GIVE THE KEYS TO THE 19-YEAR-OLD
New coach Mike Malone knows the kind of team he'd like to oversee, and GM Tim Connelly has ideas for how his roster might one day look. Those visions collide at Emmanuel Mudiay, the No. 7 pick in the 2015 draft. Mudiay is undoubtedly at the center of what the Nuggets are trying to build as an organization, but he is also likely not yet the type of point guard that Malone seems to prefer.
The minutes at point guard should be free and clear for the 6'5", 200-pound Mudiay from Day One; his closest competition is 33-year-old Jameer Nelson. The operational freedom, on the other hand, might not come so readily. Malone is a coach who favors structure, and rookie point guards don't tend to be reliable. After appearing in just 12 games in his one season playing professionally in China (where he signed out of high school rather than play in college), Mudiay will be no different. In some games he'll play like a prodigy; in others he'll waffle between doing too much and too little.
Denver has to see Mudiay through that teetering dynamic as he develops a workable balance. He has quick feet and blistering speed, and he sees the floor like a veteran. Already he seems equipped to read and attack in a way that would keep the Nuggets' offense fresh and opposing defenders on their heels. Giving him room to make decisions—and mistakes—will accelerate their steep climb back to Western Conference relevance.
A rival scout sizes up Denver
In Sacramento, Mike Malone had to play slow; DeMarcus Cousins was always the last one down the floor. But he can coach up-tempo, which is the style that fits most of this roster. The key for him will be to keep the turnovers down. He is not like [former longtime coach] George Karl; he cannot let turnovers just fall off his back.... Emmanuel Mudiay has the best vision of a point guard coming out of the draft in the last few years. He has a lot of passing tools others don't have. The big deal for him will be to play without trying to prove he can shoot. His shot isn't broken, but right now it's his biggest weakness.... Kenneth Faried is a great offensive rebounder and a good defensive rebounder, but he can be a bit of a diva at times. He is a great runner, but he has to play a fast style. He is a limited scorer outside 10 feet. A guy like Mudiay can deliver the ball to him in pick-and-roll because he is committed to rolling.... Wilson Chandler's numbers have been consistent the past few seasons, but his night-in, night-out efforts are inconsistent.... Danilo Gallinari is important. He is a big guy who can space the floor. The [left] ACL injury took away some of his first step, but he still does a good job selling his shot fake. I don't want Gallo playing the three; his defensive liabilities come into play. He's a face-up four. The problem is, that screws up the rest of their rotation.... Jusuf Nurkic wants to create physical play. He checked out a little bit at the end of the year. If he had a consistent focus, he could be really good affecting shots, taking away post-ups.
COACH MIKE MALONE
(1st season with Nuggets)
2014--15 RECORD 30--52
(4th in Northwest)
PG EMMANUEL MUDIAY (R)
18.0 PPG; 5.9 APG; 6.3 RPG; 1.6 SPG
SG RANDY FOYE
8.7 PPG; 2.4 APG; 36.8 FG%; 35.7 3FG%
SF WILSON CHANDLER
13.9 PPG; 6.1 RPG; 42.9 FG%; 34.2 3FG%
PF KENNETH FARIED
12.6 PPG; 8.9 RPG; 1.2 APG; 50.7 FG%
C JUSUF NURKIC
6.9 PPG; 6.2 RPG; 1.1 BPG; 44.6 FG%
SF DANILO GALLINARI
12.4 PPG; 3.7 RPG; 40.1 FG%; 35.5 3FG%
PG JAMEER NELSON
8.3 PPG; 4.0 APG; 40.7 FG%; 34.5 3FG%
PF J.J. HICKSON
7.6 PPG; 6.3 RPG; 0.5 BPG; 47.5 FG%
(R) ROOKIE, CHINA STATS
Assists per game for rookie Emmanuel Mudiay in the Las Vegas Summer League, which ranked fourth. He also averaged 5.0 turnovers (tied for second most), including seven—and just one dime—in his last game.
GARRETT W. ELLWOOD/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES