Denver comes into this season looked at as one of the better teams in the West. The two L.A. teams seems to have two top spots locked up and the Nuggets fall in line behind them. Jamaal Murray’s playoff run is a big reason why many believe in Denver this season and it’s definitely understandable. Can he sustain it over a full season?
The Nuggets didn’t really do much during the off-seasons. There were rumors they were in on Jrue Holiday before he was traded to the Bucks. Rumblings have started to pop up that they’re very interested in bringing in James Harden. Despite all the smoke, there hasn’t been any fire. Because of that, the team didn’t really get any better and that is a bit concerning. Other teams in the West are trying to make the push to be more competitive and Denver could get overrun by the absolute juggernaut of competition. The team is banking on their young talent (Murray and Porter Jr.) getting better while players who were injured last season (Barton and Gary Harris) to help them maintain their position. It makes sense, but it’s a gamble for sure.
The team ended losing two valuable rotation pieces in Mason Plumlee and Jerami Grant. They both ended up taking deals from Detroit and I think it’ll hurt Denver not having their production. Plumlee was overpaid during his tenure as a Nugget, but he was a valuable backup. The team has tried to replace him and I think they have the depth to do so. Still, his veteran game fit the team and people seemed to like him. For Grant, he desired a bigger role. Denver reportedly offered him a similar deal to the one the Pistons gave him; he just wanted to go somewhere he could be more than a 3-and-D player. He will be missed without a doubt. Someone else that’s worth mentioning is Torrey Craig. He’s been a great defender for the team in recent years and isn’t shy when shooting; he landed in Milwaukee.
The lost production will be hard to replace, but the Nuggets are going to try their hardest. The team brought in JaMychal Green in free agency on a two year deal to play backup big minutes. Green spreads the floor well and may be able to play a few minutes at the power forward spot, next to Jokic. He probably won’t get more than 15 minutes a night, but they could prove valuable. Denver added some more youth to the roster as they drafted two rookies in this past year’s draft. Zeke Nnaji from Arizona went 22nd and feels a lot like a Plumlee replacement. Nnaji is an athletic big who can rebound, block shots, and score around the rim. His mid-range jumper isn’t bad either, so there’s hope for him to stretch the floor. After him was R.J. Hampton at 24. Hampton was visibly disappointed on draft night when he fell this far. He’s a project for sure and will see time in the G-League more than likely. He has plenty of upside, but he’ll have to work to find it. The team has been patient with projects in the past and it’s worked out. Will it again?
Denver worries me. I think they didn’t do enough to be definitively the third best team in the West. Murray is going to have to prove he’s capable of being the 1-A option for them to remain at three. Jokic will need to be better defensively. Michael Porter Jr. will need to grow into a bigger role while being as efficient as he was. Those aren’t impossible tasks, but I’m unsure it’ll all happen simultaneously. Even so, Denver will be in the playoffs; the seed is the only question.