Backup point guard Emmanuel Mudiay went through shootaround Tuesday morning and is listed as probable for a game with the Utah Jazz , but the 21-year-old is not assured a spot in Michael Malone's rotation whether he returns, after missing the past four games with a right ankle sprain.
"First thing I would say is don't assume," Malone said. "Obviously we'll go with the lineup and the guys that we think are going to give us the best chance to win. Obviously, Emmanuel was able to go through shootaround today and I'll await word if he's able to play and if he is able to play, obviously we'll see if getting him in the game is if what's best for us.
"We are playing well, obviously, to go 5-4 in our last nine but what excites me more than anything is the defense that we're playing. Our last nine games our defense is off the charts and guys are doing a great job of embracing that and understanding that and the group has some chemistry right now. So if Emmanuel is called upon, he'll go out there to the best of his ability. If tonight is not his night, we'll go with the group we have but no decision has been made on that, who won't play and who won't play. Each game kind of takes on its own personality when the game starts."
After ending last season third on Denver's depth chart at point guard, the Nuggets parted ways with veteran Jameer Nelson at the start of the regular season and made Muiday the backup to Jamal Murray. But Mudiay has struggled so far this year with averages of 9.6 points, on 39.2 percent shooting, along with 3.2 rebounds and 2.1 turnovers per game. Mudiay has improved as a shooter, converting a career-high 39.0 percent of his threes.
But Mudiay's turnovers and play have hindered Denver's offense, and the Nuggets are also nine points per 100 possessions worse defensively with Mudiay on the floor. He's a team-worst minus-147 in 611 minutes this year (Kenneth Faried is second-worst at minus-51). Across the rest of the roster, the numbers aren't pretty either. Every Nuggets player has a negative rating with him on the floor, as articulated by CBS Sports' Matt Moore, while every one has a positive rating with him on the bench.
In Mudiay's absence, Denver has gone 2-2, but those two wins were on a back-to-back games in Portland and Golden State. The Nuggets have also held three of their last four opponents under 100 points — something they only did eight times over their first 29 games this season.
Will Barton has logged the majority of minutes at backup point guard for Denver in Mudiay’s absence.
Malone has also gone to a shorter, eight or nine-man rotation as of late. Kenneth Faried hasn't played since Dec. 15 against New Orleans when he logged six minutes. Juancho Hernangomez hasn't seen meaningful playing time in weeks and Malik Beasley, who was playing around 20 minutes per game in early December, has been reduced to around 10 minutes per night or cut out of the rotation entirely with the emergence of Torrey Craig. Trey Lyles has seen his minutes climb from just 12.5 per game in November to 27.0 per game in December.
It sounds like Malone will stick with his current rotation for the time being.
Mudiay was not available for comment Tuesday.
Denver is 0-2 against Utah this season with both losses coming in Salt Lake City, but welcome a struggling Jazz team to Pepsi Center tonight who have lost eight out of their last 10 games.
All-NBA Second Team selection Rudy Gobert (knee) has missed Utah's past five games and is not expected to return to the lineup until mid-January. Rookie Donovan Mitchell has stepped up his production in Gobert's absence and is averaging 24.1 points per game in December.
Mitchell is coming off a 29-point performance in Oklahoma City on Saturday. The Jazz fell 103-89 to the Thunder.
Nuggets Probable Starters
Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Wilson Chandler, Nikola Jokic, Mason Plumlee
Jazz Probable Starters
Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Jonas Jerebko, Derrick Favors