NBA Preview: Denver Nuggets
With the first team in the Northwest Division is the Denver Nuggets, a team that has really struggled since Andre Iguodala left for the Golden State Warriors three years ago. Iguodala was just a one year rental, but that team was led by Coach of the Year George Karl, and was showing that despite Carmelo Anthony being in New York the Nuggets are still a force to be reckoned with. Last season, however, was a third lottery season for the Nuggets as they finished 33-49, fifth worst in the West and second worst in the Northwest Division (although that does not matter at all anymore). This year, the Nuggets are feeling like they are moving in the right direction and have a good group of core players, but it is still hard to see them make the playoffs.
ADDITIONS: SG Jamal Murray (draft), SG Malik Beasley (draft), PF Juan Hernangomez (draft)
SUBTRACTIONS: F/C Joffrey Lauvergne (trade-Oklahoma City), PG DJ Augustin (Orlando)
RE-SIGNED: G/F Mike Miller, PF Darrell Arthur
This offseason was incredibly quiet for Denver, as the only business they concluded in free agency was keeping Mike Miller and Darrell Arthur from last season. I understand the value of Arthur on this team, but the Mike Miller signing was a bit puzzling. Part of it, in my mind, is due to low salary and the other part is due to his veteran leadership. The Lauvergne trade frees up time for Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic, so that was a good move by the Nuggets. Letting DJ Augustin walk is meaningless, as he only would take minutes away from young guards like Emmanuel Mudiay. They were also part of the Dwyane Wade rumors just because of the cap space they have available, but he obviously did not choose the Nuggets.
PLAYER TO WATCH: I want to see if C Nikola Jokic lives up to the hype. Last year in his rookie season, he played in 80 games while starting 55 and averaged 10 points per game in just 21 minutes. NBA analysts think he might be the future of this team, along with PG Emmanuel Mudiay, and I want to see if he lives up to that. For that same reason, Mudiay is another player to watch. SG Gary Harris will also be interesting, as the Nuggets drafted two shooting guards in the first round and have Will Barton on the roster already, so how much will he play this year or will he be traded?
BIGGEST CONCERN: Who gets to play a lot and who does not? The Nuggets have a good problem, a lot of young talent with only two players on the roster older than 29 in Jameer Nelson and Mike Miller, who shouldn't get that much playing time anyways. The problem is, many of them are facing position battles, and only Mudiay is really safe with the amount of minutes he will receive. People forget about Jusuf Nurkic after the year Jokic had, but before his injury he was the starter and he had a good rookie season the year prior himself. Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, Will Barton and Darrell Arthur will all be battling for forward minutes, and you can throw Barton in the shooting guard picture as well with Harris and rookies Malik Beasley and Jamal Murray.
BIGGEST UNKNOWN: I suppose the biggest unknown's for this roster don't belong on the court, as they are revolved around the trade market. Will players like Kenneth Faried, Gary Harris and Wilson Chandler be on this team in the near future? Is there a trade market even out there for them? Everything else in Denver is pretty simple, build up young talent and try to work your way into a playoff spot.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: C Nikola Jokic, PF Kenneth Faried, SF Danilo Gallinari, SG Gary Harris, PG Emmanuel Mudiay
ROTATIONAL PIECES: F Wilson Chandler, G/F Will Barton, C Jusuf Nurkic, PG Jameer Nelson, PF Darrell Arthur, SG Jamal Murray
ROUNDING OUT THE ROSTER: G/F Mike Miller, SG Malik Beasley, PF Juan Hernangomez, PG Nate Wolters
PREDICTION: This roster has pieces, and if injuries don't befall them and everything comes together this roster could end up being a playoff team. I'm going to hold off on the Nuggets for one more year though, as many key players are very young here and they might not be ready. Plus, the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Utah Jazz are more poised to make a bigger jump than the Nuggets, and whatever team falls out of the Western Conference Playoffs likely will be replaced by those teams before Denver. I'll go with 37 wins this year, which is a four win improvement from last season.