Good, bad and the ugly: Nuggets underperform against Wildcats

Denver Nuggets forward Paul Millsap (4) in the third quarter against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Pepsi Center.
Nov 17, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Paul Millsap (4) in the third quarter against the New Orleans Pelicans at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Friday night was the first home game of the 2018-19 Denver Nuggets season, the first time that fans got to see the new court, and the first time that the new starting five played together. Denver was facing off against the Perth Wildcats of the Australian National Basketball League in their lone home game of the 2018 preseason. Denver won, but it wasn’t pretty, so with that, I give you the good, bad, and ugly of Denver’s 96-88 win over Perth.

The Good – Bench unit produces

The game was against Perth, so it does come with an asterisks in terms of why the starters didn’t play with much energy, but the bench unit for Denver looked exceptionally strong. The starters played for the opening quarter and opened up ahead of 27-16 before allowing the bench unit to play. From there, the reserves opened it up and, with 5:31 remaining in the second quarter, they had the score at 45-28 before putting the starters back in. At the half the Wildcats cut that lead to only 11. There was a point in the game that it was all the way down to one point before Denver finally put together a string of stops and got out in the open court. The bench unit outplayed the starters.

Malik Beasley looked remarkable all night as he knocked down three-straight three pointers and played with confidence on both ends of the floor. He finished the game with 14 points and four three-point shots made. Monte Morris led the backup unit and played 26 minutes in the game. He looked calm and poised and made the right plays. He finished with a game-high 15 points and had nine assists as a cherry on top. He also finished with a game-high +17. Both of these players are fighting for consistent rotational minutes and with Isaiah Thomas shelved for an undetermined amount of time, it is Morris that will be the backup. With Beasley, it all comes down to if he can continue to knock down shots. If Beasley can be a spark plug off the bench and hit his shots he could find himself as a part of the rotation this year.

The Bad – Hernangomez barely plays

Gary Harris and Jamal Murray both did not play in the second preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers so extra minutes for rotational players were available. Juancho Hernangomez was a player that benefited from those extra minutes. Against the Lakers, Hernangomez played a game-high 25 minutes and went scoreless, but in Friday night’s game, he did not play until there were just four minutes left in regulation. He was 1-2 from the field and couldn’t get much else going. He knocked down his only shot against Perth as he finished with two points but he also had an out of bounds turnover and a charge. With Denver trading away Wilson Chandler, wing depth is an area that Denver is looking to fill. A lot of talk in the offseason was centered around Hernangomez possibly picking up some of those minutes, but with games like he had on Friday night against Perth, it appears to be on the outside looking in of the rotation.

The Ugly – Millsap get first-career ejection

Paul Millsap has struggled throughout the 2018 preseason and has not looked strong on the offensive end. He is missing open shots, being swatted at the rim, and can’t seem to do much with the ball in his hands so far. Through the preseason, he is an underwhelming 4-17 from the field and a bit of that frustration spilled out in Friday night’s victory. He was ejected from the game for the first time in his career after a dunk where he felt there should have been a foul call. Millsap proceeded to pick up two technical fouls for arguing with the ref.

After the game Malone spoke about the four-time All Star saying, “I think he was frustrated with all of the fouls, or lack of fouls. They were a very physical group. I think it was not so much frustration of being 4-17. He gets a post up, he drives, he dunks, and I think he wanted a bit more respect from the official.”