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2018 NBA Season Preview Series: Denver Nuggets

2017-2018 Denver Nuggets Media Day

Alright now that I got the sappy shit out of the way, we can get back down to business. I can’t lie, I was hoping you all chose Denver for this blog when I put this tweet out because not only are they the most exciting team on this list, all signs are pointing to them being one of the more exciting teams in the entire league. There is a ton to be optimistic about when it comes to this Nuggets team, and safe to say DEN fans everywhere should be pretty excited about where this team currently stands in terms of their rebuild. As always, before we dive into what to expect this upcoming season, we first should relive some of what we saw from them last year

2017-18 Season Highlights

Here’s what we know when it comes to the Nuggets. If you’re a fan of elite young talent and a high powered offense, then this is the team for you. Nuggets fans will be quick to tell you things haven’t exactly been all that peachy in the last 20+ years, and outside of that one Melo year where they made the WCF, it’s either been a life of missing the playoffs or losing in the first round. This version of DEN’s rebuild started back in the 2012-13 season, and slowly but surely we’ve seen them make progress each and every year, especially the last three. Their 46 wins last season were the most this team has had since that 2012 season, and a lot of that has to do with the talent they’ve been able to acquire. As it stands now, this is their current roster

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At $117,237,539 the Nuggets own the 17th most expensive roster in the NBA. What’s crazy is this was even lower before Jokic’s extension kicked in, but even factoring that in, it’s still not that bad. It definitely helps that guys like Jamal Murray are still on their rookie deals, and just like we’ve seen with Jokic, drafting these kids that ultimately turn into studs and play for a fraction of their worth is the key to all these small market rebuilds. You look up and down this roster, and I’d say maybe the only questionable contract is Millsap, but in today’s market that’s his price and the Nuggets are only on the hook for one more season (they also have a team option for $30M next year) and honestly Millsap is really good so in my opinion that’s fine. With just one player over the age of 30, this team’s core is not only talented, but also young as shit so they are poised to be really good for a long time. By now you probably know the Nuggets missed out on the playoffs on the final day of the season when they lost an OT thriller to MIN 112-106. I was actually in DEN for their matchup a week earlier that the Nuggets won 100-96, and their final push over the last week plus of the regular season where they won 6 in a row to get back into contention, only to lose their final game and miss the playoffs was pretty devastating.

When you think of the Nuggets, it’s hard to ignore their offensive firepower. What’s unique about how they play is they have a middle of the league pace at 99.06, but also have the high altitude advantage so maybe it’s just me but they always look faster than their opponents because they are used to the thin air. Their 109.6 Orting was 6th in the entire league, and they got there through a couple different ways. The Nuggets are one of the deadliest teams from deep, where their 11.5 3PM a night ranked 6th, and their 37% as a team ranked 7th. In today’s NBA, especially in the West, if you want to compete you need multiple three point shooters, and when you look at this roster the Nuggets are loaded. They had at least 8 players who averaged at least 1.0 3PM a night, and 4 that averaged at least 1.5 3PM. In terms of teams in the West, the Nuggets rely on three point shooting for 31% of their points, which is the third most, even more than GS (HOU/DAL are the other two). Now that they should have a fully healthy Millsap, it wouldn’t shock me if we see these numbers go up even more.

Obviously, the team has a couple of new additions that only add to the interest of this team. Gone are Emmanuel Mudiay, Kenneth Faried, and Wilson Chandler as the Nuggets move into their next wave of new talent. The first being Michael Porter Jr, a guy who fell into their lap because of injury concerns on Draft night, but if healthy has all the signs of being a complete monster. He has great size, can play inside/outside, and has a extremely high ceiling. The other is my dude Isaiah. After coming over on a veteran minimum deal, if Isaiah is healthy he is going to be so good in this offense I can’t stand it. There are some initial concerns obviously, but he’s committed to coming off the bench and will have the green light to get back to where he was before he got hurt. A lineup of Isaiah/Beasley/Lyles/MPJ/Plumlee intrigues me, and if you aren’t rooting for Isaiah to flourish you’re just an asshole. But make no mistake, the success of this team is going to rely on the progression of their Jokic/Murray/Harris/Millsap core.

In my opinion Jokic is already one of the best big men in the entire league at just 23, and everything we’ve seen from Jamal Murray tells us he is a star in the making as well. That starting backcourt of him and Harris is going to dominate the West for years, and now that Murray has another year under his belt running point, I’m excited to see what type of jump he’s going to make. He’s missed just 1 game in his career so far, and his Year 2 jump was exactly what Nuggets fans wanted to see. His FG% jumped from 40 to 45%, his 3P% up from 33 to 37%, while also seeing an increase in rebounding, assists, steals, and obviously points. At 6’4 he has great size where he can play either guard position and it’s clear he’s a key part of their future. The same can be said for Gary Harris, who has a little bit of an injury issue to overcome, but the reality is he’s gotten better every year he’s bene in the league as well, and can also play both guard spots. In terms of young backcourt duos, it’s hard to find a more appealing pair than these two.

So how to the Nuggets get over the jump and end their 5 year playoff drought? To me, it’s pretty simple. They NEED to figure their shit out on the defensive end. What makes Nuggets games so exciting is the fact that they may drop 120, but so will the other team. If you love offense that’s great, if you’re trying to make the playoffs in a brutal Western Conference, it’s sort of the kiss of death. Their 108.8 Drtg was good for 26th in the league, and they gave up 108 points a night which certainly isn’t good. Part of that was missing Millsap, who is for sure a plus defender, but the other part was just this is what happens with young talent. I don’t think anyone would call Jokic a great defender, something that will obviously have to improve if he wants to be the franchise guy, and obviously adding someone like Isaiah isn’t going to help, so I’m looking to see an improvement from everyone else. Jamal Murray having a 113 rating, Barton a 112, Beasley a 113, and Harris a 107 simply isn’t going to cut it. You look at teams in the West that made a jump, almost all of them are legit defensive units. If this team could go from 26th to like 22nd or even 19th, they’ll make the playoffs. To get there, they HAVE to defend the three point line better, where opponents shot 37%. That’s the worst in the entire league. There was no easier team in the league to score on than DEN, who’s 47% overall opponent FG% was also the worst in the league. Factoring that in, and knowing how close they were to making the postseason, literally any improvement in that area should get the job done.

The Nuggets are a somewhat trendy pick as a team to watch this upcoming season, and I don’t see why that shouldn’t be the case. My recommendation would be to definitely have them as part of your League Pass rotation, because this is a team that is poised to be among the elite in the West before you know it. They differ from some other young talent teams in that they have real expectations when it comes to wins and losses, and in my opinion this entire year is going to be a battle between DEN/NO/LAC/LAL/SA/MIN for those 5-8 seeds. If they can just figure their shit out on the road (15-26 last year) which you think would come with experience, there should absolutely be basketball in the Mile High come the late Spring.

Official Greenie Prediction: 49 wins