Nuggets Notes: Nnaji, Murray, Gordon, Jokic

After signing a four-year, $32MM rookie scale extension in the offseason, Nuggets forward/center Zeke Nnaji surely hoped to take a step forward in 2023/24. Instead, he’s been out of the team’s rotation for much of the season, averaging fewer minutes per game (9.9) than he did over the previous two campaigns (17.0 and 13.7, respectively).

However, head coach Michael Malone reinserted the 23-year-old into the rotation a few games before the All-Star break and Nnaji is trying to take advantage of the opportunity, according to Vinny Benedetto of The Denver Gazette.

I feel like I’m playing well,” Nnaji said after Sunday’s win vs. Golden State. “Maybe (it’s) the work that I’m putting in, but I found a little rhythm.”

Nnaji, who views himself as a natural power forward instead of a center, which he’s played far more of this season, says he’s remained even-keeled amid his inconsistent playing time, Benedetto writes.

Never get too high, never get too low,” Nnaji said of his approach while playing time has waxed and waned. “I have confidence in the practice and the work that I put in every day, whether it’s a game day or an off day. Whenever I get my opportunity, I just go out there and try to make the most (of it) and help the team win however I can.”

Here’s more on the defending champions:

  • Point guard Jamal Murray missed the second game of a back-to-back last week in Portland. John Hollinger of The Athletic asked Malone about the injury, with the coach saying it’s something Murray and the team will have to manage for the rest of the season. “It’s shin splints,” said Malone, “and everything he’s dealing with right now, every time he plays it’s gonna be an issue. This is not second night of a back-to-back ‘resting.’ He is managing an injury. It’s just something we’re just going to have to find a way to figure out.” Malone added that in order for Murray’s shin splints to fully heal, he’ll need an extended period of rest, almost certainly in the offseason. “I’m sure it’s very painful,” Malone continued, “and the more he plays — and Jamal is gonna be a guy who is going to play upwards 35, 36 minutes a night. We just have to try to limit his load as much as possible — shootarounds, practices, whatever we’re doing — to make sure that game days are holy and he can be available for as many of them as possible.” For what it’s worth, Murray isn’t on the injury report tonight vs. Miami, which is also the second game of a back-to-back, as Benedetto tweets.
  • The Nuggets entered the All-Star break on a three-game losing streak, but they were unconcerned about their form entering the home stretch of the season, writes Bennett Durando of The Denver Post. The team has reeled off four straight victories post-break, and forward Aaron Gordon says the team didn’t want to peak too early. “We know what time it is now,” Gordon said after Wednesday’s win. “It’s time to start ramping up. I know we didn’t want to be playing our best basketball early in the season.”
  • Mo Dakhil of The Athletic breaks down some of the “genius” of two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, who is the frontrunner for the award again in ’23/24. Jokic has recorded a triple-double in just three quarters in each of the past four games, and his teammates have great timing on cuts to the basket when the Serbian center is double-teamed, Dakhil writes.
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