Nuggets coach Michael Malone approached Gary Harris and Jamal Murray Thursday with a challenge.
Malone told Harris, the Nuggets’ starting shooting guard, that he must average more than the 1.8 rebounds he corralled during the preseason. The coach told Murray, a 6-foot-5 starting point guard contender, that he needed to crash the glass in games like he did during training camp in Boulder two weeks ago.
That was Malone reminding his players that the Nuggets need rebounding from all five positions in order to stay near the top of the NBA in that category this season. Denver took a surprising and significant dip during the preseason, suddenly making it an area that requires a fix before Wednesday’s opener at Utah.
“By no means am I sitting there panicking,” Malone said. “I’ve made note of it … hopefully, when we start the real games, rebounding won’t be an issue, because it hasn’t been the last two years I’ve been here.”
The Nuggets ranked 25th in the league in rebounding percentage (47.3) and 19th in in total rebounds (42.2 per game) during the preseason, after finishing second in the latter category during last year’s regular season (46.4 per game). Denver also ranked 29th in the preseason in defensive rebounding percentage (76.9), which calculates how many rebounds a team actually controls out of the potential opportunities. Though the Nuggets lost Danilo Gallinari’s career average of 4.7 rebounds per game via an offseason sign-and-trade, they added Paul Millsap’s career average of 7.5 in free agency.
Malone attributes part of the rebounding struggles to the nature of the preseason, when the coach experimented with a variety of lineups and Denver’s starters did not play their full dose of minutes. The coach said primary big men Millsap (6.5 rebounds per game during the preseason), Nikola Jokic (6.5) and Mason Plumlee (7.6) are doing a “pretty good” job on the boards. Rebounding is also a longtime strength of Kenneth Faried, who is competing for backup power forward minutes.
But Malone expects starting small forward Wilson Chandler to average seven rebounds per game, Harris to average at least four, and Murray to be a legitimate threat from the perimeter.
“We play really good defense, the shot goes up and we all ‘ball watch’ as (the opponent is) crashing the glass,” Malone said.
During practice drills in which the Nuggets keep score, a lineup loses a point if it surrenders an offensive rebound. That area has been prioritized during film study. Plumlee stresses better rebounding will naturally assist the Nuggets’ defense, which allowed an average of 47.2 points in the paint per game during the preseason.
But Millsap believes the trick to fixing the Nuggets’ rebounding woes is simple.
“Just do it,” he said.
Footnotes. The Nuggets cut Josh Childress from their training camp roster prior to Thursday’s practice. That reduces their roster to 17 players, including “two-way” signees Monte Morris and Torrey Craig, who will spend 45 days with the Nuggets in 2017-18 and the rest of the season in the G-League. … After a day off Wednesday, Malone called Thursday’s practice “average, at best,” irked by the low energy. … Malone did not give an update on the ongoing starting point guard battle, joking “I didn’t think at all” about it during the Nuggets’ off day.