Coaching in the NBA is a fickle business; Denver Nuggets head coach Mike Malone knows this better than most. Malone—son of former Pistons’ assistant Brendan Malone —was let go by the Sacramento Kings in December of 2014 after having spent just a little over a year there. The firing came as a bit of shock, as he’s seemingly the only professional coach to make a positive impact on DeMarcus Cousins.
Coaches move on, that’s what they do. In June of 2015 Malone was hired by the Denver Nuggets and inherited a capable but directionless team. Good coaches never stop learning and while the firing from Sacramento was a tough pill to swallow, that experience with Cousins could pay off as the Nuggets have a couple talented bigs of their own.
When: Saturday, November 5th @ 7pm EST
Where: Palace of Auburn Hills; Auburn Hills, MI
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit
Denver’s strength is no secret, it’s their front court. By now, most people are familiar with Kenneth Faried and Danilo Gallinari, but the fun stuff lies with Nikola Jokic and my personal favorite Nugget, Jusuf Nurkic.
Jokic is an incredibly skilled big man who really came on late last year and parlayed that experience into an outstanding Olympic run. Jokic gave Team USA—including Boogie—all they could handle finishing with 25 points and six rebounds in Group play. NBA Twitter took notice, including a local blogger:
Jokic the best player on the court right now. Boogie the worst. #USA— Michael Snyder (@M_James_Snyder) August 12, 2016
USA beat Serbia and Jokic 94-91 that night, but if you took him lightly before the game, you certainly didn’t after. His ability to see the floor and anticipate the next pass is unique to a near seven footer.
Superb anticipation separates good playmakers from great playmakers, and Jokic can predict a defense’s reaction as well as any big man.
And, well, stuff like this is just fun:
Jokic’s fellow international big man teammate in Denver is Jusuf Nurkic.
To give you an idea of who this kid is, last year Nurkic—attitude and all—was Bill Laimbeer in Rick Mahorn’s body. After slimming down this summer, he’s Bill Laimbeer in Bill Laimbeer’s body.
Although Laimbeer could hover around the three point line, Nurkic does most of his damage in and around the paint. That way, an “inadvertent” elbow is easier to disguise. Nurkic subscribes to the “Wish Theory”, while most players hope to not get hit mixing it up around the basket, Nurkic wishes you would try and get physical.
In probably my all time favorite Jusuf Nurkic highlight, our friend of the program Markieff Morris (F.O.E) tries to flop, doesn’t get the call but gets a special gift from Nurkic:
Yikes, maybe he didn’t flop?
There are two things scarier than Jusuf Nurkic on a basketball court: a grizzly bear and his dad.
Denver is an all around fun team and presents a handful of difficult match-ups. We’ve talked about the [insert witty nickname] Brothers above but second year point guard Emmanuel Mudiay is also a tough check.
At 6’5” and 200 pounds, Mudiay has a clear physical advantage over Ish Smith. Luckily, his post-up game isn’t polished enough in terms of knowing how to continually take advantage of the mismatch. For now, Mudiay prefers to use his quickness as his main tool to score. He’s a load to stop as-is: When he puts it all together, guys like Ish won’t stand a chance.
The Nuggets will be without two of their talented young wings, Will Barton and Gary Harris, which has put their talented first round pick Jamal Murray into the starting lineup. The 19 year old is off to a rough start to his rookie campaign, still looking for his first field goal in 16 attempts.
Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray, Jusuf Nurkic, Nikola Jokic, Danilo Gallinari
Ish Smith, Kentavious Caldwell Pope, Andre Drummond, Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris
Hey Barton, remember when you scored two points in that early April game last year against Sacramento and cost me - literally - dozens of FanDuel dollars? Revenge will be mine as Detroit takes this one at home 106 - 97.
Your pick up hoop game: Is it skilled like Jokic or bully ball like Nurkic?