January 23, 2020, 1:36 am
The Denver Nuggets remain a slight cut below the NBA’s truly elite teams, but they are most certainly a group that’s on the rise in its development arc. They are in the enviable position of being good enough to expect a deep playoff run without feeling the pressure to sacrifice any significant future parts to make it happen right now.
The window is definitely open, however, which could make them one of the most fascinating teams to keep tabs on as the February 6 trade deadline approaches.
The Nuggets may not have the clout that some of the Western Conference’s other contenders do, but they also feel like a team that’s going through the regular season as a tune-up exercise. After Denver was able to produce elite offense last year, they’ve instead shifted their focus to the defensive end of the floor so far in 2019-20.
It remains to be seen if this is a fundamental retooling of the team’s identity or merely a case of extreme attention to a weak spot from last season, with the ability to pump out blistering offensive numbers still in their collective back pocket (or so they hope).
At the moment, the Nuggets are dealing with a glut of injuries that will put their depth to the test. With Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap, Mason Plumlee all ailing, Denver’s reserves are going to be asked to deliver much as they did last season – it was a similar situation that showed the Nuggets how good their bench players could be, and although the team can feel relatively confident about weathering the present storm, it points to an interesting decision upcoming.
If the Nuggets do decide to make moves, it will almost certainly be more than tweaking the fringes of the roster.
It’s what makes the team’s mention in earlier Kevin Love rumors noteworthy. For one thing, assuming it’s true and the Nuggets at least inquired about Love, it shows that they aren’t prepared to rest on their laurels and will consider adding a significant offensive upgrade.
For another, if the Nuggets were to pursue a player of Love’s stature or impact, it would require a serious face lift given their cap sheet.
In order to add in a significant salary, the Nuggets would likely have to deal away a rotation stalwart. They’re unlike a lot of other teams in that there’s no one obvious candidate to trade away for salary-matching purposes, and a move for Love’s $30 million, for example, would require far more than the appealing low-cost youngsters that are stuck in bench roles. If the Nuggets want a major player, it will involve some of the group of Millsap (expiring, $30.5 million), Plumlee (expiring, $14 million), Jerami Grant ($9.3 million), Harris ($21 million) or Will Barton ($13.25 million).
Trading each of those players comes with significant risk, however. Millsap and Plumlee are Denver’s defensive anchors, and the Nuggets are likely loath to mess with that formula. Grant is Millsap’s heir apparent and just cost the team its first round pick this past summer. Harris is a key two-way presence and one of the longest-tenured Nuggets, while Barton, who may end up being the most expendable of the bunch, is a key source of scoring punch that’s in the midst of a nice bounce-back season after last year was derailed by an early core injury. If he keeps it up that salary will be more than palatable, too.
Further down the roster, impending RFAs Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez have been mentioned as players that other teams are targeting, but taking their salaries off the books won’t ease Denver’s cap issues if they’re going to reel in a big fish.
Ultimately, the question is this – would a big trade, in terms of either size or salary, make the Nuggets obviously better, considering what it’s likely to cost?
The idea would be to consolidate, trimming down a roster that has 12 rotation-caliber players, except the names most likely to be moved in that scenario won’t accommodate a notable addition. If Denver does decide to tinker, then the biggest win might come in the form of a more defined rotation that allows for role players to find better rhythm.
There’s a varying degree of irreplaceability there, certainly, but if the Nuggets want to push their chips in right now then it will lead to a bold maneuver. Perhaps the recent multi-week injury to Plumlee persuades Denver to make a more minor move and shore up the center depth.
The recent emergence of Michael Porter Jr. also gives the Nuggets something to ponder. The talented sophomore shouldn’t be counted on to assume a sizable role just yet, but his stints in the rotation have been incredibly promising. When Porter and Nikola Jokic share the floor, the team is posting an absurd net rating of plus-10.4 in 152 minutes. That definitely merits a longer look.
If Porter can move from secret weapon to certified threat, the Nuggets are suddenly dealing from a more advantageous position. As opposed to their current “already advantageous” position, of course.
It’s not as though a move must be made in the next couple of weeks. Between their relative youth, upcoming cap space and the possibility that this season could be a valuable fact-finding venture about how the Lakers, Clippers, Rockets, Jazz, et al might be vulnerable over the course of a seven-game series, the Nuggets could choose to wait until the summer to make a splash.
In all likelihood, the Nuggets place too much value in what they’ve built to jeopardize what is expected to be a big season. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, however, and if Denver chooses to cash in some of its elite depth to get in the arms race in the current star-heavy ecosystem, they could be the talk of the deadline.
February 26, 2020, 3:09 amDragan BenderPF, Golden State Warriors
Dragan Bender put up a goose egg (0-for-4 FGs) in 25 minutes vs. the Kings on Tuesday, adding just five rebounds, one assist and one steal.
Bender once again played an encouraging amount of minutes in just his second game with Golden State. And while he shouldn't be expected to go crazy this early on a new team, this performance is disappointing. For a young player still thought to have decent upside, it's looking like he won't be able to make nearly as much of his opportunity as Marquese Chriss has.
February 26, 2020, 2:58 amAndrew WigginsSF, Golden State Warriors
Andrew Wiggins scored 16 points (6-of-14 FGs, 4-of-4 FTs) but did little else (one assist) in a 94-112 loss to the Kings on Tuesday.
Wiggins' Warriors six-game tenure has been a mixed bag to this point. Unfortunately, that may be the case for the rest of the season, as the Warriors will likely have inconsistent rosters with Stephen Curry (left hand fracture) and Draymond Green (right pelvic contusion) in and out of the lineup. Hold onto Wiggins and hope we see more of those early-season performances.
February 26, 2020, 2:51 amDamion LeeSG, Golden State Warriors
Damion Lee contributed across the board in Tuesday's loss to the Kings as he posted 14 points (4-of-9 FGs), six rebounds, four assists, one steal, one block and three 3-pointers in 30 minutes.
Lee has been a solid fantasy option in 12-team leagues for a while now, but a recent surge in steals has him sitting as a four-round player in 8-cat leagues and a third-round player in 9-cat leagues over the last two weeks. Stephen Curry (left hand fracture) returns in three games, so Lee's production will likely take a small hit.
February 26, 2020, 2:44 amBuddy HieldSG, Sacramento Kings
Buddy Hield hit five 3-pointers as part of a 19-point (6-of-15 FGs), six-rebound, two-assist, one-steal performance in a 112-94 road victory over the Warriors on Tuesday.
Hield, since exiting the starting lineup, has easily been an early-round player. He may not keep up such high shooting percentages and therefore will likely see a drop in threes and points as well. However, regardless of his role, Hield has solidified himself as a reliable top-35 player going forward.
February 26, 2020, 2:36 amKent BazemoreSG, Sacramento Kings
Kent Bazemore provided a little of everything, including nine points (2-of-4 FGs, 3-of-8 FTs), 10 rebounds, one assist, two steals, one block and two 3-pointers in 31 minutes in a win over the Warriors on Tuesday.
Bazemore's role appears to be growing. And if he's given the 28 minutes per game like he's played over his last four games, he's worth an add. In that small sample, Bazemore easily ranks in the fourth round (fifth round in 8-cat leagues). Harrison Barnes continued his hot stretch with 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting with two rebounds, one assist and two 3-pointers in 38 minutes.
February 26, 2020, 2:26 amHarry Giles IIIPF, Sacramento Kings
Harry Giles nearly double-doubled again, this time with 13 points (5-of-9 FGs, 3-of-6 FTs), nine rebounds, four assists and a steal in 24 minutes in a win over the Warriors on Tuesday.
Giles has put together two solid games in a row now. It's hard to get too excited about his prospects this season, though. Giles will likely lose his starting role and meaningful minutes once the Kings' frontcourt gets healthier or even as Alex Len gets more comfortable in Sacramento. Nemanja Bjelica struggled in this one, providing just one point (0-of-5 FGs), three rebounds and five assists in 27 minutes. He should bounce back on Thursday against the Thunder.
February 26, 2020, 2:16 amLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron James was looking spry on Tuesday in putting up a season-high 40 points on 17-of-27 shooting with eight rebounds, six assists, one block and five 3-pointers in 34 minutes in a win over the Pelicans on Tuesday.
James looked like he had something extra in his step as Zion Williamson visited the Lakers in Staples Center for the first time. LeBron's defensive stats and free throw percentage have dipped lately, but there's little reason to think that he won't be a top-20 player for the rest of the season. Anthony Davis also came up big in this one despite banging his arm late in the game. He produced 21 points, 14 boards, three dimes, a steal and six blocks in 36 minutes.
February 26, 2020, 2:07 amDanny GreenSG, Los Angeles Lakers
After an early trip to the locker room, Danny Green (laceration) returned and had a true throwback performance with 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting with five 3-pointers, five rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block in 31 minutes as the Lakers beat the Pelicans 118-109 on Tuesday.
If only Green could do this consistently again, he'd be an early-round draft pick once more. Alas, he struggles to do enough across the board to earn a spot on most fantasy teams. Green is worth a dart throw whenever you need a little bit of everything.
February 26, 2020, 1:57 amMarkieff MorrisPF, Los Angeles Lakers
Markieff Morris came off the bench to play 15 minutes in his Lakers debut on Tuesday, recording four points (1-of-3 shooting), one rebound and one block.
Morris' value will likely take a big hit with the Lakers, but he's certainly capable of putting up standard league value if he can regularly exceed 20 minutes per game. Keep an eye on how his role unfolds.
February 26, 2020, 1:51 amBrandon IngramSF, New Orleans Pelicans
Brandon Ingram scored a team-high 34 points (12-of-20 FGs, 7-of-8 FTs) with seven boards, four dimes, two swipes and three triples in 37 minutes in a 109-118 loss to the Lakers on Tuesday.
There was valid concern that Ingram's production would drop off once Zion entered the rotation. But to this point, Ingram's overall value has stayed largely the same, as his improved efficiency has helped to offset a small decline in counting stats.