In what was an average year in Denver, the Nuggets finished the 2016-17 season with a 40-42 record. Looking to make a move in the off-season, Denver traded their first-round pick for Utah Jazz forward Trey Lyles. As the season nears, Nuggets fans will hope to see more of the same from standout big man Nikola Jokic. The Serbian will lead a talented roster into the new season alongside free agent signing Paul Millsap. Under head coach Michael Malone this Nuggets team will attempt to make the playoffs in a strong Western Conference. Here is the 2017-18 Denver Nuggets season preview.
Countdown to NBA Tip-Off: Denver Nuggets Season Preview
What Worked Last Season
Despite lacking real star power, the Denver Nuggets were almost a playoff team last season. Missing out by a single game to the Portland Trail Blazers, Denver was left disappointed. However, the Nuggets can be proud of their efforts, making the most out of a balanced roster. One huge discovery this team made was the emergence of Jokic. Now the face of the franchise, he had a great season. Displaying great skill as a big man, Jokic impressed not just Nuggets fans, but NBA fans across the world.
The Nuggets also developed what looks like their future backcourt in Gary Harris and Jamal Murray. With Emmanuel Mudiay failing to show progress last season, the team will look to move on. Jameer Nelson is still effective at times, but his age will lead to a Harris, Murray duo down the line. If both guards can stay healthy, Nuggets fans have good reason to be excited about their teams future.
What Needs Improvement
With a quality front-court, Denver will look for improved guard play this season. Murray and Harris are still young and will need time develop further. This will likely lead to Nelson starting at the point guard spot. Now, what about Mudiay? Well, yet to show any signs of improvement, Mudiay would be a step back for a Nuggets team looking for playoff basketball.
Defensively this team needs to improve, especially if they want to reach the magic 8th seed. Ranked 27th in the league in points given up per game, Denver was leaking points. Luckily enough, they were ranked 3rd in points scored per game; just imagine what this team could have done if they played some defense. When you look at Denver statistically as a team, they come across as one-dimensional. Offensively this team can do great things. Unfortunately, basketball is played at both ends, leading to this Nuggets team falling short of its main goal.
Trading their first-round pick, Denver acquired Lyles, thus adding yet another talented young player to the mix. At last seasons deadline, many expected the Nuggets to trade Kenneth Faried. This would not be the case, as the team went on to trade Jusuf Nurkić for Mason Plumlee. Plumlee has since re-signed with the team, signing a three-year, $41 million deal. The teams biggest off-season signing was Millsap. Signing a multi-year deal with Denver, Millsap is a four-time NBA All-Star.
One key loss this off-season was forward Danilo Gallinari. Leaving for Los Angeles, Gallinari had always been a key scorer for Denver when healthy. A talented but frustrating player, Nuggets fans will have to move on from the injury-prone Italian.
In this year’s draft, the Nuggets traded down to the No.24 spot, taking Tyler Lydon with their first-round pick. Round two saw Denver select two players; Vlatko Čančar has been stashed and Monte Morris has been signed to a two-way contract. The Mile-High City has seen a lot of activity this off-season, as a young team looks to make the playoffs.
Fans in Denver can be excited about this team. The Western Conference is strong but if this team takes certain steps along the way, there is no reason why they cannot be in the playoff conversation once again.
Just like most young teams, Denver will struggle defensively. This is a team that will experience some growing pains again. However, with an All-Star playing alongside Jokic in Millsap, Denver should be an exciting team to watch. The lack of defensive quality will lead to some close, entertaining games.
If this team can stay healthy, make the most of the Jokic, Millsap duo and continue to grow, Malone can take this team to the playoffs. Expect the Nuggets to win between 45-48 games this season, making them the seventh seed.