Having tons of familiarity with the team that we follow, but not being as knowledgeable about what’s going on around the league, is something we’re all a little guilty of. I’m going to try and make an effort this year to reach out and network with some other SB Nation bloggers around the NBA to preview significant games on Orlando’s schedule. This time around, Adam Mares of Denver Stiffs was kind enough to answer some questions I prepared for him to help preview Saturday’s match-up between the Magic and the Denver Nuggets.
1) For those of us that aren't privileged enough to be able watch Nikola Jokic on a nightly basis, can you fill us in on some of the things he does on the court that makes him such an underrated star in this league?
Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares): I think everyone hears about the passing because that is the most highlight worthy part of his game and it truly is a joy to watch. The degree of difficulty on some of his passes is off the charts and he likes to put a little flair on some of the easier passes to make them more entertaining.
But passing is the only thing that makes him such a productive player. He's shooting 40% from behind the arc on 3 attempts per game. He led the league in FG% in the paint, non restricted area last season by a pretty wide margin. He just has crazy touch on everything from floaters, to jumpers, to passes. He has the reputation as a bad defender but it's worth noting that in all 3 seasons, the Nuggets have defended better with him on the court and he rates very highly in all defensive metrics like RPM (he was 1st for awhile, he's fallen to 8th), BPM, DWS, etc. Part of this is because he is among the best rebounders in the game so teams don't get second chance points. Part of it is that despite his lack of athleticism, he out-thinks players on both ends of the floor. He's just a unique, fun, and incredibly talented player.
2) Can you speak to what you've seen out of Jamal Murray in his second year with the Nuggets. Where is Murray at this point in his development (some of his strengths, what he still needs to work on, etc.)?
Mares: I still don't feel like I have a good grasp of Jamal Murray's skill set despite watching him closely for a season and a half. I am pretty confident that he can be an elite three-point shooter yet he is struggling with his shot for the 2nd year in a row. He's shooting 92% from the charity stripe and he has moments where he gets hot and makes everything he throws up yet on the year, he's shooting just 30% from deep. He is a better basketball player than he is point guard so he is dealing with the difficulties that come with learning how to run a team while also trying to be a scorer.
All in all, I think he is probably a good player in the making with an outside chance of being a very good or even all-star level guard some day. For the time being, he is an inconsistent young point guard that mixes moments of brilliance with stretches of really bad basketball mixed in.
3) What has gotten into Will Barton this season? How valuable has Barton been to the Nuggets, and do you think he's a player that has a future in Denver beyond this year?
Mares: I love Thrill, aka Willie B. Buckets, aka The People's Champ. He is a player that deserves three nicknames. He's a prototypical 6th man scoring guard that is great 1 on 1, in the open floor, and making something out of nothing. Like most guys that fit his profile, he can run hot or cold depending on the night but he's been hot a lot more than not this season. He's the only player on the roster beside Emmanuel Mudiay who can blow by his defender at will but unlike Mudiay, Barton is great at finishing in traffic or pulling up for the mid-range jumper.
I doubt he'll remain in Denver beyond this season since the Nuggets probably won't have the money to sign him. That also means that he is a candidate to get traded at the deadline. For now, he's an essential part of the team and one of the most reliable scorers.
4) Is there a positional match-up in Friday's contest when the Nuggets visit the Magic that you are looking forward to or that you find interesting?
Mares: Honestly, not really. The Nuggets are dealing with two huge injuries - Jokic with a rolled ankle and Millsap with a torn ligament in his wrist so at the moment, the Nuggets are just trying to tread water and failing miserably. They are 1-7 in their last 8 road games and are losing by an average of nearly 15 points per game over that stretch. The individual matchups are probably less important to the Nuggets than usual. They just need to find a way to make shots on the road and to get stops. They're allowing 114.5 points per game over that same stretch on the road so expect a high scoring game.
I want to again thank Adam Mares from Denver Stiffs for helping us preview the Denver Nuggets in anticipation of tonight’s matchup against the Magic. Game-time is set for 7:00 P.M. at the Amway Center.