (Well, it actually is, of course, but just not from where I’m sitting.)

Faried goes out after getting fouled by Frye (Jokic in w 6:04 left.) Easily one of Kenneth’s best games of the season, I’d say.

Interesting moment w 4:20 left. Murray has ball but Jokic totally QB’ing the offense, directing Jamal to hold up, setting up the play.

122-104 with 2:38 left. Holy crap, they actually pulled this one out, didn’t they?

Jokic goes out with 1:11 left with 16/10/7. Low key very good game from him.

Maybe the best win of the #Nuggets’ season against defending champ #Cavs, in no small part because of its importance in their playoff hunt.

Well, it’s good to know I’m not crazy. 😉

 

 

Recap? Live tweeting of Nuggets’ 3/16 win over Clippers

Barton

On Thursday night, the Nuggets achieved a four-game winning streak for the first time this season in a victory over the Clippers that kept them at the head of the pack competin for the 8th seed in the Western Conference. They have now won 8 of their last 11 games.

I’m not sure how many of you will actually want to read this, but I just wanted to  preserve it for archival purposes as my documentation of one of the Nuggets’ most important wins of the season, since Twitter just is not conducive to that end.

So, what follows below is my live tweeting of Denver’s big win. Or rather, an after-the-fact “live” tweeting I did watching a spoiler-free delayed recording of the game as if it were live.

I should preface this by saying something I didn’t mention at the time on Twitter, which is that Will Barton should get a huge amount of credit. I have been quite critical of his performance of late, and while I don’t think that was necessarily off base, what is undeniable is that Coach Malone called him out and asked him to step up, and man, has he delivered in the last two games, including a career high in this one. So kudos to Will the Thrill for coming through when the Nuggets badly needed him in the absence of Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler.

What follows is the thread I tweeted while watching the game.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Okay. Today I avoided seeing the results of the #Clippers at #Nuggets game, I don’t know what happened, and I’m about to watch it.

I’ll be live tweeting the game from my POV, as I watch it for my first time. But, most of you already saw it, or at least know the score.

So my apologies, but I won’t be reading or replying to any of your tweets as I live tweet this, so as to make sure I avoid spoilers.

All right, so here we go. Hope the Nuggets got the win, but bracing myself for a loss. W/ DEN’s D, Those 3-popint shooters LAC has worry me.

Solid start by the Nuggets, all 8 of their first points scored in the paint, a LAC’s 4 both jumpers.

Clippers go up 11-8, Plumlee is forcing way too many post ups, Nuggets need to get the offense running through Jokic more.

Faried in, I imagine Adam might have something to say about his short corner gravity drawing in the D to clear lame for Murray’s layup.

Marlowe thanks Harrison for a correction on the broadcast.  🙂

Nuggets have opened up a 10 point lead late in the 1st, really taking advantage of BG/DJ absence to dominate the paint.

That might be a no-brainer game plan, but it’s a good game plan, and more importantly, well executed. (So far.)

Wow. Faried oop to Plumlee. Kenneth not usually on that side of the equation.  #JokicEffect

Actually very impressed with Faried’s play thus far. Had worried he’d been rushed back, but he’s looked ready, has his hops.

JJ picking apart Denver’s 3pt defense, but LAC can’t stop DEN in the paint. Malone calls timeout to talk D w Nuggets up 11.

Harris hits a big 3 to stop the bleeding after the Nuggets start pulling a late quarter collapse job out of the timeout. 2:18 left in 2nd Q.

Malone draws up great play after timeout, Jokic and Jameer execute it perfectly as Nelson nails the 3 to put Nuggets up 13 at the half.

Oof. Horrible start to the 3rd. LAC cuts deficit from 13 to 6 in under 2 minutes. Denver D discombobulated.

I have very high hopes for Juancho. But his defensive shortcomings are leaving the Nuggets badly exposed in this 3rd quarter.

But Harris and Nelson answer right back with 3-pointers of their own and Denver’s back up by 13.

Faried cuts with power for the and-1, but misses  FT. With Plumlee starting, I think I like this rotation, subbing Kenneth in w Jokic on.

Haven’t seen much of the Plumlee-Faried one-two punch with Kenneth’s injury, but that’s a ton of relentless energy to throw at opponents.

Lol Crawford.

Clippers had success getting physical with Nuggets to start 3rd. Denver pushing back hard now, extend their lead to 19.

Which unfortunately makes me fear that in next 5 minutes they’ll let the lead slip back to single digits. Hope not. Twist that dagger in.

Big 3 by Murray, gets a great look the next time down, but can’t convert. But man, once he gets more consistent with those…

A small but significant thing: Murray crosses half court with ball with 0:17 left in 3rd, immediately looks to Malone for play call.

The nuggets couldn’t have responded better to a tough start to the 3rd quarter that all too recently would have resulted in a collapse.

Instead, they take a 23-point lead into the 4th. Now, they better have &*#√^<$ finished the job.

Chris Paul is so damn great. Yeah, I’m Captain Obvious. But really it’s a pleasure to watch him display his skills – when LAC is down 20.

Uh guys, lead down to 14,getting nervous now…

5 minutes left, lead down to 14,Jameer nails a 3 from pretty much the Pepsi logo. Nuggets badly needed that.

Whew. Great win, but they can never do it without a scare.

Charting Nikola Jokic’s imminent rise to superstardom

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Clippers

 

December 15th, 2016.

This date appears bound to go down as one of the most important in Nuggets history – the date that Nikola Jokic was, once and for all, installed as Denver’s starting center, the pivotal date which changed everything not only for the current season, but likely for many years to come.

Nearly overnight, the Nuggets’ offense transformed into one of the league’s best, as Jokic essentially assumed the role of point center and the nexus through which everything flowed. Indeed, for much of the time since Dec. 15, Denver’s offensive rating was the NBA’s highest, and has only recently slipped to second at 133.8, with Golden State having moved ahead to first at 114.4. And it seems entirely likely that the Nuggets would have maintained that top spot had it not been for their recent rash of injuries taking out up to six players at a time, including more than half of their starters.

Much has rightfully been made of Big Honey’s exquisite playmaking, how dramatically better he makes his teammates when they share the floor with him, his improved 3-point shooting, and his hyper-efficient mid-range game – he currently has the ninth-best 2-point shooting percentage (.617) among qualified players while taking a full 48% of his shot attempts from 3 feet out to the 3-point arc.

But there are some who posit that Jokic may already have either hit or approached his ceiling, in large part due to his limited athleticism, his slow lateral speed, and the fact that he is not the type of center who powers the ball up to posterize his defenders, or to swat the ball into the second level on defense. And this concern (or criticism in some cases) is not without valid reasoning, as historically some of Jokic’s limitations have reliably served as red flags for low upside.

Considering this question of Jokic’s ceiling, it is worth exploring the trajectory of his development this season. Obviously, his outright production is up from the beginning of the season, as dramatically highlighted by his recent 40-point game and two triple-doubles. But then, that could just be in large part a product of the increased minutes that came with the starting job and his ability to reduce the foul trouble he was getting into in December.

So below we are going to take a look at his progress over the course of this season in three areas – rebounds, assists, and 3-point shooting. But first it is important to locate these within the context of usage. One legitimate criticism of the PER (Player Efficiency Rating) stat is that its usefulness decreases for players with limited minutes and usage rates. So while we might note that Jokic has improved from a PER of 21.5 his rookie season to 26.5 in this current campaign, the rookie value might not carry much weight considering he didn’t play too many minutes (21.7 per game), and his usage rate of 19.9, while not too low, was comparatively modest. As a more extreme example, Jarnell Stokes, who played just two games with the Nuggets this season, is third in the NBA in PER at 31.6, edging out Russell Westbrook (29.5), Kawhi Leonard (28.2), and James Harden (27.6).

To provide a sort of framework for understanding where Nikola Jokic fits into a broader historical context of NBA centers in their differentials in usage rate and PER from their rookie seasons to their sophomore seasons, I prepared the chart below.

nba-centers-diff-in-usg-pct-per-from-rook-to-soph-seasons

As you can see, Jokic – with significant increases in both usage rate and PER – is in some (mostly) elite company, residing in similar territory as Shaquille O’Neal and Anthony Davis.

It is critical to note here that this chart only shows each player’s individual improvement, and so players located near each other improved to a similar degree, but not necessarily with similar stats. So for example, while Andrew Bynum and DeMarcus Cousins are in similar territory in that they are among the centers whose PER increased the most from their first to second years, Bynum’s increased from 7.4 to 15.4, while Boogie’s increased from 14.6 to 21.7.  So we need to be cautious in our interpretations here.

In this case, however, Jokic’s improvement in PER from 21.5 to 26.5 really is quite close to that of Davis (from 21.7 to 26.5) and just slightly below that of Shaq (from 22.9 to 28.5). So with this particular set their close proximity on the chart is also reflected in their underlying numbers.

The more important takeaway here, however, is the larger trend, where centers who went on to have more successful careers in the NBA tend to be firmly in the upper-right quadrant, with positive correlations between increase in both usage rate and PER. (Marc Gasol and DeAndre Jordan, whose pace of early development was a bit slower, are two notable exceptions). At the same time, those centers who did not go on to become star players tend to lie outside that quadrant.

Basically this speaks to the players who delivered on their star potential actually being able to increase their efficiency while at the same time taking on a heavier workload. This tends to be what separates the cream of the crop from the multitude of serviceable, but average to below average backup bigs logging around 15 to 18 minutes a game on benches around the league.

Important to Jokic’s case, however, is that not only has he taken a leap from last season to his current campaign, he has been on a trajectory of continual improvement before our very eyes. Looking at the context of usage rate from a slightly different angle, we can see that Jokic’s usage has been (more or less) steadily on the rise.

201617-jokic-usage-rate

And again, the question here should be, as his minutes and usage have increased, has he been able to simultaneously improve on his efficiency as well?

The great news for the Denver Nuggets and their fans is that the answer here is a resounding “yes.”

And at this point I will sign off on this text portion of the post, since prefaced by everything above, the three remaining charts below pretty much speak for themselves.

But the bottom line is this: If Jokic actually does have a low ceiling or limited upside, someone forgot to tell him about it. Because he just keeps crashing through to higher levels of efficiency and production at a frankly mind-boggling pace.

And given that, and the fact that he is already legitimately playing elite-caliber basketball, even if we start to see things plateau fairly soon (as they inevitably will at some point), Jokic will already have become the Nuggets’ next superstar player.

Rebounds per game / rebounds per 36 minutes

2016-17-jokic-rebperg-rebper36

Assists per game / assists per 36 minutes

2016-17-jokic-astperg-astper36

3-point shooting percentage

201617-jokic-3-point-percentage

(All stats in this article from NBA.com/stats and Basketball-Reference.com.)

 

The Nuggets should explore trading Nurkic for Ibaka

ibaka

For the Denver Nuggets, the new dawn of the Nikola Jokic era – and the success and excitement it has brought the team – has meant that things are mostly looking up in ways they haven’t seen in years.

But not everybody is happy.

From pointed statements to despondent body language to lackadaisical play on the court, Jusuf Nurkic has made it abundantly clear that he will not be satisfied continuing to come off the bench in limited minutes as backup center to Jokic.

And although this dissatisfaction has not escalated to the point where it is disrupting locker room harmony, it does put a measure of pressure on Denver to look for trade options by the February 23 trade deadline. And indeed, although it’s unclear whether his “sources” come from within the Pepsi Center or from outside the Nuggets organization, ESPN’s Marc Stein reports:

Sources told ESPN that the Nuggets — having acknowledged that it’s difficult to accommodate both Nurkic and Nikola Jokic in the same frontcourt — have made Nurkic available and are searching out deals that would give him the Bosnian big man an opportunity to go elsewhere and start anew.

However, as a skilled young big man on a rookie contract, Nurkic remains one of Denver’s more valuable assets, and Tim Connelly’s front office is unlikely to let him go without asking for significant value back in return.

Enter the Orlando Magic, who are coming up on a big man dilemma of their own. According to Sean Deveney of Sporting News:

League sources told Sporting News that the Magic have picked up their attempts to move Ibaka ahead of next month’s trade deadline, eager to ensure that they come away with some return for a player who does not figure to be in Orlando long… And while the Magic want to save face on a deal for Ibaka, sources said the team has been aggressive in testing the trade market… Center Nikola Vucevic is also a potential trade target.

Yet Orlando appears to be struggling to find teams willing to pay the steep return they are asking for:

“They’re asking too much,” one front office executive said. “(The Magic) would probably like to make a few moves there, but Ibaka is the one they’re really pushing because he is going to leave. But they have had too high a price. They want a young player and a pick, two young players — you know, a package that can get them back some assets. They’re not going to get that. Not for three, maybe four months of Serge Ibaka.”

So with the possibility of the Magic moving Vucevic also on the table, would they consider Nurkic a sufficiently appealing asset in exchange for Ibaka? And just as importantly, would the Nuggets consider “three, maybe four months” of Ibaka – with the hope of re-signing him as a free agent this summer, but the risk of losing him for nothing – a gamble worth taking?

At the very least, it seems like a prospect worthy of exploration for both teams. Realistically, Orlando seems unlikely to land a trade package worth much more than Nurkic’s value would represent.

And for the Nuggets, the possibility of adding Ibaka as a player who can both back up and play alongside Jokic could be a high risk, high reward venture that might  pay off big dividends if they were able to retain Ibaka on a longer-term contract.

But how much would Denver have to dole out for such a contract?

According to Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders, “The projected maximum salaries for 2017-18, based on a $102 million cap, would near $24 million for players with less than seven years of experience, $28.8 million with seven to nine and $33.5 million for those with 10 years or more.”

On Ibaka’s current four-year contract, he is making on average about 20 percent of the salary cap, which next year would be about $21.5 million. And as Ibaka will be entering his ninth season, a maximum contract for him would be nearly $29 million. So while he will certainly be looking for that maximum (and in the environment of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, he just might get it), it appears likely that his next contract will end up in the $22-29 million range.

Would the Nuggets, with extensions for Jokic, Jamal Murray, and other young rookie and sophomore prospects on the horizon, want to dish out that kind of dough for a player who will have just turned 28 before the start of next season?

At the very least, they’ll be much more likely to have the option of doing so if he has already played with the team and been a part of the organization for several months than if they just went after him cold in free agency.

As for this season, Ibaka’s current $12.25 million salary would also bring the Nuggets’ payroll up above the salary floor.

Another consideration is that Danilo Gallinari will most likely opt out this summer, and there is no guarantee he will re-sign with the Nuggets either. By landing Ibaka, it could increase their odds of at least retaining one or the other.

Importantly, it could also be a worthwhile experiment purely in basketball terms. Ibaka does seem ideally suited to play alongside Jokic, with his ability to hit 3-pointers (at a .383 clip this season) and space the floor on offense, and protect the rim (2.4 blocks per game this season) on defense (via Basketball-Reference.com). Even if Ibaka didn’t stick around, if the chemistry experiment was a success it could be a valuable learning exercise in how to effectively build a team around Nikola Jokic.

And while this might further complicate the frontcourt logjam, it could also provide additional options for solving it this summer.

Beyond that, the Nuggets are clearly gunning for the playoffs at this point. Adding a player of Ibaka’s caliber and, presumably, fit with the team would only help to boost their chances of securing a postseason berth. With that, and the media attention and hype that would come with Ibaka’s arrival the excitement generated among the fan base would help refill the Pepsi Center, and Denver’s visible commitment to being competitive would hopefully make them a more attractive destination for free agents.

A Nurkic for Ibaka trade would not be a guaranteed ace in the hole for the Nuggets, but the potential upside carries enough appeal that this could be the right time for Denver to take a swing at the fences.

The Jamal Murray minutes dilemma

jamal-murray-dunks-on-david-lee-mp4_snapshot_00-18_2017-01-21_20-24-40

In recent weeks, Nikola Jokic has rightfully been all the rage, as he seems to raise his ceiling – and along with it, Nuggets fans’ hopes for the future – higher and higher every single time he sets foot on the court.

But it wasn’t too long ago that a different player had claimed the mantle as Denver’s most exciting player. After early season injuries temporarily sidelined both Gary Harris and Will Barton, Jamal Murray was thrust sooner than expected into a larger role, and erupted for a series of electrifying performances, in the process earning the NBA’s Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors for November, and quickly building a convincing case for legitimate star potential.

But the return of Harris and Barton spelled relegation to a deeper bench role for Murray, who despite being the only one of Denver’s three rookies to consistently crack the regular rotation, has seen his minutes drop from 24.1 per game in November to 18.9 in December, and 15.5 in January.

The question of how much playing time Murray should be getting is in many ways a microcosm of the broader debate over whether it would be best this season for the Nuggets to shoot for making the playoffs – where the realistic best case scenario is a likely four-and-out loss to the Warriors – or to remain in quasi-rebuilding mode for one more season, and prioritize youth development and obtaining a higher draft pick by trading or benching veterans over striving to be competitive in the short term.

I believe there are a lot of extremely valid arguments to be made on both sides of this dispute, and at any rate it is not my intention to relitigate it here. But suffice it to say that from Kroenke to Connelly to Malone and most of the players, the messaging out of the Pepsi Center has been consistent and clear: Whether or not it’s their ideal course of action, the Nuggets want to win games, and they want to meet their goal, oft-repeated since well before the start of the season, of making the playoffs.

In that context, Malone’s decision to scale back Murray’s minutes – which I’ve seen described on Twitter as insane, inexplicable, idiotic, and a host of other not-too-flattering adjective – can at the very least be said to have an objective logical justification:

Purely in terms of winning or losing games, the Nuggets have had more success when Murray has played fewer minutes.

In the 21 games in which Jamal Murray has played 18 or more minutes, the Nuggets have gone 7-14 (.333), compared to 10-9 (.526) when he played less than 18 minutes.

Now before you break out the tar and feathers, let me make it explicitly clear that I do not think Murry is the primary (or even secondary or tertiary) cause for this phenomenon, and I highly doubt Malone does, either. It has a lot, first and foremost, to do with Murray playing bigger minutes during the failed “Jurkic” Bosnian buddy ball experiment on the negative side, and on the positive how much Mudiay has benefited from his chemistry alongside Harris and Jokic in the starting lineup. There’s a lot more to it than that, of course, but the point is that much of it Murray should receive neither the blame or credit for.

What it really comes down to is the fact that over the last month, as Malone has finally unlocked the Nuggets offense by running it through Jokic as the sole center and primary facilitator, Murray has simply not been an integral part of the equation.

Should he be? Hell yes.

In time.

But as important as Murray’s development is, and as frustrating as it’s been for fans (and I count myself among them) who understandably want to see Murray be given more of a chance to shine, it is difficult, at least short term, to fault Malone for rolling with the approach that basically saved the entire season from skidding off the cliff.

Which is definitely not to say that Malone is beyond criticism, or that he hasn’t made mistakes, including some major ones. But I can empathize with the fact that he wants to win games, and he’s going with what has been working best so far.

But “so far” is only up to this point, and there is a lot of season left.

And going forward, while it may be understandable that developing Murray had to take a back seat to salvaging the season, one of Malone’s top priorities needs to be finding effective ways to create a larger role for Murray within the context of this newfound offense, and incorporate him more deeply into the fold.

One of the most compelling reasons for increasing Murray’s playing time is that, in contrast to the overall team performance which has been worse when Murray has played more, Jamal himself has played considerably better when given more burn:

murrays-minutes

As you can see, his scoring efficiency, outright scoring production, and on-court plus-minus all decline dramatically when he has played fewer minutes. Again, just as above it was important to caution that he not be blamed for the Nuggets losing more when he plays more minutes, the correlation between minutes and performance in the chart above does not necessarily point to a causal relationship. Murray could have just hit his freshman wall. Or he could thrive better in a more iso-oriented offensive mode which is inconsistent with the ball-sharing, ball-movement direction things have gone in with Jokic at the helm.

In other words, Murray may well have a hard time returning to his November magic even if the same kind of playing time comes his way.

But there are at least two reasons to be hopeful about all of this.

One is that Jamal Murray is a smart, adaptable player, and a student of the game. If Malone starts boosting his playing time and integrating him more thoroughly, I am confident he will be able to find ways be more effective and develop better chemistry in that context.

And the other is that Malone does appear to be genuinely concerned and excited about developing his young players, as evidenced by working to get Jokic on track, a process which included a very public admission of making a mistake in underestimating how adversely “Jurkic” would affect Jokic, and taking responsibility for it.

And so I think – and hope – what we will see as the season progresses, is now that the new offense is established, Malone will be looking for ways to increase opportunities for Murray, and to make his development a higher priority again even while keeping the focus on staying competitive.