With the All-Star Championships over, the Nuggets and their fans are turning their heads toward the future. With the rest of the season consisting of the easiest schedule in the NBA, the Nuggets seem to be in absolutely fine place; Especially considering they lost their second and third best players all season and most of it in a row. While sneaking a peek, several fans stole the looks what a healthy Nuggets team could look like in the playoffs. With many saying the healthy Nuggets could be in a title dispute in what is widely considered a relatively open window. However, I think fans need to think about their expectations a bit when it comes to the beauty of Murray and Michael Porter Jr.
Now, they are both very impressive players. Jamal Murray played above all-star level for extended periods of his career. Mainly bulla, and the last few months before he ruptured the ACL last April. Michael Porter Jr has proven himself as a nuclear captain, and among the top off-ball scorers in the league especially after Murray’s exit last season. His cut and shot is the perfect sequel to the two-man Murray and Jokic that has become a legend of Nuggets over the past few seasons. However, both of them come out of serious injuries that will take a long time to fully recover from.
Michael Porter Jr was never known to be the most resilient athlete in the NBA. He had already done two back operations before he touched the ground, and now he’s taking off from the third. I don’t expect him to move as well as he did last season, but I think his skill set will mean his production will remain mostly the same. When he was healthy earlier this season, he showed real improvement both on the defensive side and with his passing. While I expect the passing to continue, I think fans should expect a dip in defense from what we likely saw last season. The instincts he has gained will still be there, but his already below average lateral movement at this end will be more exploitable. This is at least the beginning. He might be back earlier than Murray, and given he’s back early enough, I’d feel more comfortable with him back around 70% than at that finish earlier this season. Now, if he’s back in late March or at his worst in early April, I don’t see anything close to neutral on that end. He was never known to be a defensive champion, and a third back operation is not a good starting point for this to happen now.
On the offensive end, fans should expect things to be relatively similar to last season, if the role is reduced a bit. He struggled three earlier this season, but he’s been struggling with back pain. That’s what he took in the process, and his shot has looked equally beautiful in his recent rehearsals. He doesn’t throw windmills in pre-game drills, but he does show an improvement in his jump shot suspension time, looking more or less similar to what he looked like when he was healthy. He also has a good instinct to cut, and if doctors think he’s healthy enough to get back into the NBA games; He will be more than able to make the same cuts that he was able to make. I think his role might be scaled back a bit, and the Nuggets would make it easier for him to work rather than throw it to the wolves. So expect an average of 17 effective points per game and 6 rebounds per game.
The Jamal Murray case is hard to pin down. While Michael Porter Jr. had the surgery, she only cared about the pain. There was no structural damage. However, Jamal sustained structural damage that must be addressed in surgery. He had a more serious injury between the two of them, and although medical technology had come a long way from what it had been before – it would take a decent amount of time for him to be fully back.
Malone has consistently stated that Murray will be back when he’s ready. There is no set timetable for his return, and I doubt the Nuggets Organization will give us one. He’ll likely come across as suspicious of the injury report on Thursday afternoon at random knowing how these things go. He is expected to return this season, but several reporters have put forward bids from late March to early April as a possible date for his return. That doesn’t give much time to ramp up into the playoffs, and at that point I was wondering if it was worth bringing him back this season, but I doubt he won’t be back on the field at some point this season.
Given his ability to shoot and his chemistry with Nikola Djokic, it is possible that he is still effective and certainly by no means would be a passive player. Those steps he’s famous for though? These will likely be less prominent than they were before the surgery. This puts a lot of pressure on the knees, and he’ll probably want to go into those knees a little lower. I expect to get 16-18 points per game and 6 assists per game if I give the time to ramp up.