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NBA AM: Utah’s George Hill Dilemma

Ben Dowsett looks at several overlapping factors in George Hill’s free agency.

Ben Dowsett

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The Utah Jazz have seen a few of their marquee free agents hit the market in recent years, but this is different. Not since the summer of 2003, when Karl Malone’s search for a ring led him west to Los Angeles, has Utah faced this sort of franchise-altering summer.

Malone was days from 40 back then, though – still producing, but a far cry from his Hall of Fame self. Among Utah’s trio of current impending free agents, the elder statesman is 31. Those Stockton-to-Malone teams were already well past their glory days; Dennis Lindsey and the current Jazz front office have spent the better part of the last half decade building toward a team that still hasn’t reached its peak.

All things considered, given the state of the modern salary cap and player movement, one could argue it’s the biggest offseason in franchise history.

Gordon Hayward is the obvious tall domino, and headed into Saturday’s free agency period, his situation seems about as straightforward as anyone could have hoped. Hayward will meet with Miami, Boston and Utah (in that order), and is widely expected to make a decision quickly after Monday’s meeting with the Jazz. By the time fireworks are in the air on July 4, it’s probable we’ll know the franchise from which Hayward will receive his new max deal.

Hayward’s fellow swingman and close friend Joe Ingles would also appear to be a pretty simple case. Ingles was almost comically obvious about his desire to return to Utah during his exit meetings, and while it’s unknown whether or not he’ll consider signing an outside offer in restricted free agency, all the smoke signals point toward a return.

True to form for the franchise following several years of uncertainty, the point guard spot is once again the most complex situation facing Jazz management. And this time, there could be a whole lot more than just the starting 1-spot up for grabs.

First, consider the past.

******

Since the day Deron Williams was traded to Brooklyn midseason in 2011, the Jazz had been floundering at the point by NBA standards. The list of guys who started games as a point guard for Utah between then and last summer was not pretty: Devin Harris, Earl Watson, Jamaal Tinsley, Mo Williams, John Lucas III, Trey Burke, Dante Exum and even Alec Burks (not a point guard).

The first several were stopgaps after Deron’s departure, followed by a notable misfire on a draft-day trade for Burke. Exum looked promising at times, only to have his entire trajectory derailed by a summer ACL tear before his sophomore season. In retrospect, the fact that those Burks-at-point lineups were actually relatively successful compared to many other choices just highlights how grim the situation really was.

It’s hard to say how a healthy Exum may have altered planning a year ago. But with the Aussie still finalizing his recovery and looking like a bit of a question mark – and with a win-now mandate that hadn’t really existed the previous year – Lindsey pulled the trigger and acquired George Hill prior to the 2016 draft.

Hill’s season couldn’t have started out much better, and couldn’t have finished up much more strangely. He was a legitimate franchise savior in November and December, propping the group up through a brief Hayward absence to open the season and posting legitimately ridiculous production.

A common statistic to evaluate a point guard’s creation compared to their carelessness is assist-to-turnover ratio. Hill was so stunningly efficient through the turn of the calendar year 2016 that his steal-to-turnover ratio became perhaps more appropriate to cite (it was nearly a dead even 1:1 ratio at that point, which is patently ridiculous for any volume ball-handler).

Hill had also sustained his first injury of the year by that time, though, a trend that would come to define his season. He’d go through five separate periods of the year where he missed at least three straight games, sitting for 36 contests in all between the regular season and playoffs.

Hill would return from one such stretch in time for the first round of the playoffs and post a monster series, including a plus-35 on-court figure while helping provide what proved to be the final nail in the Lob City Clippers’ coffin. He was back down just as quickly, though, sitting the final three games of a Jazz sweep at the hands of the eventual world champion Warriors.

Fast forward a couple months, and it’s already time to consider the future – where Utah’s cap situation looms large over everything.

******

First things first: If future cap concerns are the only roadblock standing between the Jazz and retaining each of their three priority free agents at roughly market value, all three guys will likely be back in Utah next year. The Jazz would absolutely have several tough decisions looming over the next couple years in this hypothetical, but these are often overstated in the public eye.

Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors are the first big topics there. Hood and Exum are both up for rookie extensions after next season, meaning they could negotiate them starting this summer until late October (both appear unlikely to ink deals by that point barring some July craziness). Favors will be entering the last year of what’s mostly been a great deal for Utah, but with a big raise coming and a ton of other money possibly committed, the writing could already be on the wall for his future in Utah.

If moving Favors for little returning salary isn’t enough to loosen the belt, there are other options potentially available. It would cost an asset or two to get off Burks’ roughly $22 million owed over the next two years, but Utah has a few moderately valuable young pieces plus several future picks they could throw in to make this work.

Boris Diaw and Joe Johnson will both be off the books by next summer, at the latest. Diaw could even be cut for nothing before his guarantee date on July 15. Exum is no sure thing yet, and with 2017 draftee Donovan Mitchell now in the fold as a combo guard with lots of potential, there’s not necessarily a guarantee that the Aussie commands long term money if he doesn’t show more in his fourth season.

It’s also not out of the question for the Jazz to swallow hard and enter the tax for a year. Utah won’t throw money around like crazy and enter repeater territory, but the ability is there to spend for a roster with a true shot to advance deep in the postseason. Ownership’s placement of the team into a legacy trust in January ensured that profits will be recycled into the franchise; popular players and deep playoff runs bring more profits, and a Hayward-Rudy Gobert combo is as popular and talented as the state has seen since the glory days.

There are enough levers to pull here to keep Lindsey from panicking about paying guys like Hill and Ingles their fair market value – if that’s the only concern, of course.

It might not be, and even the term “fair market value” might be more problematic than Lindsey and Co. would hope in Hill’s case.

Coloring this whole picture are failed attempts by the two sides to renegotiate-and-extend Hill’s deal back in the spring, a situation that would have added money to his 2016-17 salary while also keeping him in town for additional years without ever hitting the open market. The maximum Utah could have added to Hill’s contract in this case would have been roughly $88 million: about $13 million and change for 16-17, and another $75 million over the next three years.

It never happened, and the important questions now come from both sides. Did the Jazz ever come close to offering that much? This isn’t a team where even backchannel sources offer much clarity on negotiation details, but quiet chatter here and there indicates that perhaps the answer is no.

On the flip side, what was the threshold for Hill’s camp to accept? Did they even have one? If they were truly convinced he’d approach a max contract this summer, even $25 million a year moving forward might not have seemed like enough at the time for a guy who already spent several years underpaid.

As the summer gets set to open, though, the list of teams that appear primed to give out even that kind of money for a past-30 starting point guard might not be that long. Philadelphia and Brooklyn, both tossed around the rumor mill earlier in the year as teams with lots of cap who might want a veteran of Hill’s ilk, acquired blue chip young point guards in the last couple weeks. The Chris Paul domino has already fallen.

The Wolves have been rumored as a suitor, though they’d need to move Ricky Rubio first in all likelihood. The Spurs and a reunification with Pop always loom, but even that would take some cap maneuvering – certainly not unreasonable maneuvering, but worth noting nonetheless. There’s also no guarantee San Antonio values Hill enough to beat Utah’s best offer.

But maybe the most vital factor when it comes to Hill is also the one that’s toughest to gauge with even moderate accuracy: How he impacts Hayward’s decision. Both local and national outlets have indicated Hayward’s desire for a veteran point guard on the roster before he signs, with some reports mentioning Hill specifically and others staying vague.

Only Hayward himself truly knows how important a factor that is. The Jazz will certainly have a better idea than any of us, but even they could still be working from a place of partial uncertainty. If it takes coughing up a few million uncomfortable extra dollars for Hill to assure that Hayward remains, here’s wagering Lindsey and his team will pull the trigger. But it’s almost certainly not that linear, as rumors that Utah has been active on the trade market for a veteran point man would indicate.

Finally, we can’t forget to ask a pretty simple question that might get glossed over in all the other details: Does Utah truly want to commit the sort of years and salary it would take to get Hill back? Hill is 31, and has now missed big chunks of time in two of his last three seasons. Each individual injury he had last year felt random and relatively unlucky when isolated, but it’s also tough to imagine a 32-year-old dealing with fewer bumps and bruises on balance as he gets older.

Injuries are fickle and inexact, and it was a weird year there for Utah all around. The keen ear heard just the faintest whispers that it was perhaps Hill himself, and not Utah’s medical staff, who ruled him out of those final three games against the Warriors in May. True or not, it’s another little chunk of strangeness when it comes to Hill’s health. How to reconcile that with his obvious importance on and off the court is Lindsey’s challenge.

Got all that? Oh, and just in case there wasn’t enough uncertainty, remember that Hayward appears poised to make his decision relatively early in free agency. If locking up Hill before then is a prerequisite, the Jazz won’t have much time to get it done.

Rest as easily as you can, Jazz fans – it’ll all be over in a few days, good or bad. But as everyone sits in anticipation of Hayward’s decision, remember the other vital variables that factor into the equation.

Ben Dowsett is a Deputy Editor and in-depth basketball analyst based in Salt Lake City. He covers the Jazz on a credentialed basis for Basketball Insiders, and has previously appeared in the Sports Illustrated and TrueHoop Networks. He can be found on Twitter at @Ben_Dowsett.

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NBA PM: Lopez Leading On And Off The Court

Brook Lopez has been a valuable addition to the Los Angeles Lakers, both on and off the court.

Ben Nadeau

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In spite of the ongoing media circus, an inherently tougher conference and a roster that features just five players with more than three years of NBA experience, the Los Angeles Lakers are 8-10. Naturally, that won’t be good enough to reach the postseason in the West, but it’s better than most expected the young Lakers to fare. Their early season successes can be chalked up to their glut of budding talent — Julius Randle, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, among others — but there’s one other major driving force at hand here and his name is Brook Lopez.

Following years of will-they, won’t-they rumors, Lopez was acquired in a shocking blockbuster trade with the Brooklyn Nets just prior to this year’s draft. The Lakers were eager to get out from under Timofey Mozgov’s lengthy, albatross-sized contract, so they packaged him with the once-troubled D’Angelo Russell, shipping the pair off for Lopez and the No. 27 overall pick. The deal was largely made with financial implications in mind, but the initial returns on Lopez have been a massive win for the Lakers as well.

Although Lopez is currently logging a career-low in minutes (24.3), he still often leads the way for Los Angeles — like the night he effortlessly dropped 34 points and 10 rebounds on 6-for-9 from three-point range against his former franchise. Through 18 games, Lopez is averaging just 14.8 points and 5.1 rebounds — a scoring mark that ranks only above his rookie season with the New Jersey Nets in 2008-09 — but his statistical impact is key on this inconsistent roster nonetheless.

But beyond that, it seems as if some of Lopez’s biggest contributions this season have come off the court — just ask Kyle Kuzma and Ivica Zubac.

“[Lopez] has taught me how to be a professional,” Kuzma told Basketball Insiders prior to their game against the Boston Celtics earlier this month. “He’s one of the first guys in the gym, one of the last ones to leave.”

Lopez, who has carried his fair share of incredibly poor teams in the past — and often with a smile — is in the final year of the contract he signed back in 2015. His expiring deal worth $22.6 million made Lopez the perfect acquisition for a Lakers team hoping to shed cap space before the upcoming free agency period — where, allegedly, LeBron James and Paul George are both targets.

For a 7-foot center that just added a three-point shot to his game and knocked down 134 of them last season alone, Lopez may be one of the greatest trade afterthoughts in recent memory. The Lakers will likely finish in the lottery rather than the postseason, but Lopez — along with veterans Andrew Bogut, Corey Brewer and Luol Deng — have been a helpful presence for the slew of young Lakers as they adjust to professional basketball.

“They’re all great — they’ve been there, done that,” Kuzma said. “They have a lot of experience in this league, so it’s good to learn from those guys because they’ve played 10, 13 years and that’s what I want to do.”

Kuzma, of course, was selected with that No. 27 overall pick that the Nets sent to Los Angeles in the trade, and he’s been red-hot ever since. Following an impressive combine, summer league and preseason, Kuzma jumped into the starting lineup after Larry Nance Jr. fractured his hand just eight games into the campaign. Although the Rookie of the Year battle has been dominated by the Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons so far, Kuzma — averaging 16.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game — has emerged as a strong runner-up candidate.

For Zubac, however, it’s been a slower start to his NBA career but with Lopez, he says, things have gotten easier.

“The whole summer, I worked on my three-point shot,” Zubac told Basketball Insiders. “But also [I worked on my] post offense too, that’s what [Lopez] is good at. I’m really focusing my game around the post, so that’s where I’m trying to learn.”

Last year, Zubac was a popular late-season member of head coach Luke Walton’s rotation and he finished his rookie year averaging 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds in just 16 minutes per game. Unfortunately, the new arrivals and recent emergences have limited Zubac to just 10 total minutes over four appearances in 2017-18. Still, Lopez gives Zubac a mentor worth modeling his game after, even if it’s at the expense of real experience this season.

To get Zubac on the floor, the center has spent time with the South Bay Lakers, Los Angeles’ G-League affiliate, as of late. In two games, Zubac has averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds on 73 percent shooting from the field. Despite the lack of playing time, Zubac was more than happy to praise not only Lopez but the efforts of the other aforementioned veterans too.

“I can learn a lot from them and they help me play my game,” Zubac said. “Whoever’s on the court, whoever I’m playing with, I just try to learn as much as I can from them.”

Ultimately, though, it all comes back to Lopez.

Again, Lopez has averaged a career-low in minutes, but his contributions have been crucial in the Lakers’ overall standing thus far. In the games that Lopez has played less than 21 minutes, the Lakers are 0-5; but when he plays more than 30, the team is 3-1. On top of that, the Lakers are 5-1 when Lopez hits two or more three-pointers in a game as well. That sample size is still certainly small, but it’s nice indicator of Lopez’s inherent on-court impact, even when he’s not carrying the team on his shoulders.

“[He makes life] a lot easier for me,” Kuzma said. “He’s one of the most established scorers in the league and his career average is, like, 20 [points] a game. You can always count on him to be there every single night.”

While the Lakers can plan for a dream offseason haul involving James, George and others, they’ll have a tough decision facing them in July. Whether he’s efficiently stretching the floor, finishing off assists from Ball or setting the tone in an inexperienced locker room, Lopez has been quite the addition for Los Angeles.

This summer, Lopez enters unrestricted free agency and will likely garner offers outside of the Lakers’ pay range considering their big plans. If the Lakers decide to focus elsewhere, another team will reap the rewards. Until then, the youthful core in Los Angeles will benefit from having Lopez train and educate them each day.

“[Lopez] takes care of his body, he stays low-key and is never in trouble,” Kuzma said. “He’s the type of professional I want to be.”

Whether this is just a one-year detour in his extensively underrated career or the start of a great, new partnership, Lopez’s arrival in Los Angeles has been a huge success already. But as far as role models go for both Kuzma and Zubac, there are few choices better than Brook Lopez — both on and off the court.

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The Most Disappointing Teams So Far

Shane Rhodes looks at a few teams that have disappointed so far this season.

Shane Rhodes

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Approaching the season’s quarter mark, NBA teams are finally starting to settle into their respective grooves. As more and more players become comfortable, their teams begin to demonstrate what they can really do on the court. While some teams have exceeded expectations, a number of teams have underperformed and are looking worse, in some cases much worse, than expected.

Here are six of the NBA’s most disappointing teams so far this season.

6. Dallas Mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks were going to be bad this season. They just weren’t expected to be this bad.

At 3-15, the Mavericks currently hold the worst record in the NBA. They rank 27th and 22nd in offensive and defensive rating, coming in at 99.3 and 107.6, respectively. Collectively, they are shooting just 42.2 percent from the floor and 34.7 percent from three-point range, both below league average. Nerlens Noel, whom Dallas acquired at the trade deadline last season, has played sparingly.

But there is seemingly a light at the end of the tunnel. The Mavericks’ three wins have come against the Memphis Grizzlies, Washington Wizards and the Milwaukee Bucks, three teams that made the playoffs a season ago and are expected to do so again this season. Victories against the Wizards — who are currently the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference at 10-7 — and the Bucks — who boast one of the best players in the league in Giannis Antetokounmpo — are especially encouraging.

As of now, though, the team is still a mess on both sides of the ball.

5. Miami HEAT

The Miami HEAT were expected to be playoff contenders after a torrid second half last season that saw them win 30 of their final 42 games. Now, the HEAT are currently sitting at the 11th seed in the East and, with a record of 7-9, are currently boasting a worse record than the New York Knicks (9-7), Indiana Pacers (10-8) and the Los Angeles Lakers (8-10).

The offense just hasn’t arrived yet in South Beach. Miami has an offensive rating of 103.13, good for 26th in the NBA. They are shooting under league average from the field (44.5 percent) and from three (35.2 percent) and are fifth in turnovers per game with 16.6 per contest; not exactly a winning formula. The $50 million man Kelly Olynyk has contributed just 8.9 points and 5.3 rebounds in 18.9 minutes per game while the roster outside its starting unit looks flimsy at best. Dion Waiters hasn’t shot the ball as well as last season, either.

The schedule doesn’t get easier for the HEAT, with four upcoming games against the Boston Celtics, Minnesota Timberwolves, Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors in their next seven. Expect Miami to get even worse before they start to get better.

4. Milwaukee Bucks

Last season, the Milwaukee Bucks were the sixth seed in the East. They boast one of the best young cores in the league, headed by phenom Antetokounmpo and supported by the likes of Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon and, eventually, Jabari Parker.

Somehow, the Bucks find themselves at just 8-8.

In a weakened Eastern Conference, Milwaukee was expected to make a play for one of its top spots. Instead, the Bucks have gotten blown out by the Mavericks, while barely squeaking by teams like the Charlotte Hornets and Lakers. The Bucks are 23rd in the NBA in defensive rating with a mark of 106.5, worse than the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls while also sitting at 23rd in net rating at -2.2, behind the Los Angeles Clippers (-1.7) and Utah Jazz (-1.3).

Antetokounmpo has yet to improve his stroke from beyond the arc, an undesirable albeit expected deficiency in his game. But, much of the Bucks roster hasn’t shot well from three. Middleton is shooting just 32.1 percent while big-acquisition Eric Bledsoe is shooting an abysmal 16 percent from beyond the arc since arriving in Milwaukee. If they can’t improve here it will be extremely hard for the Bucks to improve their position in the standings.

With six of their next nine games coming against teams at or below .500, the Bucks have a great chance to rebound from their sluggish start. That doesn’t change the fact that, with one of the NBA’s more talented rosters, the Bucks have been a major disappointment up to this point.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers

At the time of this writing, the Cleveland Cavaliers have won five straight games. Most would say that would or should exempt them from a list like this.

They would be wrong.

The collective record of the teams Cleveland has played during its five-game win streak? 35-48. It may be encouraging to the fans to see the team rattle off five straight, but the Cavaliers aren’t exactly beating the best teams in the Association. They have been careless with the ball as well, turning it over more than 15 times per game while

Their biggest problem, however, is the fact that they can defend absolutely no one. With a defensive rating of 109.4, the Cavaliers have the worst defense in the league. They have gotten away with a lackluster effort in the past, Cleveland’s current roster, outside of LeBron James, just doesn’t have enough offensive firepower to make up for it. And the offense has been good; Cleveland is currently averaging 110.9 points per game with an offensive rating of 109.4, but that leaves them with a big goose egg for their net rating.

The Cavaliers will continue to struggle to beat teams as they attempt to outpace them on the offensive end. For a team that has made three straight NBA Finals and has one of the greatest of all time on its roster, that should certainly be regarded as a disappointment.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

Another “Big-3” was formed in the NBA after Paul George and Carmelo Anthony were paired with reigning Most Valuable Player Russell Westbrook in the offseason. However, the 2017-18 season hasn’t exactly gone according to plan for the Thunder

Labeled as a team to rival the Warriors for Western Conference supremacy, the Thunder have done anything but so far this season. While the individual stats counting of Westbrook, George and Anthony have looked good, the Thunder have not as a collective. The team sits at just 7-9, good for 10th in the Western Conference. They rank 19th, 23rd and 21st in the NBA in points, rebounds and assists per game, respectively while shooting 44.3 percent from the field and 35 percent from three, both good for 21st.

Westbrook’s early season shooting struggles have hurt the Thunder as well. Westbrook is shooting just 39.4 percent from the field and 32.5 percent from three. The dominance he displayed last season, especially late in games, just hasn’t appeared this season and the team is hurting because of it. If the Thunder want to move up in the standings, Westbrook will need to find a way to improve his shooting numbers; they will go as he goes much like last season, even with George and Anthony on the roster.

On a brighter note, the defense has been one of the best in the NBA. But if the Thunder can’t figure it out on offense and score well as a unit, they will continue to struggle, especially when having to face the high-octane offenses of the Warriors and Houston Rockets.

1. Los Angeles Clippers

When losing a player the caliber of Chris Paul, some regression is to be expected. Fortifying the roster with guards Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Milos Teodosic and forward Danilo Gallinari, however, the Clippers were expected to weather the storm, to an extent.

Early on the Clippers did exactly that. The team looked impressive in the early going, winning five of their first seven games and averaging 109 points per. Since then? Everything has seemingly gone downhill in Los Angeles, and fast.

The Clippers have lost nine straight by an average margin of 9.8 points per game. Thirteenth in the Western Conference with a 5-11 record, they have looked nothing like the playoff team they were expected to be and are by far the season’s biggest disappointment. They have played poorly on the defensive end, ranking 20th in the NBA with a defensive rating of 106.2. Opponents have shot 45.4 percent from the field and 37.1 percent from three against them.

Things haven’t been the greatest on offense, either. In Paul’s absence, the Clippers have dropped from 15th in assists per game a year ago to 28th this season, averaging just 19.6 per game. While they are averaging 104.9 points per game, they are doing so on just 44.1 percent shooting.

Injuries have played a major role in the Clippers struggles; additions Beverly, Gallinari and Teodosic have all missed or are currently missing time with injury. But it’s discouraging to see that Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are unable to elevate the Clippers outside of the Western Conference basement.

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NBA AM: Paul Millsap’s Injury Derails Denver

With Paul Millsap injured, the Nuggets hopes to become a contender take a hit.

Lang Greene

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After missing the playoffs for the past four seasons, the Denver Nuggets are a team on the rise. The team won 30 games in 2015, 33 in 2016, 40 in 2017 and are currently on pace to record 48 victories this season, which would be their most since 2013.

The squad features six players averaging more than 10 points per contest, not including two veterans in Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler, both of whom are career double-digit scorers. The Nuggets also boast one of the youngest teams in the league with only three players over the age of 30 (Paul Millsap, Chandler and Richard Jefferson).

But the team was dealt a huge blow this week when it was learned that four-time All-Star forward Paul Millsap will be out the next three to four months after suffering a torn ligament in his wrist.

Millsap was extremely durable during his first 11 seasons in the league, missing 10 games just once (2017). This injury marks the first time in Millsap’s career where he will miss significant time while roaming the sideline in designer suits.

Millsap signed a three-year, $90 million deal this past summer and his acquisition was viewed as the next step in bringing the team back into the realm of the playoffs.

After an early season adjustment period, Denver (10-7) has rattled off seven victories in their last 10 games. For the team, Millsap’s injury news couldn’t have come at a worst time.  The veteran was averaging 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds through 16 contests. The points are his lowest since 2013 and the rebounding output is his lowest since 2010, but Millsap’s presence has helped stabilize the young Nuggets on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.

The Nuggets do have a plethora of power forwards on the depth chart. Veteran Kenneth Faried has started 366 contests for the franchise since being drafted in 2011. Faried’s future with the franchise has come into question in recent years as his playing time and role in the rotation has consistently diminished. The signing of Millsap likely solidified that fate, however, by not dealing Faried, the Nuggets were able to keep an insurance policy in the fold.

Third-year forward and former lottery pick Trey Lyles is another candidate for an increased workload. Lyles is currently averaging 6.8 minutes in 12 appearances but is shooting a career high from the field (52 percent) and three-point range (42 percent) in his limited court time. Another like candidate for more playing time is second-year big man Juan Hernangomez, who has currently appeared in just six contests.

Offensively, the Nuggets will be able to absorb his loss. Guards Gary Harris and Jamal Murray score the ball efficiently while swingman Will Barton provides pop off the bench. The team will also likely ride the back of their franchise player Nikola Jokic a bit more as well, with the big man averaging just 11.6 shot attempts per game—third on the team.

Perhaps the biggest area the Nuggets will have to adjust is on the defensive end.

According to ESPN’s real defensive plus-minus (DPM), Millsap ranks 31st overall in the league (1.62). He ranks seventh among power forwards with at least 10 games played this season. Last season, Millsap was fifth among power forward and 14th overall in DPM.

The veteran’s track of improving a team’s prowess on the defensive end is proven and it’s exactly the type of “silent” attribute the Nuggets needed on a loaded young team still learning how to play on that side of the ball.

                              Paul Millsap – Real Defensive Plus-Minus
Season DPM League Overall Rank Power Forward Rank
2013-14 2.06                 63                   12
2014-15 2.22                 43                    8
2015-16 3.26                 12                    2
2016-17 3.35                 14                   5
2017-18 1..62                 31                  9

 

The Nuggets will be tested immediately without Millsap in the fold. The team travels to Houston (November 22) and will play nine of their next 13 games are on the road. This includes a six-game road trip from December 4 to December 13.

The team is currently 7-2 at home and just 3-5 away from the Pepsi center.

They will, for sure, be tested without Millsap.

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