What can the Denver Nuggets learn from the Golden State Warriors?

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) celebrates after making a basket against Denver Nuggets guard Monte Morris (11) during the first quarter at Chase Center on 6 Oct. 2021. (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)
Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) celebrates after making a basket against Denver Nuggets guard Monte Morris (11) during the first quarter at Chase Center on 6 Oct. 2021. (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Golden State Warriors are rolling right now, but not long ago, they were decimated by injuries and had to think outside the box to fill their roster. The Denver Nuggets are in a similar situation and a season out of contention could lead to them filling out their roster for next season’s title run.

As the net flushed with Steph Curry’s 2,974th 3-pointer, everything seems to be going right for the Warriors. They’re currently first in the Western Conference, Klay Thompson will return to play soon, the role players are looking solid, and the roster is akin to their 2014-15 title run.

Just two seasons ago, the Warriors were rolling out a starting lineup of Ky Bowman, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Eric Paschall, Marquese Chriss, and Damion Lee.

After Kevin Durant left, Klay tore his ACL, and Aron Baynes fell on Steph’s hand, the Warriors had to fill their roster with minimums and rookies and hope for the best. Their best was 15th in the West and the team went on to draft James Wiseman second overall in the 2020 NBA Draft.

The Denver Nuggets are in a similar situation. No, Baynes hasn’t fallen on Nikola Jokic‘s hand this season, but without Jamal Murray or Michael Porter Jr., this team’s title hopes are non-existent.

Having a healthy Jokic brings this team up to a certain level of relevance (just as the Warriors would have been with a healthy Curry in 2019) but there are opportunities here to find solid contributors in a down season.

When Steph hit his 2,974th shot from behind the arc in New York, he was playing alongside Jordan Poole and the aforementioned Toscano-Anderson. Poole is a favorite for Most Improved Player this season and JTA is sometimes in Steve Kerr’s closing lineups this season.

If everyone was healthy in Golden State, there’s a chance the front office never discovers JTA or gives Poole the developmental minutes he needed to learn the NBA game.

It’s now up to Michael Malone to give the younger player an opportunity this season to grow into solid contributors next season. If any of the recent draftees turn into solid NBA players, it’s just another name to add to next season’s rotation.

The first name that comes to mind with this is Bones Hyland. The rookie out of VCU has (funnily enough) had bone issues early this season and has missed games but when he does play, the guard looks like he can stick.

In a 15-point win against the San Antonio Spurs, Bones had 16 points on 50 percent shooting with four 3-pointers and three assists.

After returning from his injury, Bones is still sitting around the 20-minutes-per-game mark but by the end of this season, he could break into the starting lineup or slide right into the sixth man role. The more he plays, the better he gets and if Bones proves to be a rotation-level guard, it’ll only help when the team is at full strength.

Another name that has been gaining more traction as of late is Zeke Nnaji. This season, Nnaji is averaging just over six points a night and has predominantly been playing as the backup center.

He has been able to show off his true talent as a floor-spacing big that has some switchability on defense. In an offseason press conference, Denver Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly says he’s looking forward to seeing what the big could do:

"“I think Zeke’s ability to guard and make shots is really unique for a 20-year-old big. Even though he’s 6-foot-10, he’s going to be a heck of a 3-and-D guy.”"

It’s a very interesting skillset and when paired with another three-and-D player like Jeff Green, Malone could have an exciting defensive combo on his hands.

At the start of the season, he was glued to the bench and it looked like Malone was going to keep him to garbage time again but he has found a role since the end of November.

Since 23 Nov. 2021, when he first started playing real minutes, Nnaji has been averaging 5.4 points while shooting 50 percent from behind the arc, making just over one a game.

Yes, it’s a small sample size but if he can be a legit 3-and-D player at the big man positions, he could act as a change-of-pace big behind Jokic or alongside him as a defensive-minded shooter.

Connelly has elevated Davon Reed from the G-League and he has looked solid in a small role this season. He’s another player who, if it works, could be a contributor next season.

When the Golden State Warriors were at full strength, they used their lost season to give key players developmental minutes, find hidden gems, and get ready for when the games really mattered.

While the Nuggets are slightly different with Jokic dragging them to a playoff spot, the principle stands: this season doesn’t matter, it’s all about competing in 2022-23. If Denver can find solid contributors this season, then it’ll only make their offseason easier. At the moment, it doesn’t look as though Michael Malone has found those contributors yet, let’s hope they come.

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