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Could Nikola Jokic get a little help around here?
Maybe it’s the Curse of Comcast, but any notion of the Nuggets as legit NBA championship contenders is quickly fading to black. Haven’t been able to watch this team on TV? Well, you haven’t missed much.
After 14 games in a strange season shaped by the coronavirus, Denver is not even among the top eight teams in the Western Conference. Blame the slow start on anything you want, from Jamal Murray’s creaky elbow to Jerami Grant’s affinity for Motown. Are the Nuggets anywhere close to gelling?
“I think we’re getting really close. Close to what? It remains to be seen,” coach Michael Malone said Thursday.
“We’re improving. We’re getting better. There’s no panic in our team.”
Yes, it is too early to panic. But it is not too soon to acknowledge the truth. These Nuggets often play basketball as ugly as their gosh-awful, new Red Rocks uniforms, which look as if they were designed by a toddler doodling with a Sharpie on the family room wall.
Something has to change. The Nuggets would be foolish to think nothing more than time and patience will cure their malaise.
As always, I’m here to help.
Gary Harris has ceased to be a quality NBA starter, much less a player who should get major minutes for a team that fancies itself a title contender. The chronic sorry state of Harris’ game since 2018 can no longer be excused by injury. With both his marksmanship from 3-point range and his defensive ability in decline, G-Money’s confidence appears to be in danger of bankruptcy.
Harris should be benched, and I strongly suspect he would already be traded, if anyone in the league thought he was worth anywhere near his $19 million salary.
How far has Harris fallen? Even as a reserve shooting guard, PJ Dozier might be a more reliable option. At this point, Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly would be lucky to get a jug of Chianti and a box of rigatoni in exchange for Harris from a team in Italy.
At some point during what feels like a crucial stretch for the Nuggets, with five road games in a span of eight days, Malone needs to revamp his starting lineup.
Let Will Barton take over for Harris at shooting guard. Despite asking Barton to lead the team’s second unit and play behind Porter early in the season, Malone readily admits Barton deserves to be a starter. That makes swapping out Harris for Barton in the backcourt a no-brainer, doesn’t it?
As soon as Michael Porter Jr. rounds back into form after COVID-19 protocols forced an extended absence since late December, the starting job at small forward must be returned to the 22-year-old forward. “Hopefully he’ll be able to play at some point on this trip,” Malone said.
At this point in their respective careers, JaMychal Green is a better player than Paul Millsap. So a change at power forward should be contemplated, as well.
Way too often, these Nuggets resemble a legit MVP candidate in Jokic and a bunch of guys who would rather be sitting on the sofa at home with the family rather than bouncing around the country, locked in the hotel, while a deadly pandemic rages outside the windows of their rooms.
The Nuggets insist that when the ding to Murray’s elbow heals and MPJ finds his groove again, the team will play to its full potential.
“We’re not where we want to be yet,” said Barton, slowly returning to form after a frustrating knee injury prevented him from contributing to a deep playoff run in the NBA bubble.
“When it’s time to peak, I’ll be ready, because I know it’s going to happen for me and for this team.”
Riddle me this: With Joker averaging 25.1 points, 11.4 rebounds and 10.0 assists, how much better could the Nuggets possibly expect him to be?
“Nikola is a first-ballot Hall of Famer,” Malone said. “Nikola is the top center in the world.”
Too bad the Nuggets are wasting that kind of talent. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but Jokic is going to have an extremely difficult time winning the MVP award if Denver fails to make the playoffs.