Nuggets’ Zeke Nnaji vows to produce — when he gets his chance


Zeke Nnaji has rehabbed, worked and waited. And waited some more.

Now the Nuggets’ back-up big man just might get a chance to show what he can do.

When two-time MVP Nikola Jokic entered health and safety protocol Tuesday night, a door opened for Nnaji to increase his playing time.

“I’m excited and I’ve been waiting for this all season,” the third-year power forward said prior to Denver’s game against the Knicks late Wednesday night at Ball Arena. “I’m finally getting an opportunity and I’m putting my heart into it.”

An ankle injury slowed Nnaji early this month and he’s appeared in only eight games, averaging a mere 3.8 minutes per game. But with Jokic out Wednesday, and questionable for an upcoming two-game set at Dallas, Nnaji will be counted on to chip in, particularly on defense.

“I think one of the big positives that Zeke Nnaji brings is his ability to guard multiple positions,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said. “He’s a versatile defender in today’s NBA, guarding 5s and 4s and being able to switch off to the small (forwards) and contain those smalls.

“That will be a challenge tonight. The (Knicks) are the best-driving team in the NBA. Those guys live in the paint, so for Zeke and our smalls, our one-on-one containment is going to be key.”

Nnaji’s 2021-22 season was limited by knee injuries. His response was to live in the weight room and on the court this summer, adding muscle to his 6-foot-11 frame and honing his outside shot. He had a strong camp and preseason but hasn’t had the chance to shine during the regular season.

“A lot of the coaches said I had a great camp and made some huge jumps, so I’m just looking to apply that out on the court in an actual game,” he said. “I have to stay ready. I want to make it hard for them to put me back on the bench.”

Nnaji said he understands that it’s difficult for Malone to spread around the minutes because “we have so many different pieces we can use.”


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