Training camp is about to start for the Denver Nuggets, the roster has been finalized, and camp battles are about to start. While a lot of the attention will go to the absence of Jamal Murray, it’s his backup, Monte Morris, who’s in the most important position.
Entering next season, the Nuggets are in a very interesting situation. No, they’re likely not competing for a title without Jamal and he won’t be returning until late next season, if at all. Regardless, the team has the league’s MVP and a whole load of intriguing players around him.
This past season, Denver beat the Portland Trail Blazers in six games without their second star. Yes, it all fell apart in the Phoenix Suns series but without Murray, winning one series is the definition of house money.
But that doesn’t mean Denver is just going to roll over in 2020-21 without Murray. We’ve seen this team waltz to 50-plus win seasons in the past and as a regular season-winning machine, there’s plenty of reason to believe this team could get a top-four seed and make some more noise in the postseason.
That’s where Monte Morris comes in.
Monte has been one of the best backup guards in the entire league since he started playing serious minutes. This past season, Morris averaged just over ten points a night with 3.2 assists in slightly over 25 minutes a night.
One of the best elements of Morris’ game is how sensible he is with the ball. Chris Paul, deservingly, gets all the attention for his lack of turnovers, but Morris is just as elite. In the 2020-21 season, he averaged 0.7 turnovers per night in 25.4 minutes.
Out of all point guards or combo guards who played 1,000 minutes, the only player with a lower turnover percentage was CJ McCollum per Cleaning the Glass. Monte turned the ball over 7.2 percent of the time, Chris Paul? 11.3 percent.
But since becoming a serious part of Malone’s rotation, Morris has always been behind Murray in the pecking order, and fairly so. When Murray got injured this past April, Facundo Campazzo become the default starter but it was always a battle between he and Morris as to who will finish games.
As detailed three weeks ago when comparing the two options at starting point guard, Campazzo works in some situations but overall, Morris is the better choice for the Nuggets. Monte was likely remaining on the bench to keep the second unit’s production up when the starters sat, knowing that the scoring of Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. would paper of Facundo’s limitations.
That could change next season as Monte Morris said at the outset of training camp that he wants to be the starting point guard on opening night.
Not only does the Jamal injury open up opportunities for him, but his own health has also been plaguing him since 2017. He said he has had tendinitis since 2017, when he first came into the NBA, but has addressed it this offseason.
Morris underwent focused rehabilitation and medical management this summer, a league source told Mike Singer, The Denver Post, that lasted around ten weeks. He added that he returned to physical contact and is well on his way to mending with training camp set to start next week.
“For me to take this step where I want to go, on my end, personally, without that being done to it, it was going to be very tough.
“It’s something I’ve been dealing with my whole career. It definitely was something that had to be done whether that happened to Jamal or not, his situation, it was going to have to be done on my end for sure.”
He also said that at some points in the 2019-20 season, his knee would limit his explosiveness and stop him from attacking the basket.
Additionally, he said at training camp that he put on ten pounds, up to 183 pounds.
Monte Morris said that alongside his health, the team is ready to take some steps forwards in terms of the postseason:
“I want to just show the world that I can be a leader also and just win games.
“It’s win or bust for us. … We’re all to a point where we’re just not happy to get (to the playoffs) no more. Our expectations are high.”
The starting spot is Monte’s for the taking and a few weeks from now, he might just take it. At full strength, with the confidence of the coaching staff behind him, and a locked-in supporting cast, we could be witnessing the Year of Monte Morris. Now is his chance to prove that he’s more than an elite backup, to prove that he can be one of the five best players on a title contender.