After surviving for nearly half of the season without any major impactful injuries, the Denver Nuggets luck as a team has run out.
Denver rarely had a player miss time for the first 30 games or so, but now the Nuggets are staring down the possibility of being without three of their starters for a sizable chunk of the season with Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap all dealing with different ailments.
In addition to that, Mason Plumlee came down awkwardly on his right leg against the Minnesota Timberwolves and will now be out for 2-4 weeks. Then, to make matters worse, after the Nuggets beat the Timberwolves, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said he also did not think Will Barton III was going to play prior to tip.
Now, with another stroke of bad luck, Michael Porter Jr. is coming off a missed game against the Houston Rockets after tweaking his back during warmups, as reported by Nick Kosmider of The Athletic.
So after being injury-free for a while, the Nuggets now have five of their top-seven players on the injury report and Barton having his own issues.
With all of that being said, let’s take a closer look at each player and their respective issue.
Jamal Murray – left ankle sprain
On January 15th, the Nuggets were battling with the Charlotte Hornets in Denver, but right before halftime, Murray fell into a heap in front of the Hornets bench as he writhed on the floor in pain.
Murray did not return for the second half against the Hornets as he got an x-ray on his left ankle which came back negative. That meant Murray did not break or fracture any bone in his left leg, but there was still a worry about how severe the ankle sprain could have been.
After a week and further testing, Murray’s ankle injury is less concerning than it was the night of the injury, team sources told Mile High Sports. According to those sources, Murray has a low ankle sprain. There is no firm timetable for his return, but the Nuggets organization is not terribly worried about his ankle issue which is good news considering how much pain Murray was in after sustaining the injury and the fact that he put no weight on his left leg at all at the time.
Prior to taking on the New Orleans Pelicans on January 24th, Murray had missed four-straight games and their matchup would be his fifth being that he was officially listed as out on Thursday afternoon.
Murray has had multiple ankle issues in his past so the Nuggets plan on being extremely careful with his rehabilitation. To paraphrase Malone from back on media day, the Nuggets are not just preparing for just 82 games this year; they are preparing for 110 games.
Because of their postseason ambitions, the odds are higher that the Nuggets take an extremely-cautious approach with Murray. As stated above, there is no firm timetable for his return, but I would speculate that Murray is unlikely to play again until the month February arrives, if not later.
Gary Harris – right adductor strain
Harris’ addition to the Nuggets injury report was far from unexpected despite the fact that there was not one particular moment in which it was obvious Harris hurt himself.
First, it was a left shin contusion that had him hobbled, but now his ailment is something entirely different, yet alarmingly predictable.
Prior to Harris’ eventual addition to the injury report, there were a few moments in which he looked like he was playing through some type of injury. He would reach for his groin area or other parts of his lower body during games and wince from the pain from time to time. Eventually, Harris finally popped up on the Nuggets injury report with an injury that has become a yearly rite of passage for Denver — an adductor strain.
A quick Google search will tell you that an adductor strain is when the muscles that are situated inside the groin end up torn or ruptured. So essentially this is a muscular issue in the groin.
Adductor muscle injures have become more and more common over the past few years in the National Basketball Association and a big reason for that is how much more side-to-side movements are needed on defense in this day and age of NBA basketball. No longer are defenders just guarding players one-on-one in the post. Now they are fighting through multiple screening actions, switching those screens, hedging up the floor to be disruptive, and using a lot more lateral movements which directly lead to these particular types of injuries. That could be one reason why Harris is dealing with his second adductor injury in addition to the likes of Barton, Plumlee, and Juancho Hernangomez all having their own adductor issues over the past few seasons.
Just over a year ago — back on December 3rd, 2018 — Harris sustained what was thought to be a groin injury that ended up being diagnosed as (surprise, surprise) a right adductor strain. Now Harris is dealing with the exact same issue on the same leg. That injury ended up leading to Harris missing 16 of Denver’s next 20 games in 2018-19.
There is no firm timetable for Harris’ return to the floor for the Nuggets, but Malone has said that he is the closest of all of Denver’s injured players to returning. Additionally, Harris has been upgraded from doubtful against the Rockets to questionable in Denver’s upcoming game with the Pelicans, which speaks to the fact that Harris is progressing.
For Harris, who has dealt with 12 different lower body injuries of varying severities over the past 24 months — right foot issue, left ankle sprain, right knee sprain/strain, left hamstring strain, left ankle soreness, right hip issue, left hamstring tightness, two right adductor strains, left shin contusion, and left ankle soreness — this injury carries more weight than just its diagnosis.
Harris shed weight coming into this season and worked to change his offseason workout program to try and stay healthy. Unfortunately, that has not led to the desired results. Harris has had ankle, shin and adductor issues this year already and the Nuggets are barely past the halfway mark of the season.
At this point, it is becoming nearly impossible to avoid labeling Harris as injury prone. Nearly all of his injuries have existed in the lower half of his body and they are seemingly unrelenting. While it would be foolish to say Harris will never figure out his injury issues, facts have to be taken as facts and Harris’ lower body has not allowed him to stay on the floor regularly for the Nuggets.
Paul Millsap – left knee contusion/sprain
Back on December 20th, Millsap and Murray collided on a play and their knees banged together which led to a good amount of pain for both parties involved.
While Murray was able to (mostly) shake off the knee pain, Millsap was unable to. He tried to play through the issue, but eventually the ailment got worse and worse after pushing it too hard until Millsap was shut down for an unknown amount of time.
“I probably should have gotten it taken care of and sat down and made sure it was good at that time,” Millsap said back on the 10th of January. “So now there is a little lingering effect to it and some little things going on because of it.”
On the same day that Millsap spoke to the media, his initial diagnosis of a left knee contusion was updated to a left knee contusion/sprain. The reason for the update is because his injury has gone past a simple deep tissue bruise in the knee and has progressed to a sprain, believe it or not.
A sprain is more worrisome than a contusion. Contusions take time to heal, but they rarely require a month or two before being back to 100% healthy. On the other hand, a sprain means that the tissue or ligaments connecting his knee together have either been injured, torn or ruptured.
If Millsap had a severe sprain, which required surgery or some other type of intense rehabilitation, there would have been an official update on his status by now so it seems that the extremely severe possibilities have been ruled out, but that is unconfirmed and just an educated guess.
Only time will tell when Millsap is back on the floor for the Nuggets.
Mason Plumlee – right cuboid injury
When Plumlee skied for a rebound and landed awkwardly on his right foot against Minnesota, there was instant worry.
On the landing, Plumlee’s foot rolled over itself pretty badly, but somehow Plumlee was able to still play in the second half. Despite him playing in the second half after getting hurt, he was unable to avoid ending up on the Nuggets injury report the next day with what is being called a right cuboid injury.
A quick google search will tell you that the cuboid exists in the middle of the foot, so despite it looking like Plumlee rolled his ankle, this is actually a foot issue. From the time of diagnosis, Plumlee is expected to miss 2-4 weeks with his injury which is extremely worrisome for the Nuggets.
Plumlee is the only other true center on the Nuggets roster other than Jokic and without him, Denver’s roster became significantly less complete.
Without him in the rotation, the Nuggets do not have a backup center on the roster. Normally, a combination of Millsap and Jerami Grant could keep the Nuggets afloat, but with Millsap’s injury, Denver has had to start Grant at power forward which has left their bench unit without a center or power forward.
Against the Rockets, the Nuggets played Juancho Hernangomez at power forward and tried to give Jarred Vanderbilt minutes at center, but it is extremely tough to expect sustained productivity from Vanderbilt, who has logged a total of 90 minutes over his career at the NBA level. Additionally, Hernangomez is struggling to find a rhythm this season and is shooting just 34.5% from the field and a brutal 26% from three-point range.
With Plumlee out, the Nuggets have quite a few issues to remedy and very few resources to get the job done. It is safe to say Denver is hoping Plumlee, an NBA ironman, can return sooner rather than later.
Michael Porter Jr. – back tightness
Whenever Michael Porter Jr.’s name is in the same sentence as the work ‘back’, it is going to cause instant alarm.
Porter had one back surgery in his only year in college which led to him missing all but three games for the University of Missouri. Then that same back issue kept him from playing in his pro day leading up to the draft which was the cause of his plummet from a likely top-three pick to being drafted by the Nuggets with the 14th selection. The Nugget immediately got Porter in with their medical staff and determined that an additional back surgery was required to fix his issue which led to him missing the entirety of his rookie season.
Now Porter is — well, was — finally healthy and thriving on the court with the Nuggets, but when he ended up tweaking his back while warming up prior to taking on the Rockets. Denver elected to exercise maximum caution and sat him instead of risking further injury.
According to Nick Kosmider of The Athletic, Porter’s tweak in his back was not located where his previous surgery was which is encouraging news. He was feeling discomfort in the upper portion of his back and after missing the matchup with the Rockets, Porter is questionable to play the day before battling with the Pelicans.
It is likely that Porter is fine and will be back soon, but expect the Nuggets to be extremely cautious no matter what. Now that everyone has seen just how lethal Porter can be, the Nuggets have no interest in putting his future at risk.
Will Barton III – general soreness
When Malone told reporters after Denver’s battle with Minnesota that he did not think Barton would play, it came as a surprise. Barton had not been on the injury report at all and was enjoying a career-year after all of the struggles he endured a year ago.
After Malone’s comments, Barton told Mile High Sports via text that he is not dealing with any particular injury, but is just working through some general soreness due to a large minute load. With so many injuries, Barton has been relied on to wear many hats for the Nuggets. A causality of that fact is Barton playing 37.5 minutes per game over Denver’s last four contests.
Barton has been Denver’s most steady contributor all season long and has managed to fill whatever role the Nuggets ask of him, but asking him to play near 40 minutes per night while already dealing with fatigue is a lot to ask of him. That is why Malone said he was not sure he would play and that is also why he has never been on the Nuggets injury report.
Still, the Nuggets have needed someone to step up and Barton has done his best regardless of the less than ideal circumstances surrounding Denver. Over the last four games, the Nuggets have a 113.9 offensive rating with him on the floor and a 98.1 offensive rating with him off. That equates to Denver having a net rating of -12.6 when he sits. With Murray and Harris hurt, the Nuggets have desperately needed more perimeter creators. With both out for the foreseeable future, Barton is really their only creator on the wing. That is why Denver’s offense improves so much with him and falls off a cliff without him.
Barton is not one to shy away from playing time no matter how many minutes he has played over the last week which is a great sign for a Nuggets team that desperately needs him to keep battling through the fatigue from filling so many roles throughout the first half of the season.