Nikola Jokic

Nuggets Notes: Jokic, Hernangomez, Mudiay, Nurkic

The Nuggets will face a crucial decision with third-year center Nikola Jokic after this season, and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports examines the possibilities. Denver has a team option to keep Jokic for the minimum salary of a little more than $1.6MM next season, but that would make him an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2019. The Nuggets could choose to decline that option, making him a restricted free agent this summer with Denver being able to match any offers. Feldman estimates Jokic could get about $109MM [about $27MM annually] over four years in restricted free agency or $146MM over five years [about $29MM annually] in an offer from the Nuggets.

There are benefits to keeping Jokic on a minimum salary for another year with more than $110MM already committed for 12 players next season. Giving Jokic a max deal for 2018/19 could put the team so far into the luxury tax that it couldn’t escape by trading Kenneth Faried or Mason Plumlee. Opt-out decisions by Wilson Chandler [more than $12.8MM for next season] or Darrell Arthur [nearly $7.5MM] could help ease the tax burden, but neither is certain to do that.

There’s more today out of Denver:

  • After being slowed by illness for much of the season,  Juan Hernangomez is healthy and ready to contribute, relays Gina Mizell of The Denver Post. The second-year center contracted mononucleosis in October and was available for just two of the season’s first 12 games. He was sidelined by the flu in late December and has appeared in only 18 games so far. “I said to Coach [Michael Malone], ‘I’m ready if you need me,’” Hernangomez said. “I don’t say ‘I need to play.’ Of course I want to play. But I don’t [put] pressure on him, because he’s the coach and he makes the decisions. I just tell him I’m ready, in any case, and I’m ready to bring my energy.”
  • The Nuggets need to admit Emmanuel Mudiay was a failed draft pick and find a veteran to help them reach the playoffs, contends Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post. The seventh pick in the 2015 draft, Mudiay has struggled with his shot since coming to Denver. Kizsla suggests Sacramento’s George Hill as an option, although the Kings would have to be persuaded to take Faried’s contract in return, or possibly Orlando’s D.J. Augustin as a lower-cost option.
  • Jusuf Nurkic made his first trip back to Denver this week since being traded to Portland last year and wasn’t eager to reminisce, Mizell writes in a separate story. Nurkic said he has “no relationship” with Malone. “Everybody knows why we didn’t work [in Denver],” Nurkic said. “To be honest, I’m happy I’m here. The story’s over. I have a new story, and I’m really excited where I am.”

2018 Free Agent Stock Watch: Denver Nuggets

After years of being a beloved up-and-coming Western Conference hopeful, the Nuggets have lost some of their sheen due to circumstances somewhat out of their control. The franchise made its intentions clear by signing Paul Millsap to a contract north of $31MM this season, which only adds to the frustration caused by a relatively mediocre start.

The Nuggets had their hands full adding Millsap to the fold alongside 22-year-old Nikola Jokic, so we can’t exactly fault the club for getting out to a slow start, but – at just 16-15 – they have. When word broke that the 32-year-old free agent would miss months with a wrist injury, the outlook grew even more bleak.

All told, the Nuggets may not be quite as mysteriously captivating as they were in the past, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still be a solid team eventually given the still-very-much intriguing young pieces that dot the roster.

Darrell Arthur, PF, 30 (Down) – Signed to a three-year, $23MM deal in 2016
While Arthur has played nine seasons with just two NBA franchises, carving out a role as a consistently reliable rotation player on both despite never logging more than the 21.7 minutes per game, his pedestrian career marks of 6.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game aren’t likely to yield much on the open market. For that reason, expect him to pick up his $7.5MM player option.

Will Barton, SG, 27 (Up) – Signed to a three-year, $10MM deal in 2015Will Barton of the Denver Nuggets vertical
In three and a half seasons with the Nuggets, Barton has made a name for himself as a solid spark plug off the bench. The soon-to-be 27-year-old unrestricted free agent will hit the open market in July and seems likely to command more from another suitor than the Nuggets would be comfortable matching given the other building blocks they’ll need to commit to.

Wilson Chandler, SF, 31 (Down) – Signed to a four-year, $47MM deal in 2015
Despite having a career year in 2016/17 and starting every game of the season for the Nuggets so far this year, Chandler isn’t a major part of Denver’s long-term plans. Given that we may see more penny pinching next summer than we did the last two because of a league-wide dearth of cap room, it’s hard to imagine the forward landing more than what he’ll be able to get just by accepting the $13MM player option he has for $2018/19.

Richard Jefferson, SF, 38 (Down) – Signed to a one-year, $2MM deal in 2017
After landing with the Nuggets on a minimum deal following his release from the Cavaliers at the start of the season, Jefferson will hit free agency once again next summer. At the ripe age of 38, no longer privy to the luxuries of competing for a championship, don’t put it past the podcasting superstar to retire.

Nikola Jokic, C, 23 (Up) – Signed to a four-year, $6MM deal in 2015
The Nuggets have options for dealing with Jokic’s inevitable free agency. There’s no denying that the affable big man with a 24.1 career PER will command max money whenever he’s eligible to sign a new deal — whether that happens next summer or the one after that is the question. Denver holds a team option for Jokic’s 2018/19 campaign. While they could technically turn down his team option and look to lock him up as a restricted free agent in 2018, the Nuggets are already flirting with the luxury tax for next season without a monster Jokic deal on their books (or a possible Barton deal, for that matter). The front office could be better suited accepting the team option and then making a major play for the big man in 2019, once the contracts of Chandler, Arthur and Kenneth Faried expire. Still, there are optics to think about in that scenario. Regardless, Jokic has earned big money, so let’s pull up some chairs and watch how Tim Connelly and Arturas Karnisovas try to figure this out.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Grizzlies Rumors: Gasol, Youngsters, Draft Missteps

After starting the season with a 7-4 record, the Grizzlies have won just one of their last 16 games, plummeting to second-last in the Western Conference at 8-19. Despite the team’s massive slump, general manager Chris Wallace continues to insist that Memphis won’t entertain the notion of trading Marc Gasol this season, writes Zach Lowe of ESPN.

“We think our window is still very much open with Mike [Conley] and Marc. I think we’ll be heard from the rest of this year, and in years to come,” Wallace recently said. The Grizzlies’ GM reiterated that sentiment on Tuesday, according to Lowe.

Wallace and others in the Grizzlies’ front office are “adamant” that their stance on Gasol – and rebuilding in general – won’t change this season, even if the team doesn’t start winning. Lowe is skeptical, suggesting there are probably scenarios in which Memphis at least gauges Gasol’s value, even if the team doesn’t shop him outright. Still, the ESPN scribe acknowledges that the Grizzlies may still prefer to play out the season, grab a lottery pick, and redouble their efforts to contend with Gasol and Conley in 2018/19.

Here’s more on the Grizzlies, including a few additional tidbits from Lowe’s feature:

  • Gasol insists that he won’t ask the Grizzlies for a trade, even if the team were to fall to 30 games below .500. “I would want to see how we got there — what the process is,” Gasol said, according to Lowe. “But as long as [owner] Robert [Pera] wants me here, my teammates want me here, they think I’m part of the solution — and not part of the problem — that’s all I need.” Still, if Memphis decides it wants to move him, Gasol would accept that too: “If they think it is best, I would do anything for this franchise.”
  • Wallace believes the Grizzlies can build for the future even as they focus on short-term contention, pointing to Dillon Brooks, Andrew Harrison, Jarell Martin, Deyonta Davis, and Ivan Rabb as young players who could evolve into solid rotation players. “How many teams who have been annual participants in the playoffs have as many guys under 24?” Wallace asked. Still, as Lowe notes, the Memphis GM admitted that it “remains to be seen” whether any of those players will develop into above-average NBA starters.
  • Taking a look back at some of the Grizzlies’ draft mistakes, Lowe cites sources who say that the club unsuccessfully tried to trade up for T.J. Warren in 2014. Memphis also considered drafting Nikola Jokic at No. 35 in 2014, but felt it was too high for him, per Lowe. Denver nabbed Jokic six picks later.
  • Like Lowe, Ronald Tillery of The Memphis Commercial Appeal has gone into extended detail this week about what has gone wrong for the Grizzlies this year. On Sunday, Tillery explored how Memphis’ retooling plan has backfired, while on Tuesday he wrote about the club’s culture being called into question.

Injury Updates: J. Collins, Leuer, Jokic, Curry

The Hawks will be without rookie big man John Collins for at least a couple weeks, according to Shams Charania of The Vertical, who reports that Collins has a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder. While an MRI revealed no tear, the young center is expected to be sidelined for sidelined for two or three weeks, per Charania.

While Collins’ ailment shouldn’t be a long-term issue, it’s bad news for a Hawks team that’s already missing starting center Dewayne Dedmon and veteran big man Mike Muscala. While Muscala may return soon, Dedmon is expected to be out for three to six weeks, so Atlanta will likely have to lean on bigs like Miles Plumlee and two-way player Tyler Cavanaugh for the first half of December.

Here are a few more injury updates from around the NBA:

  • Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy said today that forward/center Jon Leuer, who has been out with a sprained ankle, is expected to undergo a non-surgical process that will keep him on the shelf for another two to four weeks, tweets Rod Beard of The Detroit News. Van Gundy had indicated last week that Leuer’s recovery wasn’t progressing like the Pistons had hoped.
  • Nikola Jokic injured his ankle on Thursday night, and while the Nuggets are running additional tests today, initial X-rays were negative, and the team is optimistic that the injury is just a sprain, a league source tells Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link).
  • Stephen Curry‘s finger injury appears likely to hamper him for some time, but he and the Warriors don’t expect to sit him down for an extended stretch, writes Anthony Slater of The Athletic. “I don’t think it’s something where if we give him a few days off, it’s going to disappear,” head coach Steve Kerr said. “I think it may linger for a little while, so he’s going to have to get used to it.”

Northwest Notes: Jokic, Ferguson, Aminu

The time is now for Nikola Jokic to blossom into a leader. Nuggets head coach Mike Malone recently told his third-year big man as much given the absence of veteran power forward Paul Millsap in the lineup, Gina Mizell of the Denver Post writes.

The Nuggets have stressed that they need to see Jokic exhibit more leadership qualities, his production on the floor, while impressive, no longer enough for a young team eager to claim its first playoff berth since 2013.

Mizell writes that Jokic came through this week, uncharacteristically speaking up to motivate a lethargic looking Nuggets roster one night and then showing off his mental toughness by returning to the court on an injured ankle the next time out.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

Michael Malone Suspended; Jokic Fine Rescinded

The NBA has suspended Nuggets head coach Michael Malone for one game without pay for entering the court, halting play and making contact with a game official during yesterday’s loss to the Lakers, the league announced today in a press release. Malone will serve his suspension tonight when the Nuggets travel to Sacramento to face the Kings.

The NBA also announced in the same press release that the fine given to Nikola Jokic for being ejected from yesterday’s game has been rescinded. The league says that Jokic properly received a technical foul for his actions but that he should not have been ejected.

Northwest Notes: Nuggets, Beasley, Thunder

The new Nuggets frontcourt has gotten off to a slow start this season but that doesn’t mean Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap won’t figure it out eventually. As Buddy Grizzard of Basketball Insiders writes in a feature exploring the duo’s production thus far, the club is committed to building something special.

It initially seemed inevitable that Jokic’s passing abilities would make Millsap’s life easier scoring in the post. A boost in efficiency down low, however, hasn’t yet materialized.

Over the course of his first 10 games with the Nuggets, Millsap has averaged 15.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per contest. That’s down from his last year averages of 17.1 and 7.7, respectively, with the Hawks.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Trail Blazers will host the Thunder in a Sunday tilt, the first appearance either Carmelo Anthony and Paul George will make in Portland this season. As Mike Richman of The Oregonian writes, the franchise actively pursued both over the course of the summer, to no avail.
  • The Nuggets are starting to incorporate sophomore Malik Beasley into their rotation. Dennis Chambers of Basketball Insiders spoke with the 20-year-old about vying for a consistent role.
  • The Thunder have struggled in the clutch, Erik Horne of The Oklahoman writes, thanks in no small part to the 6.3 rebounds per game the club allows its opponents to pull down in the final five minutes. That mark sits dead last in the league and the club is 29th in opponent’s field-goal percentage during that stretch, too.

Northwest Notes: Millsap, O’Neale, Burks

The addition of Paul Millsap will give the Nuggets an established defender capable of helping the franchise improve its efforts on that side of the ball, Buddy Grizzard of Basketball Insiders writes. Last season Denver sported the second-worst defense in the NBA.

Grizzard suggests that Millsap’s “humble-yet-forceful” personality could bring out the best in his Nuggets teammates, including Nikola Jokic who already opted out of EuroBasket 2017 to focus on more individual workouts.

Millsap’s efficient low-post game will give Jokic yet more of an opportunity to showcase his playmaking abilities while the versatile Jokic gives Millsap his most skilled frontcourt partner since Al Horford.

He may not be the final piece that the Nuggets need to contend, Grizzard writes, but he certainly fits into the right puzzle.

There’s more from around the Northwest:

  • The Thunder elected not to waive Kyle Singler at the stretching deadline yesterday. While that may not mean he’s in for a big role in 2017/18, the veteran forward’s contract could be a valuable asset to include in a mid-season trade, Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman writes.
  • It’s no sure thing that Royce O’Neale will stick with the Jazz this season – the club currently has 16 guaranteed contracts – but the franchise saw enough in the versatile wing to offer him a three-year contract with the first season guaranteed earlier this summer. Benjamin Mehic of the Deseret News broke down the 24-year-old’s long journey to the NBA.
  • A knee injury sidelined Jazz guard Alec Burks in the middle of last spring’s postseason but the 26-year-old is back at full health. Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune tweets that Burks will be ready to go without restriction at training camp.

Northwest Notes: Jokic, Harris, Wiggins

While the addition of Paul Millsap gives the Nuggets a tantalizing frontcourt combination, the team’s duo of Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris was one of the league’s  most gifted offensive pairings last season, Frank Urbina of HoopsHype writes.

While Jokic’s status as one of the league’s most prolific low-post weapons is undisputed, Urbina’s recount demonstrates exactly how the Nuggets center established himself as one of the game’s most efficienct big men.

Harris, who posted a modest but intriguing 14.9 points and 2.9 assists per game last season, has a skill set that compliments Jokic’s particularly well, as evidenced by the fact that the Nuggets boasted the league’s highest offensive rating when the relatively small sample size was prorated over the course of the full season.

For that reason, while the Nuggets will be happy to add a blue chip forward like Millsap, much of the team’s future success will likely come from the talent that they’ve built through the draft.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • The fact that Andrew Wiggins recently changed agents won’t impact his extension deal, Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press tweets. CBA rules dictate that Wiggins must wait two weeks to sign the new deal after changing his representation. Some within the Timberwolves organization, Krawczynski adds in a second tweet are ‘puzzled by the timing of the move’.
  • The Trail Blazers have named Jesse Elis their new director of player health and performance, Mike Richman of the Oregonian writes. Elis will replace Chris Stackpole who had held the position for the past four years.
  • The Jazz have appointed Jonathan Rinehart the new team president of their G League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars, the team announced in a press release. Rinehart has been with the big league club for the past 12 seasons.

Antetokounmpo Wins Most Improved Player Award

Giannis Antetokounmpo was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player, as was announced on the TNT awards show Monday night.

The Bucks point forward posted averages of 22.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 5.4 APG and 1.9 BPG last season. The previous season, he averaged a slash line of 16.9/7.7/4.3/1.4.

Antetokounmpo topped the two other finalists, Jazz center Rudy Gobert and Nuggets center Nikola Jokic in the voting. In the Hoops Rumors staff picks, Antetokounmpo received two of the five votes.

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