DENVER — Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said at practice Friday the ongoing point guard competition between Jameer Nelson, Jamal Murray, and Emmanuel Mudiay will continue through Denver’s final two preseason games.
“I’m not ready to name a starter right now,” Malone said on the heels of his team’s 122-104 victory over the Lakers Wednesday. “Obviously, we have until Oct. 18 at Utah (Denver’s regular season opener) to do that so we’ll use these last couple of game against San Antonio and Oklahoma City to figure out who’s going to give us the best chance.”
Malone and his staff originally wanted to name a starter and have their rotations finalized prior to Sunday’s matchup in San Antonio but with how the preseason has played out, their plans have altered.
“You felt one way going into camp, things change,” Malone said. “After three games I still have an idea of who will start but as far as who we play off the bench, it’s going to be interesting to see how these two games play out and we’ll let them play out before we make any decisions.”
Nelson, who suffered a sprained toe in Denver’s first training camp practice and subsequently missed the Nuggets’ first two preseason games, returned to the lineup against the Lakers Wednesday and had a solid outing. He scored two points on 1-5 shooting and handed out six assists in 19 minutes. The 35-year-old committed two turnovers — too many by his standards but still significantly less than Murray (four) or Mudiay (seven).
Nelson’s not 100 percent over his injury and it might be something the veteran has to deal with for some time. But he’s played through injuries before and it’s just a matter of pain tolerance for him at this point.
“It is what it is man,” Nelson told BSN Denver of the point guard competition. “My job is to play if they put me on the floor. If not, I’ll be a good teammate and they’ll figure it out from there. We’re all here together and unfortunately, I got hurt. Those two guys have been battling for it more than I have. The thing is, it’s a healthy competition. We’re all teammates. We all care about one another and we all have the same goal and that is trying to win. So whoever wins the spot wins the spot and like I said, for me, we just go forward and see how things go and make some decisions after that.”
Nelson, who averaged 9.2 points on 44.4 percent shooting from the field and 38.8 percent from three last season to go with 5.1 assists per game shouldn’t be eliminated from the point guard battle just because he’s missed a significant amount of time this preseason. Maybe a steady hand at the point is all that’s needed to steer the Nuggets’ ship.
With how much importance the Nuggets are placing on getting off to an encouraging start this season after Denver went 3-7 over their first 10 games last season, Nelson could play himself into the job with a good showing over Denver’s next two preseason games.
“I thought Jameer looked solid,” Malone said of Nelson’s performance on Wednesday. “Obviously it’s his first game so I wasn’t expecting him to go out there and light the world on fire. You know what you get with Jameer. He’s a veteran. He’s steady. He knows how to play and down the stretch last year he was our starter as we were in a playoff push and he played very good basketball for us.”
While Malone knows what to expect from Nelson, the same can’t be said for Murray. The Kentucky product, who showed glimpses of the Nuggets’ future at the position last year, bounced back from what Malone called a “very tentative, lackluster game” in Los Angeles Monday where he scored just seven points on 2-9 shooting with a 20-point showing against the same Lakers squad Wednesday.
Murray wants to be the Nuggets’ starter but he’s also showed a good amount of chemistry while playing alongside Will Barton and the rest of Denver’s bench unit that also features Juancho Hernangomez, Trey Lyles or Kenneth Faried, and Mason Plumlee.
“You just got to play basketball. I cant focus on playing him, I cant focus on this battle,” Murray said of the ongoing competition. “I gotta go out there and play for the team and win my defensive drill. I try to keep that in the back of my mind but I don’t try to focus on it. It’s a lot of fun. He goes hard, I go hard. It’s a good competition.”
Malone didn’t reveal at practice Friday who he’ll start Sunday in San Antonio but expect all three point guard to get ample playing time over these next two games.
Mudiay, the other element to Denver’s point guard competition, scored 13 points, grabbed four rebounds, and dished out five assists in in 22 minutes against the Lakers but committed a game-high seven turnovers. Those turnovers, from both Mudiay and Murray, are Malone’s biggest concern heading into the Nuggets’ fourth preseason game.
“It’s not simply just looking at a stat sheet and saying ‘it’s numbers.’ so much more goes into it,” Malone said of his decision-making process. “It’s who is he out there with? Who has he played better with? Who is a better complement for the point guard, as well as the backup forward? So those are tough decisions. They’re really good decisions to have. That speaks to the quality of depth we have.”