With a build-up of assets on the cusp of legitimate contention, it’s time for the Denver Nuggets to make the all-in move and trade for Jrue Holiday.
The Denver Nuggets are currently tied for the fourth-most wins in the NBA this season. They are the No. 2 team in the Western Conference with the sixth-highest net rating in the league.
And yet, despite all this success coming on the heels of an equally impressive 2018-19 campaign, there’s a legitimate reason the masses don’t view the Nuggets as legitimate championship contenders.
What Denver lacks is a man in the room, an experienced perimeter threat who can operate in the throngs of a tight game. Every contending team has one. It’s been a prerequisite for quite some time.
Nikola Jokic is an All-Star big man who continues to round back into that form after a slow start, but he alone is not enough, and certainly not from the center position.
Jamal Murray has the makings of a future star. After all, he did average 21.2 points across his inaugural playoff run last year. He’s also just 22 years of age, and that postseason stretch, while impressive, was a game-by-game rollercoaster of efficiency — or lack thereof.
Without that type of player, Denvers’ offense is left searching for a savior when it matters most. It’s why they have the second-highest assist percentage in the fourth quarter, unable to rely on any singular player to bail them out.
In Game 7 of their conference semi-final matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers, Denver shot just 5-of-19 in the final frame with zero 3-pointers and wound up losing by four.
On the backbone of a top defense, the Nuggets haven’t felt the effects of that glaring absence yet this season — although their fourth-ranked defense slips to 10th in the fourth quarter — but they will when opposing defenses tighten up in the playoffs just as they have before.
If they don’t fix that issue, history is bound to repeat itself no matter how sparkling they look heading into the postseason.
Unlike other stars of today’s game, Jrue Holiday has not outright requested out from the New Orleans Pelicans, but the writing on the wall grows thicker each day.
The Pelicans sit second-worst in the west at 11-23, and Holiday, who can opt-out of his deal in the summer of 2021, is a caliber player who could fetch a hefty return to better serve the franchise’s bright future headlined by Zion Williamson.
An All-Star in his own right, Holiday doesn’t rank near the tippy top of point guards in the league. Who he is, however, is an elite two-way floor general with a sizeable amount of playoff exposure under his belt.
His ability to affect the game at both ends was on full display in New Orleans’ 2018 playoff run that ended in the second round.
Holiday averaged 23.7 points per game on 51.8 percent shooting across nine outings and contributed to the poor shooting efforts from the likes of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Klay Thompson in the process.
According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, at the forefront of Holiday’s desires is the ability to compete at a high level. The Pelicans have something brewing but are vastly unproven. Meanwhile, not many realistic trade partners offer the long-term potential Denver has set itself up for with tangible results to back it up.
Of course, a player of his caliber typically requires a sizeable amount of compensation in return, especially when negotiating with a shrewd operator like David Griffin.
Denver doesn’t just possess a collection of tradeable assets. It’s overflowing with trade chips to the point where standing pat seems negligent.
Malik Beasley is a promising young two-guard who declined an extension last summer to hit restricted free agency in 2020. Juan Hernangomez is a sweet-shooting power forward only 24 years of age. The Nuggets were a +7.5 with Torry Craig on the court in the playoffs last year, where he started 11 of their 14 games.
Several developing franchises would clamor to have such untapped potential on their roster. None of those three, however, are averaging more than 15.9 minutes a game as part of Denver’s stacked rotation.
This fails to even mention Bol Bol, the mysterious second-round pick of last June with first-round potential currently spending time in the G League. Or Michael Porter Jr., whose 223 minutes rank third-to-last on the roster.
Parting ways with any one of the aforementioned youngsters would look tough on paper, but their absence from the rotation amid the team’s current success wouldn’t rock Denver’s boat much at all.
Of course, Gary Harris would likely be the headliner in any potential deal for Holiday. The latter, however, represents a far more consistent option on both ends who can function in an off-ball role similar to the one he currently occupies in New Orleans.
The NBA is traditionally driven by those who possess the most talent at the top.
Holiday alone is not enough to vault the Nuggets to a championship, but he is the logical step in the progression of that ultimate goal.
So, before he is moved elsewhere and before the franchise lets pending free agents Beasley and Hernangomez go for nothing, this fringe contender should draw headlines of its own with a trade to bring in a player whose presence says plenty about where they intend to go.