The Denver Nuggets played their third game of the preseason slate and their first home game against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday night. It was great to be back in Ball Arena watching the Nuggets play in this building for the first time since the NBA Finals. Fans were excited, and the Nuggets put on a good show with both the starters and the bench.

The Nuggets ended up defeating the Bulls 116-102 tonight. Julian Strawther led all scorers with 25 points off the bench. Jamal Murray added 21 points and five assists of his own and looked the part of an All-Star. Nikola Jokić played good basketball and had 15 points, nine rebounds, and five assists in his 23 minutes. It was a great night from the entire Nuggets rotation in front of the home crowd.

The Bulls decided to sit their entire starting lineup outside of the young Patrick Williams, who showed out and had an impressive scoring performance. For the Nuggets, only Michael Porter Jr. and Christian Braun remained out. Acting head coach David Adelman shared pregame that he expected Porter and Braun to both play in the preseason finale against the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night. Justin Holiday started at small forward in their place, and the Nuggets starters continued to look solid, though the defense wasn’t spectacular.

Here are my other takeaways from the evening:

Jamal Murray looks ready to go

Over the course of this preseason, Jamal Murray has looked pretty good. His passing jumped off the screen in the road games, and he’s clearly seeing the game at a higher level than ever before. Some of the confidence from the Finals run has clearly translated.

On his passing improvements, Murray said he’s not doing anything differently but is playing at his own pace.

“Maybe holding the ball for 0.5 seconds longer, letting things develop,” Murray said when describing if his mentality has been different. “But really, getting to my spots. When I’m scoring, getting to the paint, seeing the floor, I know where guys are going to be.”

But tonight, what stood out especially was his athleticism and quickness. On both ends of the court, Murray navigated the floor with impressive pace and timing, but it was his work in the open floor that impressed me most. Murray looks fast right now, clearly faster than at any point last season. His ability to go from zero to 60 wasn’t really there last year coming off of the torn ACL. Tonight, he pushed the tempo and found opportunities for himself and others better than ever before.

Tonight, Murray put up 21 points on 6-of-11 from the field, 1-of-5 from three-point range, and got to the free throw a whopping 10 times. He caught the Bulls off guard time and time again, and that bodes well for the Nuggets this year. He’s reading the game very well, and though he didn’t have a great night shooting on the perimeter, he may not have to be an elite three-point shooter to have a great impact if he’s passing and attacking as well as he has.

Julian Strawther dominates AGAIN somehow

It’s amazing to see Julian Strawther immediately flourish at the NBA level.

Strawther was the first player off the bench tonight and was consistently aggressive hunting shots within the flow of the offense. His shooting stroke is smooth, but his ability to read the floor and read the game is extremely impressive already

The Nuggets know they need a guy like Strawther to hit shots to space the floor, and the Nuggets saddled him with a ton of shooting opportunities. He scored 25 points on 9-of-16 from the field and shot 4-of-9 from three-point range. He attacked downhill and got to his floater consistently, but he also read the floor well and made the outside shots when creating consistent space. He even had a four-point play tonight.

Nobody really expected Strawther to be in the rotation, but he was first off the bench again tonight and impacted the game in a positive way. Often a player labeled as a gunner will get up a bunch of shots but not have a tremendous impact. Strawther was a +14 in his 25 minutes tonight, and his scoring/spacing clearly made a difference. He wasn’t taken advantage of as a defender either, holding his ground in isolation and contesting well.

Maybe he’s in the rotation early on.

The Nuggets pass the test at home

There were some defensive possessions that didn’t go well here or there. There were some offensive possessions that looked a bit clunky every now and then.

And yet, the vast majority of the evening was good for the Nuggets.

Nikola Jokić played well. Jamal Murray played well. Aaron Gordon played well. Julian Strawther balled out again. Zeke Nnaji handled his assignments on both ends. Hunter Tyson and Peyton Watson found a nice rhythm on both ends of the floor.

There are still things for the Nuggets to take care of, but the reality is that they’ve seen basically everything they need to see heading into the regular season. The starters are going to be out there. Christian Braun will be too. Now, the Nuggets can feel comfortable deploying different options around that group of six. Strawther, Holiday, and Watson will be on the wings. Nnaji will likely be the center. Jackson will likely be the point guard. If the Nuggets need a shift, they can go to Pickett at point, or DeAndre Jordan at center, or Hunter Tyson as another forward.

It’s pretty straightforward at this point, and that’s a great place to be for the defending champs.

What’s Next

Expect the Nuggets to sit some rotation players down the stretch of preseason for rest purposes, most likely on Tuesday and then using Thursday’s preseason finale as a true rotation tune-up. The Nuggets will be facing the Los Angeles Clippers in LA on both occasions.

Final Rotations