The Nuggets bench is the key.
We can be fairly certain what we have in the starting five for Denver. Of note, the absence of Gary Harris makes a difference in the feel of the starting unit. That could be a concern, it’s rare an NBA team makes it through a season without injury concerns. While Torrey Craig filled in admirably at the three and Barton slid down to two-guard where he’s comfortable, Harris is a player on the verge of all-star status and his absence is felt, as it was at the end of last season.
What was evident, even with Isaiah Thomas, Gary Harris and Michael Porter Jr. out, was that the Nuggets have incredible depth, so much that quality players are going to struggle to see minutes for this squad.
Tim Connelly did a fantastic job of jettisoning the zero-minute crew from last season. Gone are Kenneth Faried, Richard Jefferson and Darrell Arthur. The team, 1-15 is all TC’s now and Malone has an incredibly diverse bunch to work with.
Talk of finding Trey Lyles minutes at the small forward is an indicator of the depth of the Nuggets bench. Malik Beasley, Tyler Lydon and Monte Morris are players that will feel the pinch. The nice thing is that Malone now has bench options beyond his top-eight players and the ability to use his deep bench to keep Denver fresh throughout the 82-game grind.
Juancho Hernangomez scored 19 and was 5-for-8 from three. Beasley was 4-for-4 from three. Monte Morris had 12 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals. Trey Lyles had 14 points, seven rebounds, four assists and an absurd (+32) +/- rating.
What stuck out was a tiny stat, one that wouldn’t normally matter:
Mason Plumlee was 5-for-5 from the free throw line. The reserves overall went 18-for-19 at the stripe. Outstanding but particularly stunning from Plumlee, a hack-a-Shaq candidate every time he’s previously been on the floor. It illustrates the genius of this team and it’s good to see each Nuggets player pushing boundaries, learning parts of the game that are deficient.
Credit Malone with bringing in Mark Price, a career leader in free throw percentage and consummate professional.
As much as this team’s resolve, progression and insistence that they won’t be falling into those “trap”games this year, the bench is going to be a driver for Denver’s success. With the depth of talent available, the sky truly is the limit.