Strike 1: Very rarely can a pro sports team that’s aiming for a championship repeat simply just “run it back.” Standing pat between seasons is all but impossible now, given free agency and normal roster turnover. Astute front office management is always planning for different contingencies.

The defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets knew they’d have to make changes to the roster – specifically when it involved their key reserve players – when they began their quest to repeat. They were counting on young and less experienced players to replace key veterans and hoping for very little drop off.

That hasn’t happened as of yet.

Collectively, the Nuggets bench is still struggling to score, meaning very few leads are safe, even when the anointed “best starting five in basketball” hands over a decent sized advantage to the backups before taking a collective rest. This has been such a nagging issue that Nuggets coach Michael Malone has had to stagger his units, leaving starters like Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon on the floor when centerpiece Nikola Jokic is allowed an all-too-brief rest period.

Let’s face it: The Nuggets aren’t going to “run it back” unless they find a scorer to insert into games midway through the first and third quarters, allowing them to keep any bit of momentum going. A big trade? Not likely. Given their salary cap situation, they aren’t going to be able to make any sort of impactful move at the upcoming deadline. The solution to the bench struggles has to come from within.

So, why not turn scoring option No. 3 among the starters into scoring option No. 1 coming off the bench?

Having already been forced to mix-and-match his lineups, it’s time for Malone to take a bold step: Insert young Peyton Watson into the starting lineup and bring Michael Porter Jr. off the bench.

It would work.

Start with this: Collectively, the Nuggets starters often look disinterested on the defensive end early in games, turning games they should control into second half battles. Better defense early would lead to less stressful times down the stretch.

Watson has shown an ability to play solid to sometimes great defense, which the starting unit needs. However, asking the young, second-year forward to also be a consistent scoring threat without Joker on the court is fallacy at this point. Instead, while Watson could be the guy that gets the starting unit to care about defense earlier on most nights, he would be able to play a complementary role on offense.

Meanwhile, MPJ would be able to do his thing (presumably with more consistency) against the opponents bench players and allow Denver to maintain momentum and the double digit leads that keep vanishing when Joker isn’t on the floor.

A bench nucleus that features Reggie Jackson, DeAndre Jordan and Michael Porter Jr wouldn’t be anything to sneeze at.

Other great championship teams haven’t been afraid to start a role player and bring one of their established scorers off the bench. Going way back, Kurt Rambis started games for some of the best Los Angeles Lakers teams of all time during the 1980’s. Rambis started while defensive stalwart Micheal Cooper (eight times voted to NBA All-defensive team) came off the bench.

The 1983 Philadelphia 76ers once featured a starting front court of future Hall of Famers Moses Malone, Julius “Dr. J” Erving and Marc Iavaroni. They brought future Hall of Famer Bobby Jones off the bench. Philly won 65 games, swept the Lakers and won the NBA title.

The key of course is getting everyone – specifically MPJ – to accept this kind of arrangement and continue to put the needs of the team first. Fortunately, that’s been one of Malone’s greatest strengths – keeping his team’s “team-first” mentality at the forefront.

A shakeup like this could be just the thing to ignite the Nuggets.