Somehow, someway, NBA basketball is back and the Denver Nuggets took the court to battle with an opposing NBA team for the first time sine March 11th.
The Nuggets took on the Washington Wizards on Wednesday afternoon for their first of three scrimmage games that precede their eight seeding games which begin on July 31st. Everyone knew the games were going to be sloppy and that Denver’s roster was depleted, but what took place in Orlando between the Nuggets and Wizards was one of the most bizarre and unique showings of NBA basketball in quite some time.
Denver had just eight active players and only one singular member of their active players was a guard. Jamal Murray and Will Barton III were both held out for precautionary reasons which left Troy Daniels as the only true backcourt player on the roster.
So Denver, after not playing competitive basketball for over four months, had to find a way to utilize this scrimmage with only eight players as a positive building block towards their pursuit of their first NBA championship. Somehow, the accomplished that goal en route to a 89-82 victory over the Wizards. Here are the good, bad and ugly from Denver’s first battle in the bubble.
Good – Bol Bol bonanza
To be completely honest, this is the only true takeaway from what was a basketball game that could be considered a comedy act, but more on that later.
Over the past two years, Bol Bol has had an incredibly unstable start to his career. He only played nine games at the University of Oregon before suffering a stress fracture in his left foot which ended his season. Once the draft finally came around later that year, his name fell from a possible lottery pick to falling deep into the second round. After the Nuggets traded up to select him with the 44th pick, he spent the majority of the season just working on his game and getting stronger with only eight games in the G-League to show for it. Then the NBA season was halted by COVID-19 on March 11th. Now, Bol has had over four months of waiting for a chance to show what he can do.
When the Nuggets arrived in Orlando with such a depleted roster, it began to look more and more like Bol’s NBA debut was on the horizon. Once Malone and the rest of Bol’s teammates began commenting on how talented he has been during practices, there was a hesitant hope that maybe he would play a few minutes during Denver’s scrimmages. Then, just 90 minutes prior to taking on the Wizards for Denver’s first scrimmage game, Malone notified the media that both Jamal Murray and Will Barton III were being held out for precautionary reasons which left the Nuggets with just eight active players.
It was at that moment that it become a fact that Bol was going to make his debut, but with Denver only having eight active players — only one of which was a guard in Troy Daniels — what role was Bol going to play?
Well, to the surprise of many, Bol was written in as the starter for one of the strangest starting lineups seen. Denver ended up starting Nikola Jokic at point guard, Jerami Grant at shooting guard, Bol Bol at small forward, Paul Millsap at power forward, and Mason Plumlee at center to create what Malone said could have been the biggest starting lineup in NBA history. For context, Paul Millsap is six-foot-seven, but was actually the shortest starter on the floor for Denver.
Despite all of that randomness and nearly-comedic lineups being sent out to play together, Bol managed to play 32 of 40 possible minutes while racking up 16 points, 10 rebounds and a whopping six blocks. He shot just 6-14 from the field and 2-8 from 3-point range to go with five turnovers, but considering these were his very first minutes of action against another NBA team, his debut was more encouraging than anything.
Bol showed off his guard skills with a coast-to-coast pull-up 3-pointer while also displaying his terrifying rim protection with six blocks that came all over the floor including two jumpers he swatted — one of which was a three-point attempt. He even ran a pick and roll with Nikola Jokic as the screener which led to him getting a great look at a floater that he converted.
Not every aspect of his game was perfect, but it was clear that Bol belongs in the NBA. Despite all the time he spent away from competitive basketball and his injury history, Bol looked comfortable on the floor in extremely unique lineups during one of the most unpredictable times in NBA history. That in undoubtedly a huge win for the Nuggets organization and for Bol.
Bad – Nuggets roster is still beyond depleted, but (some) reinforcements are on the way
Denver only had eight active members of their roster against the Wizards. They started Nikola Jokic, Mason Plumlee, Bol Bol, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant with only the likes of Tyler Cook, Troy Daniels and Noah Vonleh as reserves off the bench.
Jamal Murray and Will Barton III, who have been in the bubble from the start, were both held out for what was explained as precautionary purposes. Denver should have the services of Gary Harris and Torrey Craig next scrimmage now that they have cleared their mandated quarantine since arriving in Orlando and have passed their physical tests. Additionally, Michael Porter Jr. was reportedly on his way to Orlando, but being that he has to get through his 36-48 hour quarantine before going through physical testing, he will likely not be ready for Denver’s next scrimmage. That report came from Mike Singer of the Denver Post.
That leaves Monte Morris, P.J. Dozier, Keita Bates-Diop, and Vlatko Cancar unaccounted for and with no word on when they will arrive in Orlando.
Hopefully the Nuggets can put together a full roster as the eight seeding games get closer and closer because there is no denying this Denver team needs reps together to get back on the same page before the postseason arrives.
Ugly – Scrimmage or Summer League?
While it was fun to have basketball back, what an ugly game it was between the Wizards and Nuggets which led to many comparing the sloppy style of play to that of Summer League.
The most obvious issue throughout the game was the uncontrollable turnover issues Denver had. They managed to give away an unbelievable 25 possessions. Between the Nuggets and Washington, they combined to average nearly one turnover per minute throughout the game.
To make matters worse, the whistles seemed endless. Somehow there were 46 total foul calls in a 40-minute scrimmage between each team which kept both clubs from ever finding a rhythm.
As a cherry on top, neither team could create strong offensive looks and on the rare occasions they did, there were a large number of missed shots that should have been converted. By the time the final buzzer sounded, both teams combined to shoot just 39.9% from the field and 29.2% from three-point range.
It was an ugly exhibition game, but that was to be expected. Denver has not played basketball in over four months and had just eight healthy players while the Wizards were playing without John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Davis Bertans. While a win and a clean game was the hope, the only true goal of this first scrimmage was to make it through healthy and get the competitive juices flowing once again. This scrimmage seemed to accomplish both goals for both teams despite how rough the game was at times.