Denver Post sports writer Mike Singer posts his Nuggets Mailbag every other week during the season.
Pose a Nuggets — or NBA — related question for the Nuggets Mailbag.
Where do you see Michael Porter Jr. in the rotation this year? He would flash occasionally, but his minutes were inconsistent. It didn’t seem like his teammates were willing to involve him in the offense.
— Stu Howard, Englewood
I think you’re asking what his role will be once the season restarts, so I’ll answer under that premise. After he broke out in January, Porter’s minutes were inconsistent after the All-Star break because he was still nursing an ankle injury. That’s partially why Michael Malone didn’t give him regular run once we got into March. At the same time, Malone loathes giving up easy baskets, and Porter’s individual defense as well as his grasp of team defense was a constant work in progress this year. He’s said that he’s completely healthy and was able to get in the gym whenever he wanted over the break. So whatever minutes he’s allotted in the eight seeding games and then the playoffs will be a direct reflection of the confidence Malone has in him.
On Wednesday’s Zoom call with reporters, Malone said there’s a “good chance” he’ll play in the playoffs. To me, that doesn’t mean much. I want to see how he looks in the eight seeding games and how much Malone cuts down the rotations. I will say that for the Nuggets to reach their potential, this year or in the future, Porter’s got to be a fixture in the rotation.
Michael Malone sounded at least somewhat optimistic that the Nuggets would be able to have Nikola Jokic in the fold for the NBA’s return in Orlando. But assuming a worst-case scenario (Jokic out until mid-August or so), how important do you think it is for the Nuggets to have Jokic available right away? Given that the team is playing eight games prior to the playoff bracket, perhaps he can rejoin the team later on and still be in shape for the postseason? What if he’s completely unavailable? Would Denver even have a chance of advancing out of the first round?
— Joe, Aurora
I think the Nuggets have been careful to a put a timeline on Jokic’s return because there are so many unknowns. And by return, I mean first to the country, and then to the court. He’s already missed the beginning of individual workouts that were to begin July 1. Team workouts won’t start until around July 9 in Orlando. Malone said yesterday that the “hope and expectation” is that he’d be on the plane with the rest of the team when they leave on the July 7.
From my understanding, his two week quarantine is almost done. Before he leaves Serbia, he’ll need two negative tests. And once he returns, he’ll need to test negative again. If he gets to Orlando on time, he’d have about two weeks before inter-squad scrimmages begin. Those three scrimmages would precede the seeding games.
I think it’s almost essential that the Nuggets get as much time as possible with Jokic healthy as they can. He’s the fulcrum of their offense that hasn’t played basketball in four months. We don’t know what long-term effects he’ll face, if any, but that’s a factor leading into the playoffs as well. I don’t like the Nuggets’ chances of getting out of the first round if Jokic isn’t playing.
If you’re Michael Malone, who are you hoping to avoid the most in the playoff bracket? Would it be better if the Nuggets faced the Lakers or the Clippers in the second round? Who would be the best/worst first-round opponent?
— Dan, Westminster
If the Nuggets see the Lakers or Clippers in the playoffs, it will almost assuredly come in the second round and/or Western Conference finals. If or when that happens, buckle up. Last we saw the Clippers, they were trouncing the Nuggets on national TV in late February. And I don’t have to remind you what a motivated LeBron James/Anthony Davis frontcourt is capable of. The Nuggets would be heavy underdogs against both.
In the first round, I think the Nuggets will be angling for the Utah Jazz. They’ve beaten them both times this year, and Utah lost a key piece in Bojan Bogdanovic. I think the Nuggets would prefer to avoid the Houston Rockets at all costs. They’ve historically struggled against them, and a rested James Harden is a scary proposition.
Rumors are already starting to swirl about Paul Millsap leaving Denver after this season, with the Miami Heat one of his possible landing spots. How much do you think the Nuggets should prioritize holding on to him? How can the team replace him if he chooses to play elsewhere?
— Matt, East Colfax
There’s going to be a huge focus on Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant when the season resumes since both are likely to be free agents this year. Before the season shutdown, there were games when Malone opted to play Grant in the closing moments – a potential window into the future. (Although the Nuggets would never say so).
For Millsap, it might come down to an acknowledgment that the Nuggets have paid him $90 million over three years, and he’s missed 77 games over that time. He’s not even close to a $30 million player. At this point, he’d likely command a third of that in free agency.
Grant is their obvious solution, but I’ve heard chatter that other teams may have their eye on him as well. My educated guess is the Nuggets prioritize Grant.
Who’s one under-the-radar 2020 free agent you think the Nuggets should try to pursue this October? Tell me why I’m crazy for thinking they should go after Joe Harris.
— Trey, LoDo
Joe Harris is a good one, but three straight years of shooting over 40% from 3-point range might price him out of the Nuggets’ range. Some of my favorites include De’Anthony Melton (Memphis), Pat Connaughton (Milwaukee), and Bryn Forbes (San Antonio). I also think Garrett Temple (Brooklyn) and Jae Crowder (Miami) would be good locker room fits in case Millsap leaves.