Today marks 32 days until the beginning of the 2022-23 NBA season. In preparation for the most anticipated year in Denver Nuggets franchise history, Ryan Blackburn is asking and answering 20 burning questions facing the Nuggets prior to Media Day on Monday, September 26th. One question each weekday for the next four weeks.

Question 15: What will the rest schedules be like for Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.?

It’s no secret that the healthy return of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. has generated an incredible amount of anticipation for the upcoming Nuggets season. Fans can’t wait to see the two young stars back on the court. With Nikola Jokić already on board, plus the other improvements the Nuggets have made to their roster, the Nuggets are well positioned to be a top team in the Western Conference next season.

One of the biggest questions still left unanswered though: how many regular games with Murray and Porter each play?

The NBA’s 82-game regular season is a long and arduous process spanning parts of seven calendar months. The playoffs, if they go well, extend for a full two months beyond that and roughly 20 to 25 games. For most NBA players, suiting up and playing 100+ games in a season is rarely viable anymore. Only four players accomplished the feat in 2021-22:

  • Kevon Looney (104 regular season + playoff games)
  • Grant Williams (101)
  • Jayson Tatum (100)
  • Dwight Powell (100)

The Nuggets, though they want to have a strong regular season, are playing the long game. They know the rigors of the NBA schedule and will adjust accordingly.

That means playing Murray and Porter fewer games if possible. Though neither necessarily wants to be held down by a firm schedule of games to sit out, it’s the right thing to do. The Nuggets would be wise to introduce an independent rest calendar for both Murray and Porter to hold everyone accountable on the injury management side. That will help preserve Denver’s health and long term plans for the playoffs, putting both Murray and Porter in the best possible position to succeed.

But how many games should each player sit?

When discussing Murray’s return to the court in a previous article, I performed some research on five players to sustain ACL tears in the recent past to understand their returns to the court a bit better. On average, those five players (Derrick Rose, Danilo Gallinari, Jabari Parker, Zach LaVine, Kristaps Porzingis) suited up for 56.2 games in the season 18+ months after the injury. Of the players whose rehab timetable followed more closely to Murray, that number rises to about 60 games. It’s a large chunk of games to miss, but it may be necessary if Murray wants to remain healthy for the full season.

When discussing Porter’s return to the court in a separate article, the research on back injuries was far less clear. I initially posited 60 to 65 games played, similar to the target number for Murray. Although, a source close to Porter shared that there are currently no physical restrictions on Porter while playing in training sessions and open runs.

Porter’s situation appears far more precautionary than Murray’s. The Nuggets know they need to take it slow with both players, but there’s a possibility that Porter shakes off any game restrictions the Nuggets give him. Murray will almost certainly rest back-to-backs and an extra road game here or there. Porter? His rest schedule will most likely follow how his back responds. If he can play the second night of a back-to-back, then he can play. If he feels some discomfort in his back, the Nuggets will most likely shut him down until the discomfort goes away.

So, which games could one or both players realistically sit?

The Nuggets play seven games during October, including one back-to-back on October 21st and 22nd. The first leg is Denver’s first national TV game versus Golden State. The second leg is Denver’s home opener against Oklahoma City. Murray is likely to sit out at least one of those games. Porter is 50-50 to join him.

In November, the Nuggets play 14 games but just one back-to-back: Detroit at home on the 22nd, then Oklahoma City on the road for the 23rd. Expect Murray to sit the first game but play the second, along with a rest day during Denver’s four game road trip.

In December, the Nuggets play another 14 games and have just one back-to-back during the whole month: a two-game series versus the Kings in Sacramento. Murray and Porter will both likely sit the game on the 27th before playing on the 28th. There aren’t a ton of road games during this month either, meaning both players could play for an extended period of time.

In January, the back-to-backs begin in earnest. Two separate back-to-backs in the first week likely means two games for Murray and/or Porter to miss. Plus, another two back-to-backs later in the month. Fortunately, the Nuggets will still be in a home heavy part of their schedule, meaning less travel and more treatment opportunities for both players.

After January, the Nuggets will play five more back-to-backs which will be automatic spots for Murray and/or Porter to get rest. There are some rough travel spots in both February and March, but at that point, it will be on the Nuggets to be more proactive in finding rest opportunities. The hope is that the Nuggets will wrap up homecourt advantage before April, meaning Denver could have some opportunities at the end of the season for an extended layoff.

Overall, there are 12 total back-to-backs. Assuming Murray rests during the front or back end of all 12, the maximum number of games he should play is 70. After that, the Nuggets can pick and choose their spots to rest him. Adding another five or so games puts Murray’s target number of regular season games at 65. That feels fair and also safe.

Porter’s situation is obviously far more ambiguous. If he rests on half of the back-to-backs and then has three stretches of games where he misses a week on average, that places him at around 16 games missed. 66 total games played. While it’s not a full season like he would prefer, that feels reasonable and fair as well.

Both situations will involve trust from all parties. Murray must trust in the schedule that’s allotted. Porter must trust that the training staff and the team is looking out for his best interests and come to them in the event of back pain. There’s no need for either player to be a hero during the regular season. The Nuggets are talented enough that they can survive their absences for a time.

If all parties trust in the plan, then Denver should be a playoff force to be reckoned with. They just have to get to the dance in one piece.