With the rise of professional opinions stating the Denver Nuggets will be the fifth or sixth seed next year because “everyone in the West got better and the Nuggets did not,” the Nuggets off-season moves below detail why they are a much-improved squad.
The Nuggets showed they are willing to run it back next season with the only off-season actions being drafting Bol Bol, paying Jamal Murray, picking up the team option on Paul Millsap, Michael Porter Jr. coming up the pipeline, signing Vlatko Cancar and trading for Jerami Grant from Oklahoma City. The Nuggets have the perfect combination of talent, youth, offensive and defensive balance, veterans, and after last season, they added playoff experience to be a contender for the next four years at a minimum.
Last season wasn’t even close to the ceiling for this squad, because of injury and inexperience. The Nuggets had one of the most unhealthy seasons in the NBA and managed to capture a second seed in the West. Will Barton missed 40 games, Gary Harris missed 25 games, Millsap missed 12 games, Murray missed eight games, and Isaiah Thomas missed more than half the season. Assuming health, I believe the Nuggets will be improved.
Secondly, the Nuggets were the second-youngest team in the NBA this past season, with the starting point guard barely being able to drink a beer legally. Murray taking another step toward consistency immediately improves this team, and consistency comes with age and experience.
Third, Porter Jr. has been the talk of the organization all summer and he looks like every bit of the player fans have been waiting for, despite another injury setback forcing him to miss the summer league. He should have a significant impact on this roster, much more than Trey Lyles had as the backup stretch four last season.
Fourth, the addition of Jerami Grant is underrated because he provides Denver with a stretch four with three-point spot-up shooting (39.2 percent from three) upside, and the athleticism to roll to the rim, play the pick-and-pop, and be a versatile willing defender. Grant gives the Nuggets another PF behind Paul Millsap that can do many things well and create mismatches against the starters or the second team.
Finally, the Nuggets have built a culture of drafting, developing, then paying players from within. Gary Harris, Murray, Jokic, and Porter Jr. have the opportunity to start a dynasty in Denver, with all four locked up through the 2022 season, plus one of the deepest rosters in the NBA and the perfect coach for the squad.
The Nuggets didn’t land Kawhi, KD, Kyrie, or any of these superstars this summer. But Jamal Murray will blossom next season into a superstar, Jokic is already a top-15 player in the NBA, and Gary Harris is one of the most underrated defenders in the NBA. With health, internal developmental improvements, the player pipeline and the addition of Grant, the moves the Nuggets made were definitely the right ones. If Millsap, Torry Craig, Will Barton, Malik Beasley, Plumlee, and Grant can all play their roles well, this roster has a chance to be incredibly special and will be better than last season.
Playoff seeding prediction:
First 3 out
The West could have eight 50-plus win teams this season because the TWolves, Mavs, and Pelicans have an opportunity to be good squads challenging for playoff spots.