2 Nuggets who are underperforming, 4 exceeding expectations at midway point of season

The Nuggets are back in title contention, but these players are performing unexpectedly.
Denver Nuggets, Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic
Denver Nuggets, Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic / Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
3 of 6

Underperforming: Zeke Nnaji

The 2020 first-round draft pick signed a four-year $32 million extension just before the start of the regular season. Denver needs to control their spending, and the fresh contract seemed like it would mean a consistent and meaningful role for Nnaji.

The 23-year-old is on the fringes of the rotation. He is averaging 3.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 0.6 blocks in just 9.6 minutes per contest. Nnaji has appeared in 34 of 41 games, but he has played fewer than six minutes 11 times. The 6’9 big man’s playing time is trending down, and he is unlikely to be part of the playoff rotation at this point.

Nnaji’s minutes have declined for three straight years. He played 17.0 per game in 2022 before averaging 13.7 last season. It seemed like the extension would create more playing time, but that has not been the case. Nnaji is playing mostly backup center this season, and there will never be many minutes behind Nikola Jokic.

Zeke Nnaji is producing strong per-36 numbers, but those only matter if you get significant playing time. He has a negative value over replacement player (VORP) for the season and has been a disappointment after signing an extension.