Battle of three positions entering training camp taking stock of Nuggets

There are almost two months left before the NBA off-season. Denver Nuggets Report to training camp to begin your quest for an NBA title.

While a good chunk of Nuggets head coach Michael Malone’s rotation is already set in stone, there are a few slots that will be on hold from the start of training camp. Close in the starting five, but the only two players off the bench who are in rotation every night are Bones Hyland and Bruce Brown.

This means Malone has two or three spots left in his bench rotation: short forward, power forward and center. Let’s take a look at how those position battles are set up before training camp begins.

Who will lock the backup small forward minutes between Christian Braun and Devon Reid?

This will be the most important position fight entering the training camp.

Christian Braun – 21st pick in 2022 nba draft – Going up against Devon Reid – who signed his first full-time NBA deal this offseason after playing on a two-way contract for Denver last year – to decide who will be the first wing off the bench.

Reid, who was Malone’s favorite last season, will enter training camp as a more experienced and prepared player. Reed may not have the same upside as a shooter, but his physicality and tenacity on defense have been proven at the NBA level making him an easy player to rely on. He is more limited on paper as a scorer than Braun, but he has some utility as a secondary producer who can strike the rim or run a pick and roll.

That being said, if Braun manages to win the position coming out of training camp and retains that role for the rest of the season, it will be a huge win for the Nuggets as it will mean Braun’s defense and three -Point shooting translates to NBA easily. If so, his upside jumps significantly higher than Reed, who isn’t a threat to opponents as a three-point shooter.

Still, Braun is a rookie and telling him to shoot well – somewhere around 37% or better from the three-point boundary – and potentially meaningful playoff minutes while defending high on a championship contender. Getting in is a huge question. Taking their defensive ability to a higher level Denver will need a go-to wing defender to diversify their lineup. Can a rookie really step into that role right away? The answer to that question is usually no.

Malone, despite saying that he thinks Braun might be able to play minutes immediately, forces his rookies to prove himself. No role assigned; They are earned. This was true for Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., and Nikola Jokic. This gives Reid an early lead to earn the wing role before the bench headed to training camp despite what is likely to be an open competition.

Who will earn the bulk of the backup center minutes?

The backup center could be at least a straight-forward role in Malone’s rotation going into the season. Will it be Jeff Green as it was for last season? Will DeAndre Jordan, who has struggled over the years, find a way to help Denver fully earn that role? Can Zeke Nnaji or Vlatko Cancar also see those few minutes as the center of a small ball?

Signing Jordan was a surprise at the time it happened and still is. Yes, the Nuggets needed a true center to match with teams that also employ true centers off the bench. Yes, the centers market was unusually expensive during free agency. But that being said, Jordan hasn’t been a productive player for years. He is stable on the periphery as a defender and his outbursts around the rim have decreased dramatically over the past few seasons. Aside from the rounding around the rim, that hurts more than it helps.

It is quite possible that the role of a backup center is decided based on matchups and available players. If the Nuggets are playing against a team that employs a true backup center that Greene and Nanaji cannot physically compete with, Jordan makes sense as a counter. The same is true if Nikola Jokic takes a night’s rest or misses a game due to injury. Having someone who is big enough to take up space in the paint, pull out large bodies, and roll over the rim is helpful in some circumstances.

Still, outside of those specific situations, it makes sense for Greene to take minutes with Nanaji as a backup center. Green was one of the few stable forces on the Nuggets’ injury-prone roster last season and has the confidence of the team and coaching staff. His rim rolling and pick-and-pop ability would give the bench a few more ways to attack the offense. Green is also a better defender in space than Jordan.

If the Nuggets want to go even smaller, they can play Nanaji in the center and play both Braun and Reid, or even bring the Cankers into the mix to play center, while Nanaji is more of her own. The natural forces return to the forward position. Malone would probably experiment much earlier.

The backup center will likely look different in every game, with Green getting the biggest piece of the pie, but that could change after training camp or depending on the needs of the Nuggets as the weather unfolds.

Can Zeke cement his place in Nanaji Michael Malone’s rotation?

This may sound like an exaggeration to some, but Nanaji is one of the biggest X-factors for the Nuggets. His ability as a 3-and-D forward at six-foot-10 could create tremendous versatility for a Nuggets bench unit that lacked life for the 2021-22 season. Thankfully, before he got injured, there were signs he was figuring out where he fits in with the Nuggets’ stockpile.

Before Nanaji got hurt last season, he was starting to blossom as a player. His finishing around the rim had improved, he had some of his best rebounding performances and his combination of perimeter defense and three-point shooting was shining. He had the eye of a player who could be considered part of the Nuggets core, but most of him had missed the Nuggets’ 25 games in the last 27 games of the regular season with bilateral knee pain.

For perspective, Nanaji had played 21 matches from 1 January, prior to the injury. During that time, he played 19 minutes per game and averaged 7.1 points, and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 57.3% from the field and 47.4% from the three-point boundary. He was 18-38 from deep and the Nuggets went 13-8 in that stretch. He had great chemistry with Hyland, was more outspoken around the rim as a scorer and rebounder, and his confidence was growing rapidly.

If the Nuggets get their version of Nanaji before he gets injured this season, his bench unit has a lot of optionality as he clears the floor and helps with the defense. Every offensive action will have more room to breathe and will cover a lot of ground on defense. To be successful in that role, Nanaji will have to improve in two obvious ways: first being healthy and second a strong rebounder coming into the season.

If Nanaji can’t claim his place in the rotation and falls short of the expectations the Nuggets have hoped for him, he’ll be much more limited. He will have to focus on filling his role with the Cancar or giving Jordan a full-time role in the rotation, but that comes with disadvantages. With either option, Denver’s perimeter defense and there-point shooting will be pretty poor.

Nanaji is one of the biggest X-factors entering the season for the Nuggets because of how much he can provide to the bench unit. If that group struggles like last year, it could mean the difference between winning or losing a playoff series. Denver needs Nanaji to hold on to his role and succeed if he hopes to reach his roof.

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