The Denver Nuggets know they have a chance to win a championship this year.

With Nikola Jokić leading the charge, the Nuggets won 48 games last season. That was without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., two incredibly talented scorers, to aid in the effort. Aaron Gordon and Bones Hyland were already in place, while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown were strong additions this past offseason. The Nuggets appear to have a top seven in their rotation that can go toe to toe with just about anybody in the NBA.

Going past seven, questions begin to arise though, something the Nuggets have hoped that training camp and preseason would fix. There are position battles, spots on the depth chart, and various roles still up for grabs. If those spots are filled competently, then Denver’s rotation will be one of the strongest in the NBA. If questions still remain, Denver’s rotation could have some weaknesses heading into the regular season.

With that in mind, here’s where Denver’s primary roster battles stand after the first three preseason games:

First big man off the bench

With the Nuggets excited to get back to a starting frontcourt that includes Jokić, Gordon, and Porter, the first big man off the bench must also be versatile and capable of filling several different roles. The candidates on the roster: Jeff Green, Zeke Nnaji, DeAndre Jordan, Vlatko Čančar, and Jack White.

At this moment, it appears Green is running away with the competition.

Nnaji and Jordan are currently locked in the battle for backup center (more on that later) which has left Green to stand out as Denver’s primary veteran forward option. He started each of the past two games at power forward and showed why he can be counted upon to fill minutes at the position as a switch defender and occasional 1-on-1 threat. Green reads the court very well, a skill the Nuggets need when Jokić is on the floor, and has hustled well during the preseason.

While there’s a possibility Nnaji could become the first big off the bench later in the season, it appears that Green will get the nod early on.

Backup small forward

After the departure of Austin Rivers in the offseason, the Nuggets’ bench wing depth behind newcomer Bruce Brown is relatively untested. The main candidates to fill the other wing spot in the rotation are Davon Reed, Christian Brown, Čančar, White, and Peyton Watson.

So far this preseason, Reed has been the next wing off the bench after Brown every single time. Reed is in his fourth year after having earned a two-way contract with the Nuggets and playing 48 games last season. He signed a multi-year deal this offseason and figured into the rotation this year. So far, Reed hasn’t shot the ball well but is averaging 3.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.3 steals in 18.3 minutes across three preseason games. He hasn’t ran away with the competition, but he’s holding his own.

Braun figures to be a main challenger to Reed this year. Though just a rookie, Braun has already shown a level of competency and understanding on the defensive end that Michael Malone surely likes. Braun hasn’t shot the ball well either though, and he’s been mostly tentative in his offensive role during the preseason thus far.

Expect Reed to be the small forward off the bench early in the regular season. If he plays well, his role will be solidified. If not, the Nuggets can always use Braun as a defensive option.

Backup center

DeMarcus Cousins was not retained this offseason, and the Nuggets instead brought in veteran DeAndre Jordan as a pick-and-roll big and veteran voice in the locker room. His main competition for playing time? Third year big man Zeke Nnaji, a 21-year-old first round pick in the 2020 draft that the Nuggets are still trying to incorporate.

This position battle is the only one where there are two and only two legitimate options. The Nuggets don’t have another center-sized player on the roster, and Denver’s other small ball options (Aaron Gordon and Jeff Green) are tied up at other positions in the rotation. That leaves Jordan and Nnaji to duke it out.

Thus far, Jordan has entered the game ahead of Nnaji every single preseason game. The vet is averaging 7.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in 20.2 minutes per game, communicating well defensively and filling the role the Nuggets are asking him to play. Jordan’s also shooting 62.5% from the field, albeit on an easy diet of shots right around the rim.

Nnaji has had his own success in 19.2 minutes per game, averaging 10.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. Though his field goal percentage is just 47.8%, he’s mixing in three-pointers, where he’s averaging 33.3% thus far. There have been some awkward possessions with Nnaji at times, but he’s undoubtedly more versatile, allowing the Nuggets to switch more with their second unit.

So far, this competition doesn’t have a definitive favorite. Malone said postgame on Monday night that the Nuggets feel they can go with either Jordan or Nnaji at backup center and be just fine. Jordan has played a bit better thus far though, and as the veteran option, he’s the most likely candidate to see minutes on opening night.

11th man

How I personally define the 11th man role is the “change the game” player outside of the primary rotation. If the top 10 players in the rotation play well enough, then this player doesn’t see the court in a regular game; however, if the game plan goes badly, this is the player that’s introduced to shake up the tempo a bit.

Let’s assume the regular starters are all playing and the primary bench lineup consists of Bones, Brown, Reed, Green, and Jordan. That leaves five full-time and two two-way players as 11th man candidates. The list includes Ish Smith, Christian Braun, Peyton Watson, Vlatko Čančar, Zeke Nnaji, Jack White, and Collin Gillespie, though Gillespie is unlikely to see significant minutes this year due to offseason surgery.

After his first three preseason games and with an entire career representing his skill set, the leading candidate here is clearly Ish Smith. Ish has helped stabilize bench lineups for over a decade. He’s carved out a role in the NBA running traditional pick and roll, pushing the fast break, and using his quickness to change the pace of the game.

There will certainly be times when Bones needs another ball handler in the second unit to remove some pressure. There will also be times when the Nuggets might want to use Murray in an off-ball role and have Ish run pick and roll with Jokić instead. He’s a player that won’t play every night, but on the nights he does, he has the capacity to change the game entirely.

While Braun and Nnaji could certainly fill this role in their own ways, having them come off the bench without being in the primary rotation already is a tough ask for a young player. Maybe they would be just fine in that role, but it’s possible they may swap with Reed and Jordan on the primary bench unit for games on end. With Murray and Bones already penciled into roles for this team, Ish as the 11th man simply makes more sense.