Leave it to fresh eyes to offer the most honest assessment of the Nuggets so far this season.
While veteran JaMychal Green nursed a calf injury that kept him sidelined for the first four games of the season, he watched warily as his new team got shredded on the defensive end.
Asked for his judgment of the 29th-ranked defense heading into Friday night’s eventual loss to Phoenix, Green was blunt.
“Defense is just a will and a want to,” he said following Denver’s 106-103 loss to Phoenix that dropped them to 1-4. “Sometimes we look lazy defensively. Probably coming from not communicating. We communicate better I feel like we’ll be in better positions and situations to help.”
Green was brought to Denver because of his physicality, toughness and defensive mindset. The fact that he’s unafraid to be brutally honest doesn’t hurt either.
The Nuggets can’t hide from their 1-4 record, which has exposed defensive issues, raised questions about effort and underscored a rotating bench unit that has failed to gel thus far.
“I gotta figure something out with our bench,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone, dejected with another loss. “We have to have better productivity, efficiency from our bench.”
Malone even tried rookie RJ Hampton in the third quarter to inject life into a disparate group. But outside of spurts from Isaiah Hartenstein, PJ Dozier, and Green, though for only 12 minutes, most of the second unit was out of sorts.
It began in the first quarter, when Denver’s starters had built an early lead only to see the Suns light up the 3-point line and take it back against the reserves.
“Their unit had their way with us in that first half off the bench,” Malone said.
Part of the problem throughout the first five games has been the rotating cast of players. Green only debuted Friday, a day after Michael Porter Jr. was forced to stay away from the team in accordance with the league’s health and safety protocols. The team’s expectation is that he’ll miss several games, according to a league source.
Porter’s absence meant Will Barton slotted into the starting lineup, which subsequently disrupted the second unit.
“We never really had a full team together to see how good we can be,” Green said.
Barton’s debut with the starting lineup left plenty to be desired; he finished with just two points in 36 minutes.
According to Jamal Murray, whose game-high 31 points nearly saved the Nuggets, there’s nothing to panic about.
“We’ll be alright,” he said. “We’re not worried. We’re right there in all these games. Little details that’s hurting us.”
Pressed further about the team’s urgency, and Murray pushed back.
“It’s five games in,” he said. “It’s not like we’re playing bad.”
That’s not how Malone views it. In the NBA, there are no moral victories.
“We’re 1-4, we (stink) right now,” he said. “Played hard tonight. I gotta coach a hell of a lot better. We have to play a hell of a lot better. And nobody’s going to feel sorry for us.”
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