After a stretch with five losses in six games, the Denver faithful were getting a little nervous about their team’s postseason prospects. But fresh off a recent dominant performance against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Nuggets can breathe a sigh of relief. There’s nothing quite like beating the snot out of the championship favorite to instill confidence ahead of a long playoff run.
With just eight games remaining, the Nuggets are three games up on the Grizzlies for first in the Western Conference and within striking distance of Milwaukee for first in the league. Denver is safely ensconced in their playoff position, which means they can start preparing for the playoffs.
For a team that’s been leading the conference practically from the jump, Denver still has some unsettled rotation questions. The starters (Nikola Jokić, Michael Porter, Aaron Gordon, Jamal Murray, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) are locked in, as is sixth man / Swiss Army knife Bruce Brown.
But after that? There are no guarantees. Coach Mike Malone has proven in the past that he’s willing to go as low as a seven-man rotation in the playoffs (although he prefers eight), and many players are fighting for those final scant minutes. The three on this list are likely to be disappointed.
3. Thomas Bryant
Mike Malone has thrown up his hands and decided that no center at all might be better than Thomas Bryant (or DeAndre Jordan, for that matter).
Like pitch-black comedy? The Nuggets’ two trade deadline acquisitions, Bryant and the bought-out Reggie Jackson (who doesn’t qualify for this list by virtue of having already fallen out of the rotation), have the two worst on/off point differentials in the entire NBA since coming to Denver.
Even at the paltry cost of a second-round pick and Davon Reed, Bryant hasn’t proved worthwhile. Theoretically a high-motor scorer, Bryant completely lost his touch in Denver (shooting just 47% from the field in 16 games), and on defense, he makes Jokic look like prime Hakeem Olajuwon.
Averaging 4.5 fouls per 36 minutes, by far a career-worst rate, and allowing opponents to shoot 69% at the rim, Bryant is a sieve. Guards treat him like a piece of highway debris on the perimeter. He is a solid defensive rebounder, but that’s where the positives end.
Bryant is also one of the worst passers in the league, gluing up an offense that performs best when the rock is pinballing around. While nobody can replace Jokic, it’s hard to find a player with a worse approximation of Jokic’s skill set; when Bryant plays, the Nuggets have to rethink their offensive and defensive principles completely.
Bryant started to lose minutes in the rotation almost immediately after his acquisition, and by now, it’s clear that Malone has no trust in him whatsoever. Ironically, the player who demanded a trade because he didn’t want to back up Anthony Davis will now see approximately zero meaningful minutes behind Jokic.
In the postseason, defensive liabilities are the first to lose minutes. Bryant has always been picked on in the regular season; putting him on the court in a first-round matchup against Golden State or New Orleans is asking for trouble. Coach Malone won’t make that mistake.