The Denver Nuggets are a bit of an enigma in today’s NBA. Loaded with youth, talent, and athleticism, the Nuggets remain a team without an identity. To be clear, Denver is multiple pieces away from legitimate contention in the daunting Western Conference. The Nuggets entered the 2016 off-season with the mindset of “best player available” as they flesh out their rotation and look to improve across the board. Only time will determine whether the 2016 off-season brought Denver their “face of the future”. This off-season certainly made the future intriguing for the franchise.
Denver Nuggets 2016 Off-season Report
2016 NBA Draft
The Nuggets entered the 2016 NBA Draft with questions about Emmanuel Mudiay at point guard. Specifically, there are concerns that Mudiay may never develop into the floor general of the Nuggets’ future. It became abundantly clear that Denver needed to provide scoring help for their talented, yet raw, point guard. Enter University of Kentucky guard Jamal Murray, a marksman drafted to provide scoring help in a deep back-court rotation.
As the draft progressed, there was hope that Providence point guard Kris Dunn would drop to the Nuggets. Ultimately, this pairing was not meant to be, as the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted Dunn with the 5th overall selection. With Dunn off the board, Denver shifted its focus to Murray, a player the team coveted entering the NBA Draft. While Murray does not solve questions at point guard, he does provide a capable scorer to play alongside Mudiay. The idea is that Murray will help Denver settle into its half-court offense, creating easy assist opportunities for Mudiay. An interesting subplot entering the season is Murray’s ability to play both guard positions. If Mudiay continues to struggle with consistency and shot selection, will Denver change course and play Murray at point guard? This development could shape the course of the 2017 off-season in Denver.
A secondary concern for the Nuggets entering the draft was front-court depth. Denver addressed this need by drafting stretch forward Juancho Hernangomez with the 16th overall selection. Standing at 6’9″, Hernangomez offers a 7’2″ wingspan that will certainly create an impact in the middle for the Nuggets. A capable defender and rebounder, Hernangomez also has a soft outside stroke that will help spread the floor for Denver. Following the loss of Joffrey Lauvergne, Hernangomez projects to contribute immediately in Denver’s front-court rotation.
With their third pick in the draft, the Nuggets selected Malik Beasley 19th overall. The selection of Beasley screams “redundant” due to Denver’s depth at shooting guard. However, Beasley was the best player available when Denver picked at 19. Coming off of an injury at Florida State University, expectations are low for Beasley, in terms of immediate impact on the court. An athletic, high energy player, Beasley is an attractive addition to Denver’s offense, while providing a defensive upgrade for Denver’s second tier. It will be interesting to watch Beasley integrate into Denver’s flow of play, and whether his addition will make other players (such as Gary Harris and Will Barton) expendable at the trade deadline.
The Dwyane Wade Sweepstakes
In what was one of the more interesting developments of the 2016 free agency period, Denver became a surprise suitor for Dwyane Wade’s services. Following an acrimonious courting period in which D-Wade decided to take his talents out of South Beach, Denver emerged as one of only a few teams with enough cap space to make a legitimate offer. While it is in everyone’s best interest that Wade finally landed with the Chicago Bulls, this courtship established that Denver is a desired free agent destination for top tier NBA talent. Some of the best moves made in basketball are the moves that aren’t made. If Denver had pulled the trigger on signing D-Wade, it would have been an aberration. Despite that, entering the sweepstakes for his services was still a brilliant public relations move for a franchise desperate for some positive press.
In light of Denver’s concerns about Mudiay being the long-term solution at point guard, it is interesting that the Nuggets opted not to re-sign D.J. Augustin for the 2016-17 season. Though there are plenty of questions about Augustin’s long-term NBA prospects, he is a serviceable point guard, capable of stepping in and leading the offense. An adept scorer, Augustin could have played Robin to Murray’s Batman in Denver’s offense. With Jameer Nelson returning, the loss of Augustin makes point guard the Nuggets’ biggest concern entering 2016-17.
Following Hernangomez’s showing in the Las Vegas Summer League, Lauvergne became expendable in Denver’s front-court rotation. With front-court depth being a concern for the Nuggets, Lauvergne proved to be a redundant piece to a promising puzzle. Hernangomez’s ability to stretch the floor, as well as his length, should solidify the paint as the season progresses, making Lauvergne’s departure a minor loss in Denver’s eventful off-season.
Putting It All Together
The Nuggets certainly appear to be eyeing the future, featuring attractive trade assets for what will likely be an interesting trade deadline in Denver. Can Emmanuel Mudiay step up and become the floor general of the future? Will Jamal Murray become the outside scoring threat that Denver has lacked? Are Gary Harris and Will Barton now trade assets, as we approach the February trade deadline? Does Hernangomez fit into the rotation, making Kenneth Faried expendable (for the right price) in Denver? What will the Nuggets do to bring in a cornerstone player to bring the franchise to relevancy again? There are still many questions that remain to be answered in Denver, no doubt. The Nuggets are now equipped with assets to help them move forward in answering these questions, which have become a welcome discussion in Denver.