Injuries are bad, which goes without saying. But sometimes there is a silver lining in that they provide opportunities to others, while minimizing the number of miles put on the injured player’s body over the course of an unnecessarily long season.
This is exactly the case for Denver Nuggets shooting guard Gary Harris, who recently tore a groin muscle in a preseason game that will reportedly sideline him for the next four-to-six weeks.
Harris was universally regarded as one of the most improved players a season ago, and optimism about his potential is rapidly blooming. He is widely considered the Nuggets’ shooting guard of the future, and is attributed to have elite-level 3-and-D talent.
That said, the Nuggets were so desperately in need of perimeter shooting that they selected not one but two shooting guards (Jamal Murray and Malik Beasley) in June’s NBA Draft. A position that was fairly thin a season ago now has a potential logjam that will result in minimal playing time for one of the three, presumably Beasley.
With Harris now projected to miss the first several weeks of the regular season, there is now opportunity for the Nuggets to give Murray an extended look early on to see how he can balance without training wheels. We should not expect to see Beasley much over those first few weeks still, as Will Barton will likely slide over to the 2 and take the bulk of minutes that previously would have gone to Murray.
The added benefit of Harris being forced out of action is that it will forcibly limit the number of minutes he logs over the course of the season. In addition to the time he will be off the court completely, he will very likely be put on a minutes restriction when he returns to ensure full health. I have gradually developed into a proponent of targeted rest, and though this won’t be a deliberate decision, it should have similar benefits.
Many things are up in the air this season for the Nuggets. Expectations are growing, but remain tempered. The roster talent is apparent, but unproven. Nobody has any idea whether this team will be reminiscent of last year’s 33-win team, or whether they will make a significant leap and compete for a playoff spot.
Given the amount of uncertainty surrounding this team, it is not a bad thing to allow players like Murray to immediately see what they are capable of doing. We know what Harris will provide when he returns, and he will undoubtedly be one of the most important players on the team. But if Murray can get some of those rookie jitters and mistakes out of the way early on, everyone wins.
The worst-case scenario is that Murray completely bombs and head coach Mike Malone shows an unwillingness to keep him on the court. The Nuggets have the depth to weather this scenario with Barton and even Wilson Chandler able to play minutes at the 2.
The best case is that Murray immediately flexes his muscles and demonstrates the talent that had some people talking about him as a top-three pick in the draft. Maybe this creates some interesting decisions when Harris returns, but that is a problem that Malone will gladly accept.
All in all, the Nuggets have one of the deepest and most versatile rosters in the league. Typically, losing a starting, up-and-coming shooting guard in the preseason could have a detrimental impact on the start of a season, but the Nuggets may be one of the only teams where this scenario creates opportunity rather than heartburn. And, it creates an additional level of intrigue as the Nuggets’ unpredictable season begins.