During media day last week, Nuggets head coach Mike Malone was noncommittal as to who would start at power forward this season. Kenneth Faried has gotten most of those minutes the last five years.
In Denver’s first preseason game against the Toronto Raptors on Monday, however, we might have gotten our first hint that Faried won’t be the starter. The Nuggets rolled out a lineup featuring 6-foot-10 Nikola Jokic at power forward and 6-foot-11 Jusuf Nurkic at center.
It wasn’t a total surprise; Malone spent plenty of time last week dropping hints like, “We don’t want to be a team that’s just going to follow trends. We’ll look within, (and) see what our strengths are.” Still, the move to start Jokic and Nurkic together was confirmation: In a league that’s increasingly getting smaller, the Nuggets won’t be afraid to play their skilled giants together in the early going.
The experiment went OK Monday.
Nurkic, who struggled last year with injuries, looked spry and motivated in his 2016 preseason debut. He finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and moved as well as he had in a long time.
Jokic was also fine. He drained his only 3-point attempt on a 12-point, six-rebound night.
There were moments when the offense looked too compact with Jokic and Nurkic — nicknamed “Jurkic” by the good folks on Twitter — on the floor together. Which is one of the biggest concerns about this supersized lineup going forward.
Space can be hard to come by when two giants share the floor. But that can be partially alleviated by the pair’s nifty passing, as they showed last night.
The Nuggets ended up winning 108-106. The Jurkic combination had its moments, and in the end played to a draw, posting (an unofficial) plus-minus of 0 in 18 minutes together.
I’ve got my doubts this can work long-term, especially defensively where Jokic will be asked to guard much quicker power forwards. But it was an intriguing combination that could portend what’s to come.