Reasons why the Denver Nuggets could struggle early on

Oct 3, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Bones Hyland (3) motions as Oklahoma City Thunder forward Ousmane Dieng (13) guards in the first quarter at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 3, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Bones Hyland (3) motions as Oklahoma City Thunder forward Ousmane Dieng (13) guards in the first quarter at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

There are a number of reasons why the Denver Nuggets could struggle early on in the 2022-23 season.

As Denver drudges through the preseason with just a single win and without the combined talents of their top two stars Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray due to a right wrist sprain for the MVP and left thigh soreness for the Blue Arrow, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the Nuggets may not hit the ground running like most Mile High Basketball fans are expecting.

The scoring load will fall on the shoulders of second-year point guard Bones Hyland and veteran forward Michael Porter Jr. along with Aaron Gordon and newly acquired guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

The Denver Nuggets are deep, but the starting lineup may be a little rusty to begin the campaign. The bench has played well, but will now be tested as guys step up for injured stars.

Tim Connelly is now president of the Minnesota Timberwolves and has taken guard Austin Rivers with him, leaving question marks to be answered at the guard position for Denver now that Monte Morris and Will Barton are in Washington and Calvin Booth has taken the reigns in the Mile High over from Connelly.

Bones Hyland will have massive expectations as fans anxiously await the regular-season return of the talented Jamal Murray. Bruce Brown was also brought in from Brooklyn and the Nuggets added DeAndre Jordan in the offseason. All these new names and faces could take a while to gel the way Jokic and last year’s starters did.

Head coach Michael Malone has his hands full tracking the progression and regression of Hyland as the young guard continues to unlock his star potential. Occasional poor decisions mixed in with flashy highlights are sure to keep Malone up at night figuring out what to do with Hyland as he’s given more responsibility on both ends of the floor. Veteran guard Ish Smith will also sprinkle in some savvy play running the offense as well.

Denver will clearly be tested defensively, as teams like the Thunder and Bulls had no problem carving up the Mile High crew in the preseason to the tune of 121.5 points a night average against them. Last night the Nuggets were singing a different tune against the Phoenix Suns at Ball Arena, holding Phoenix to a preseason low in points for them with a respectable 105.

DeAndre Jordan posted a team-high 10 rebounds in Denver’s only win of the preseason, using a pregame introduction gaffe to fuel his fire to perform well going up against DeAndre Ayton. Bones Hyland and Ish Smith were more than admirable in their fill-in work for the injured Murray, keeping Devin Booker from ripping the game open as he often does at Ball Arena.

Michael Porter Jr. struggled from the floor but gave Denver just enough with his one three-pointer and his five trips to the line in what had the feelings of a regular season game. Hopefully, MPJ can be more effective once Jokic and the other starters return to relieve pressure off the scintillating scorer. Porter Jr. also chipped in two steals, showing the ability he flashed in the bubble to anticipate the play and think ahead.

Bruce Brown and Peyton Watson also flashed defensively for the Nuggets, exactly what Michael Malone is looking for as Denver dials in for their regular season debut.

While the Denver Nuggets continue to find themselves, teams will continue to eat them up until Malone can find a way to stop the bleeding. Denver will need to hyper-focus on stopping teams in transition, as the Bulls had no problem scoring directly after made baskets by the Nuggets.

Bones Hyland hinted at getting Michael Porter Jr. and himself on the court at the same time to see what happens. Considering their combined ability to make tough shots and understand each other, it could be an intriguing proposition for Malone if he trusts that combination enough defensively.

If all the new changes can click in right away for the Denver Nuggets, the mile-high skyline is the limit. However, an uneasy feeling is creeping over Ball Arena as Denver has won just a single game in the preseason and the starters haven’t had much court time together entering the 2022-23 season.

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