The Denver Nuggets played the Oklahoma City Thunder in their first preseason game of the 2022-23 season, losing 112-101. As most preseason games are, this game was sloppy, with both teams combining for 38 turnovers and some airballs here and there.

Still, it was nice to see Nuggets basketball again, and the return of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. highlighted what was a positive night for the Nuggets organization overall.

Here are the three big takeaways from the first preseason game of the year:

Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. get back on the court

The anticipation was palpable leading up to the Denver Nuggets first preseason game on Monday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder. During the Nuggets pregame starting lineup festivities, Murray and Porter were introduced to raucous cheers from a solid Denver crowd.

While the game was sloppy for the most part, it was good to see Murray and Porter back out there. During the first half, they each did what they do best: get buckets. Murray scored 10 points on 4/7 shooting in his 15 minutes. Porter contributed 12 points of his own on 5/7 shooting in 14 minutes.

Murray took some time to find his comfort early in the game, and it wasn’t until the second quarter when he truly began to find his rhythm. A step back three-pointer and a fallaway jumper at the halftime buzzer highlighted what was a nice return to the court for Murray.

“When I sat down, obviously I think the nerves settled in,” shared Murray postgame. “It was a good feeling. I had a lot of fun.”

Porter returned to the floor for the first time in nearly a year, and it looked like he hadn’t missed a beat since 2021, hitting a pull-up three-pointer in transition at the end of the second quarter that looked like vintage MPJ.

“Yeah, that’s definitely part of my game,” Porter said. “It was definitely good to see that go in.”

Porter hit a multitude of difficult, contested jumpers that just make coaches upset, sometimes on both sides. Porter works outside the flow of the offense at times. There are definitely still some concerns with Porter’s ability to execute offensive and defensive schemes as a five-man unit, but shooting talent trumps all.

“I remember my rookie year, they would be so upset with some of the shots I would take,” Porter joked. “Eventually they learned at the end of the day that that’s my game. That’s how I’ve always played.”

Rusty starting unit

The much hyped Nuggets starting unit of Murray, Caldwell-Pope, Porter, Gordon, and Jokić struggled through some difficult stretches on both ends of the floor.

“I have a hard time pointing to any area where we really excelled and played at a high level tonight,” lamented Malone. “We turned it over, we didn’t get back, we didn’t defend the paint, we didn’t rebound.”

Offensively, the starters combined for seven turnovers in roughly 15 minutes and had plenty of miscommunications. Jokić clearly had very little interest in shooting, attempting just one shot and scoring two points. Defensively, the rotations were slow, though Denver benefitted from just as many mistakes from Oklahoma City’s offense.

Talent certainly props up this group against a team like Oklahoma City. With the Thunder missing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort, and Chet Holmgren, it’s unsurprising the Nuggets starters won their minutes despite lacking focus for much of the time.

New bench lineup struggles

The Nuggets debuted a new bench lineup to begin the season featuring Bones Hyland, Bruce Brown, Davon Reed, Jeff Green, and DeAndre Jordan. There were some high points, but ultimately, the group struggled mightily to develop any semblance of consistency.

“I think that second unit as a whole can play harder, and I think we just have to continue to work on their chemistry,” said Malone of the bench group.

Bones struggled in his return to the floor, generating just six points and two assists in 14 minutes. He had a team worst minus-11 in the plus-minus department, and Malone pulled him early in the second quarter in favor of Ish Smith after a run of mistakes he didn’t like.

“Bones has to do a better job of running his team, and when things aren’t going your way, keep playing,” Malone urged. “I thought he took some plays off, which is unacceptable.”

Malone also elected to go with Jordan as the primary backup center over Zeke Nnaji, one of the primary position battles facing the Nuggets this season. Jordan finished with eight points and six rebounds in his 15 minutes. The paint was noticeably more crowded during those minutes on the offensive end though, perhaps leading to some difficult possessions for others.

Nnaji finished with 15 points and 6 rebounds in his 17 minutes and looked very solid. That position battle hasn’t been satisfied just yet.

Final rotations