SAN DIEGO — Nuggets head coach Michael Malone was unwilling to commit to his starting point guard nearly three weeks away from the season opener, but he couldn’t hide what was readily apparent: Monte Morris is in pole position. .
During the first three days of training camp at the University of California San Diego, Malone empowers Morris to run his sets, organize the team, and produce. With all due respect to Facundo Campazzo and rookie Bones Highland, losing is the work of Morris.
“I’m extremely confident in Monte’s ability,” Malone said. “Now my conversation with him, if you’re our starting point guard, (about) finding your voice to run your team, isn’t so much dependent on Nikola (Jokic) or Will (Barton). No, you’re the point guard. You organize us. And that’s what he’s really trying to focus on in this camp.”
After an early exercise, which was too quiet for Malone’s liking, he quipped that he wanted to hear more trash talking at the gym. And while that’s not Morris’ specialty, she’s more than capable of being outspoken.
The Nuggets need some semblance of direction as Jokic visits his newborn daughter in Denver, Jamal Murray slowly builds strength in his knee and fellow veteran Will Barton cares for a rolled ankle. The only other anticipated starter – Aaron Gordon – is in his first training camp with the team.
“It’s just a matter of (Monte) playing with aggression and confidence, playing with that attacking mindset and being more assertive on the floor to drive my team,” Malone said. “And it’s not easy, especially when you’re playing with a current MVP. And I tell him sometimes, ‘Hey, tell Nicola where you want her.’ I say, ‘It’s your job as point guard,’ and I think he’s adopting it.”
Without Murray for the foreseeable future, the fifth-year guard is about to get a chance many within the team believe he could have found elsewhere: a starting job. But Morris, who signed a three-year, $27 million deal last season, wanted to stay here. This upcoming season represents Morris’ best opportunity to flourish, consistently, on a competitive team.
“I’ll have more opportunity to do things on both ends of the floor and just play my game,” Morris said. “Coach Malone let me loose and he wants me to run the team, play my game. It’s different once you hear it from the person in charge. “
Even though Malone wouldn’t admit who his starter was, the clues were beginning to align.
After a quiet start to camp, Morris made sure his coach heard enough chatter during subsequent drills.
“I brought people together (Wednesday), me and a few other vets, just saying, ‘Let’s go at it,'” he said. “Today, we didn’t even have to do that.”
The way the camp is trending, there’s a good chance Morris’ show will happen in three weeks.
Barton Update: Malone described Barton’s ankle injury as “nothing serious” and said the swelling had subsided since he first suffered the injury during Wednesday’s practice. According to Malone, Barton thought he’d be out of his running boot one day and the Nuggets planned to get him back once he was fully recovered. The Nuggets opened their Precision on Monday at Clippers.
Joker’s new addition: Jokic and his wife gave birth to their new daughter on Thursday, and Malone didn’t have the heart to order him off to training camp.
When asked about Jokic’s rejoining, Malone said: “Nothing is set yet.” “‘I didn’t want to say coldly, ‘Congratulations, what time will the plane leave?'”