2017-18 Preview: Denver Nuggets

By Bryan Crawford #26

With the Western Conference being as deep as it is, the Nuggets find themselves in an awkward position: Probably not a playoff team, and not bad enough to move outside the bottom three in the Draft Lottery next May. Still, it’ll be tough not to pay attention to this squad with Nikola Jokic being one of the best young big men in the game. His skill level alone is worth making the Nuggets a watchable team this season, regardless if they make the playoffs or not. Denver will certainly be exciting with its high-powered, fast paced offense that typifies Western Conference basketball, but how much winning they do and if they’re a legitimate playoff squad won’t be answered for several months. On paper, they don’t appear to be good enough to break their streak of postseason futility, but in the NBA, anything can happen.

Nuggets 2017-18 Ballhandlers Wings Bigs
Returners Jamal Murray, Jameer Nelson, Emmanuel Mudiay Wilson Chandler, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Malik Beasley Nikola Jokic, Kenneth Faried, Mason Plumlee, Darrell Arthur, Juan Hernagomez
Newcomers Paul Millsap, Trey Lyles
Gone Danilo Gallinari, Mike Miller
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Offense: Jokic is by far the best player on the team and the No. 1 option on offense. He can score around the basket and from outside, and is possibly the best passing big men in the NBA (tops when it comes to flair), finishing second on the team in assists behind Jameer Nelson. With Danilo Gallinari going over to the Los Angeles Clippers, expect “Joker’s” scoring average and shot attempts per game to both go up this season. Paul Millsap will be Mike Malone’s obvious choice as the second option this season. Like Jokic, the four-time All-Star is threat to score inside and out, is a decent rebounder for his size, and is an excellent passer. Expect a lot of high-low action between Denver’s two talented big men, that should also open up a lot of opportunities for the Nuggets perimeter players, particularly Wilson Chandler and Gary Harris, who are both solid outside shooters and have no problem being aggressive going to the basket and drawing fouls. Will Barton should reprise his role as the Nuggets scoring spark off the bench and Kenneth Faried will bring boundless energy whether starting or subbing. It will be interesting to see who Mike Malone makes chooses to be his starting point guard. Jamal Murray is more of a scorer than passer and distributor, but he’s shown a lot of upside despite being just 19 years old. Emmanuel Mudiay was the franchise’s choice to develop into the point guard role since being tabbed with the seventh pick in the 2015 draft, but he has actually regressed from his rookie season. Mudiay is still just 21, but it’s likely he’ll need more time. Meanwhile, Nelson is the heady 13-year veteran who won’t hurt a team by trying to play outside of his limitations. Denver was the third-highest scoring team in the NBA last season, and even without Gallinari, don’t expect them to fall off too much as Malone will continue to encourage his team to push the ball and play fast, even if it means having his center lead the break.

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Defense: The Nuggets are atrocious on defense. They ranked 29 out of 30 in defensive rating last season while giving up 111 points a night to their opponents. It’s hard to imagine much improvement being made on this side of the ball, even with Millsap who is a solid defender at his position. The hope is that Millsap can import some of his defensive knowledge to all the young Nuggets this season. Jokic isn’t much of a rim protector given his size, and Chandler is probably the Nuggets best defensive option on the perimeter. Faried is active and plays with a lot of energy, especially on the boards, but he’s also not a great defender either. Their guard corps are all solid on the offensive side, but defensively they are as porous as a colander. All told, Denver isn’t a squad with a defensive identity and this could play a major role in the team missing the postseason for a fifth straight season.

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Upside: Jokic is on the verge of being a perennial All-Star, Murray could be someday be one of the more explosive scorers we’ve seen in the game, but Denver isn’t working with much in the upside department. Longtime Nuggets Chandler, Barton and Faried are solid rotation guys, but at this point, there’s not much hope of them becoming anything beyond that. They’ll most likely be a middle of the pack squad who won’t pose much of a threat to the elite squads in the Western Conference. But they’ll certainly be exciting to watch because this team has the capability to put a ton of points on the board. So if you’re into fast paced basketball with a free flowing offense, then Denver is your squad.

Durability: The Nuggets, at various times last season, lost several of their key players to injury. Harris missed the most time as he battled injuries to his groin and foot. Jokic was in and out of the lineup the second half of last season with a hip ailment, and both Faried and Mudiay dealt with lingering back issues that kept them on the sidelines for  part of the year. But for the most part, the Nuggets haven’t been more or less healthy than other squads around the League. They certainly wouldn’t be able to withstand a prolonged absence from either Jokic or Millsap, and as long as those two can remain relatively healthy, this team will be fine.

Synergy: The core of the team has been virtually the same for several seasons. Millsap, despite being a new addition, is a basketball chameleon and should be able to fit right into Malone’s system with no problem. Synergy shouldn’t really be an issue on a team that plays this style of basketball. There will be plenty of shots to go around, especially for the guys who like to get out and run, or bomb from the outside. Their best player, Jokic, likes to pass, so that will go a long way. Malone will give his key guys ample opportunity to do what they do, which will help encourage everyone to get on the same page and play together. Many are comparing the Nuggets to the Warriors at their nascent stage. Time will tell if that is the case.

Experience: Millsap and Nelson are the most experienced veterans on the team. Both have been on squads that have gone deep into the postseason, with Nelson even playing in a Finals. Chandler has a lot of regular season experience, but has only been to the playoffs once in his career. The rest of the Nuggets are comprised of, for the most part, are a group of young guys still trying to figure out the NBA and where they belong in it. Malone has yet to coach a team in the postseason. It wouldn’t be fair to have high hopes or expectations for this squad, but it would also be unfair to completely write them off. They could very well surprise some people and be better than expected this season.

Win Frame: 40-42 wins

2017-18 HOOP Season Preview

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