3 Players at risk of getting axed from the Nuggets’ playoff rotation

Thomas Bryant, Denver Nuggets (Photo by Jess Rapfogel/Getty Images)
Thomas Bryant, Denver Nuggets (Photo by Jess Rapfogel/Getty Images) /
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Zeke Nnaji, Denver Nuggets playoff roster cuts (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
Zeke Nnaji, Denver Nuggets (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) /

2. Zeke Nnaji

This one hurts because I’ve long been a Zeke Nnaji advocate. You can argue (and I have) that he’s not been given enough opportunity to show what he can do. But the Nuggets have plenty of better players capable of playing power forward, so Nnaji’s surest path to playoff playing time would be at center, where he’s played 77% of his minutes this season.

Malone is giving Zeke a bit of a tryout right now in the lead-up to the playoffs, and it’s possible that he balls out over the next two weeks and proves himself worthy of the backup center spot. But Zeke is an ostensible shooter that hasn’t had a chance to find his shot (just 12-for-31 from deep on the season). He’s a capable switch defender on the perimeter, but he doesn’t hold up as well guarding bigs under the basket, and he’s a ghastly rebounder.

That last part is what drives a nail into his coffin. Nnaji posts an unbelievably low 8.9% defensive rebounding rate, and that’s consistent with his career so far. Here’s a list of players with higher rebounding rates than Zeke this season: Chris Paul; De’Aaron Fox; Kris Dunn. Heck, seldom-used teammate Ish Smith, who hits six feet when he stands on a phonebook, has a higher rebounding rate. That’s bad!

Despite all this, I still believe in Nnaji. However, the playoffs are about putting role players into positions that best minimize their weaknesses and amplify their strengths. Zeke, unfortunately, is a square peg that doesn’t fit into a star-shaped hole.