There’s a strong case to be made that the Denver Nuggets’ best player is Nikola Jokic. The second-year Serbian big man can affect a basketball game in so many different ways, whether it’s scoring, passing, rebounding or defending.
But so far this season, Jokic is only receiving 23.9 minutes per game. On Wednesday, Nuggets coach Mike Malone indicated that that could be about to change.
“Nikola Jokic has been our best player in our last 10 games,” Malone said. “ … Jokic deserves as many minutes as I can give him.”
It might have taken Jokic going for 27 points on 10-of-12 shooting, 11 rebounds and four assists in 26 minutes in Denver’s pitiful loss to Dallas earlier this week, but it finally looks like he’ll be on the floor more. That’s good news for a Nuggets team that’s 9-16 after a disastrous six-game road trip.
Jokic, who finished third in Rookie of the Year voting a season ago, seems to have hit his stride. He kicked off the year starting alongside Jusuf Nurkic in a super sized lineup that didn’t take. Denver quickly moved him to the bench after its Nov. 10 loss to the Warriors. Now it sounds like he’ll play the role he probably should’ve all along: the team’s starting center.
“I wouldn’t be surprised tomorrow night if there are more changes to the lineup,” Malone said, hinting at Jokic replacing Nurkic as a starter. “Read into that what you may.”
Malone also said that rookie Jamal Murray could be in line for playing time. Murray is averaging 11.6 points per game and knocking down 3s at a 38.5 percent rate since Nov. 5.
“Jamal Murray has the chance to be a special player,” Malone said. “I have to find more minutes for Jamal Murray. Those two players (Jokic and Murray) are a huge part of our future. And if that’s the case, I have to give them as many minutes as possible. Now it’s not easy because we still have a lot of other good players.”
Finding more time for Murray, who’s averaging 22.3 minutes per game, might be difficult with Gary Harris “pretty close” to returning. Malone said it’s possible Harris comes back as early as Wednesday against Portland.
Malone might have to bruise some egos if he’s serious about playing Jokic and Murray more, which he seems aware of.
“When push comes to shove,” Malone said, “Maybe I can’t keep 15 guys happy. Go with these eight or nine guys and let’s see what we can do. But it is a tough balance.”
Despite Denver’s early-season struggles, it’s only three games out of the Western Conference’s final playoff spot. It’s not too late for this team to make a playoff push. But some feelings might have to get hurt along the way.
Subscribe to Denverite’s weekly sports newsletter here.