During the 2016-17 NBA season, headlines will be dominated by Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors on a daily basis. However, having a super-team doesn’t guarantee a championship; just look at the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers. Everything can change and anything can happen in the NBA. A team can implode, the injury bug could strike, or a team simply might not play to its potential. In this Last Word On Pro Basketball series, we’ll break down which two key factors will determine the fate of each team in the upcoming season. Today, we discuss the Denver Nuggets.
As the 2016-17 season approaches, change is in the air for Denver. As the franchise moves toward a promising future, this season figures to be the last season in a transition phase where Denver has rebuilt it’s roster from the ground up. Player loyalty has been given way to youthful upside, and how Denver manages the end stage of these transitions will determine the success of their 2016-17 season.
The Youth Movement
As the Nuggets eye the future, it is clear that they have invested heavily in the youth on their roster. Under head coach Mike Malone, Denver appears to be taking the “out with the old, in with the new” approach to building it’s roster.
The Nuggets are excited about an explosive back-court featuring Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, and Malik Beasley. Make no mistake, this is an exciting core of players that is capable of leading Denver toward a bright future. While the path toward the future begins with today, fans should temper the expectation that the future is now. There are going to be obvious growing pain, and the learning curve will be steep. But this back-court is built for the future, and the future is bright for it’s young core. Remember, Rome was not build in one day.
Similarly, Denver boasts and exciting young front-court featuring Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic, and Juancho Hernangomez. With more depth in it’s front court, Denver has room to be patient with this group. With Jokic and Nurkic projected as starters entering the 2016-17 season, the Nuggets are clearly sold on the goods that they have in their front court. As with all young talent, allowing this group to work through their mistakes will be key to the progress.
The Faried Effect
To begin training camp, coach Malone announced that he is uncertain of who he will start at power forward this season. Though said in the spirit of competition, this statement is not an endorsement of Kenneth Faried’s future in Denver. The proverbial writing on the wall, Denver is tasked with assigning and maximizing Faried’s value as the trade deadline approaches.
After 5 seasons in Denver, Faried seemingly has lost his place in Denver’s rotation. As the 2015-16 season played out, it became clear that the Nuggets do not trust Faried in late game situations, favoring Darrell Arthur instead. With coach Malone declining to endorse Faried as the starter, the Nuggets find themselves in a precarious position. What is Faried’s current trade value? Has Denver cheated themselves out of an opportunity to maximize Faried’s value by holding on to him for too long? Will there be a ripple effect among veterans in the Nuggets locker room? The answers to these questions will reveal themselves in the coming months. Denver would be remiss to not feature Faried early in the season, if only to build value for potential trade suitors.
The Nuggets do not figure to be a factor in the Western Conference during the 2016-17 season. There is no disadvantage to letting their young core play through mistakes and develop a working rapport with one another. It might be a frustrating season for fans but the silver lining is that Denver will be in a position to add another promising prospect in next years draft. Similarly, Denver must make some difficult decisions on veteran players who have contributed in the past, but don’t figure to be a part of the franchise’s future. How Denver’s front office manages these transitions will be the 2 key factors that determine their 2016-17 success.