Predicted finish: 1st in the West (1st in the Northwest, 6th in the power rankings)
Last seasons conference finish: 3rd
You’d be hard pressed to find a team whose image changed more in the bubble than the Denver Nuggets. Before it they were the cute young team led by an overweight Euro and an inconsistent guard. Now, after Nikola Jokic had one of the great clutch shooting runs in playoff history and Jamal Murray looked like a perennial All-Star, the team is seen as potentially a real threat to the Lakers. With other young pieces like Michael Porter Jr, Monte Morris and Bol Bol expected to improve, coupled with solid vets like Paul Millsap, Will Barton and new addition JaMychal Green, it’s easy to see why so many are so bullish on them. As influential as those depth pieces are, this team rides on the backs of Jokic and Murray and them regaining their bubble play will be all that really matters on how this team plays this season.
The big question for the franchise: Was that the real Jamal Murray?
Jokic has already proven himself to be a perennial All-Star and although maybe his offensive aggressiveness improved, the real ceiling raiser in the playoffs was Murray. Murray is famously unafraid of any moment and that came out in a big way in the bubble when he dominated the Jazz, Clippers and even Lakers. As great as it was in the bubble, and boy oh boy was it great, we just haven’t seen anywhere near that level from him consistently in the regular season. This year needs to be an All-Star one from him in the regular season because Jokic is always going to be Jokic and he needs someone like Murray to meet him at that level in order for this team to really challenge the Western Conference heavy weights again.
One move I want to see them make: Upgrade the Gary Harris spot
With Will Barton back after missing the entire bubble and Green coming in, I feel like the Jerami Grant loss is being overblown. With that in mind, I think the real hole on this team is at the two-guard position. At times this team felt incredibly beholden to Harris cashing in on open threes after Murray and Jokic were doubled and he just couldn’t do it. Yeah, his defence is great but there just has to be someone out there who can give them something close to the production on that end and actually shoot. Harris is younger than we think and I get that but we’re in multiple years of him being unable to shoot so why would I expect anything different this season?
Offseason Grade: B+
Losing Grant sucks but with the money Detroit gave him, I wouldn’t be crying over it. Especially with the addition of Green and Barton coming back from injury, Grant’s missing production feels very replaceable. I also loved the resigning of Morris who in my mind is one of the most underrated players in the league. Finally, I said all year long after watching RJ Hampton he had a ton of potential to be great, he just needed the perfect infrastructure to make it happen. Well, it may well of happened with him landing in Denver with how they develop talent so don’t be surprised if he factors into their rotation in the not too distant future.
Young player I’m excited for: Michael Porter Jr
Much like with Miami and Herro where I said I didn’t really have a choice, the same can be said for Denver and Porter Jr. He was mocked pre-draft when he compared himself to Tracy McGrady and Kevin Durant and yet, it’s hard to deny when he flashes his talent, it isn’t on an impossibly high-level. Much like his teammate Murray though, this season will be about finding a way to make those flashes more consistent as his talent could be the thing that puts this team over the top. That is, if he attempts to play any defence but that’s a story for another day.
Denver is loaded with young talent, had a playoff run for the ages last season and feels poised for another step forward this year. The only real concern is them getting comfortable with last year as all the teams around them have also improved and not finding a way to bring that playoff consistency they found in Orlando on a nightly basis. With players like Murray and Jokic though, if I was a Denver fan I wouldn’t be too worried. To me this season feels like it’ll be another stepping stone in the right direction.