Once again the Denver Nuggets found themselves down multiple players and once again, Michael Malone found himself needing to flex his creative muscles to creates lineups that not only give the Nuggets a chance to win, but also to allow his players to get back into a rhythm.
The Nuggets went into their second scrimmage with just eight active players as they did in their first scrimmage. They started their tall-ball lineup of Nikola Jokic, Torrey Craig, Bol Bol, Jerami Grant, and Mason Plumlee while Noah Vonleh, Troy Daniels and and Tyler Cook came off the bench.
After beating a Washington Wizards team that was down Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans, and John Wall for their first scrimmage, it was easy to look on the bright side despite Denver’s lack of available players. Bol Bol made his NBA debut and had an eye-opening 16 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks as Denver marched to a 89-82 win. But on Saturday night, their opponent brought significantly more talent to the table when they tipped off against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Denver played incredibly sloppy basketball, Bol Bol provided lots of excitement, and the Pelicans reined down 3-pointers line mortar fire which led to Denver’s 119-104 loss to New Orleans in their second scrimmage in the Orlando bubble. With that being said, here are the good, bad and ugly from Denver’s loss.
Good – Bol Bol shines once again
Let’s be incredibly honest — Denver’s scrimmage against New Orleans was ugly, sloppy and a cacophony of bad decisions on both ends of the floor. Not much went right as Denver missed shots from all over the floor, turned the ball over as if it was their intent, and failed to defend with any kind of impact.
Still, despite all of those blatantly obvious issues, Bol Bol shined once again to the delight of many.
Bol managed to hit multiple 3-pointers; drove to the rim to display his playmaking ability by assisting on a bucket and hitting a floater off a dribble-handoff with Nikola Jokic; blocked multiple shots including yet another jump shot; and displayed just how skilled he was despite his size.
Oh, and all of that happened in the first half.
Bol finished with 15 points, three rebounds, three assists, and two blocked shots as Denver fell to the Pelicans. He was able to play 35 minutes and clearly made an impact when on the floor as the Nuggets outscored the Pelicans by three points while Bol was on the floor despite Denver losing by 15 points.
Yes, this was just a scrimmage and Bol did not even play particularly well, but so far in the first two games he played on a NBA court, he showed just how real his skillset it. Sustainability is still a massive question mark as is how he fits with this Nuggets team, but there is no doubting just how talented Bol is after his first 69 minutes of NBA basketball.
There is almost no chance Bol plays when the playoffs finally arrive, but he is making a case for himself to play in Denver’s eight seeding games; especially if their roster remains thin. That would indicate another strong step towards him solidifying a future on the Nuggets roster going forward.
Bad – Reinforcements did not arrive
There was hope that Denver would have some of their players back for their second scrimmage — or at least a guard or two — but when Malone spoke to the media, he broke the bad news.
Denver was entering their second scrimmage without Jamal Murray (hamstring), Gary Harris (hip), and Will Barton III (knee) as they were held out for what was described by Malone as precautionary reasons. Additionally, Paul Millsap was unavailable because he mistakenly missed his daily COVID-19 test. On top of those four being out, Denver was also without Michael Porter Jr., Keita Bates-Diop, and Monte Morris who are all in the Orlando bubble, but are either finishing their physical testing or have yet to practice.
For the likes of Porter, Bates-Diop, and Morris there is not much worry about their availability. All signs point to the only obstacle remaining before taking the court is either testing or time which will hopefully work itself out soon enough. On the other hand, hearing that all three of Murray, Harris, and Barton are being held out for precautionary reasons connected to lower body injuries is concerning. There is no indication these issues will limit them and every sign points to them being able to play right now if these scrimmages actually mattered, but all three of those players — who are all starters — have dealt with lower-body injuries in their careers. Harris’ injury history is well documented as is Barton’s injury-filled 2018-19 season. For Murray, he rarely misses games, but seems to regularly play through different types of ailments.
Because of all of those factors, these precautionary holdouts for Murray, Harris and Barton have become concerning. Hopefully there is nothing to worry about, but only time will tell.
Ugly – What has Denver gained from their two scrimmage games?
All season long people have given Denver the benefit of the doubt based on their chemistry and continuity, but when you look closer at Denver’s play during the 2019-20 season, their season is filled with inconsistencies and a lack of sustainable play.
They started the 2019-20 season slow as their offense became unrecognizable. As their offense finally became at least partially functional, their defense fell off a cliff. Throughout all of those shifts, Denver had players in and out of the rotation leading to inconsistent bench play. Once the All-Star break came and went, Denver suddenly found themselves playing mediocre basketball. There were almost no portions of the season where everything clicked for Denver despite their strong record.
Because of that reality, Denver needs their three scrimmages and eight seeding games to get on the right track before the playoffs. They did not have the luxury of using their practice court in Denver to get guys comfortable before leaving for Orlando because of COVID-19. Then to make matters worse, Denver entered the bubble with about half of their roster. So even with all their continuity and all of the minutes their starters have played together, Denver needed these tune-up opportunities more than most teams preparing for the playoffs.
After two scrimmages, Denver has been unable to address any of those issues. They were without six members of their projected playoff rotation against both of the Wizards and Pelicans. Going forward, there is no clarity when the rest of the roster will be activated for a scrimmage or game.
For the Nuggets to be at their best entering the postseason, they need to get their playoff rotation back together and that needs to happen as soon as possible. If it takes until the last few seeding games for the Nuggets to get their team back together, they run the risk of needing to get back on the same page during the playoffs in the most unpredictable situation in NBA history. That is no easy task and could dramatically hurt Denver’s playoff hopes.