Winning the Northwest Division in the 2018-19 season the Denver Nuggets are heading into next season as title contenders. The summer of 2019 Free-Agency created a major shift in the balance of power throughout the league. Instead of joining the bidding wars for super-star talent, the Nuggets invested from within. This season preview shows that the Nuggets are a significate contender to win the western conference.
Denver Nuggets Season Preview
Recap of Last Season
The Northwest Division was cutthroat last season with three teams winning 50 plus games and a fourth winning 49 games. Even so, the Denver Nuggets finished first place in the division. Recording a 54-28 record, the Nuggets made strides of improvement last year. Following placing last in the division in 2017-18 to first place the following year.
Many contributed to last year’s record but only a few became standout stars. One being the nicknamed center “The Joker” Nikola Jokic. Truly, a jack of all trades propelling the Nuggets to a turnaround season. Even though Jokic isn’t particularly great at a single skill, his stats are proof of his greatness. He averaged 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game.
In addition to the Siberian big-man, Jamal Murray in his second season continued to showcase his potential. Even though Murray has not reached true star level yet, the 2019 NBA Playoffs illustrated he is not far from. He was a vital force on both ends of the court, specifically in the first round of the playoffs. Against the San Antonio Spurs in game two, Murray scored 21 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter. Murray left the fan base excited, averaging 21.3 points and 4.7 assists per game in the hist first NBA Playoff experience.
Those that aren’t aware, the Nuggets arena elevation is at 5,280′ which visiting opponents have struggled with in the past. As proof of this, the Nuggets had a home record of 31-7 this season. The home-court advantage also carried into the playoffs. Eventually, they lost the next round in seven games to the Portland Trailblazers. Even though it was a second-round exit, an exciting playoff run gives hope for the future of the franchise.
Final Record: 54-28
Placement: 2nd in the Western Conference
President of Basketball Operations, Tim Connelly, was not distracted by a landscape-altering chaotic free-agency. Retaining key players in the rotation and investing in the future from within should be the goal. That is a safe bet after having the eighth-youngest roster in NBA Playoff history. However, they failed to retain Trey Lyles, Brandon Goodwin, Isaiah Thomas, and Tyler Lydon.
As a result of the exodus of players and cap space, it made space for the Nuggets’ primary investment. On June 30th, Jamal Murray agreed to a five-year $170 million extension. Denver is not a marquee free-agent destination, so taking a pro-active approach by signing Murray is essential. Relying heavily on the homegrown star fresh off a 54-win season, Murray’s contract continues this momentum into 2019-2020.
In addition, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Jerami Grant to Denver in exchange for a top-ten protected future first-round pick. A career-high season in 2018-2019, Grant averaged 13.6 points and 5.2 rebounds for the Thunder. The Nuggets sent the Miami Heat a 2022 second-round pick plus cash considerations landed another quality addition in Denver. They received the 44th pick in return, the Nuggets drafted the once lottery-projected center, Bol Bol with that pick.
Being able to retain veteran power forward Paul Millsap was especially valuable. It should be noted that Millsap was the team’s defensive captain in the 2018-19 season. Denver exercised the $30.4 million team option on the final year of Millsap’s contract. Thus, likely paving the way for an extension in 2020 if both parties remain mutually interested in staying together.
A mere four-point loss away from the Western Conference Championship last season, the Nuggets will return all five starters. To begin with, the depth on this team’s roster will be immensely better. Returning from injury this season, Michael Porter Jr. is one example of the added depth. A lottery pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the anticipation of Porter Jr.’s debut has many buzzing around the league.
The Nuggets are not only the excited about Porter Jr. buzz but also acquiring the lengthy 6’9″ forward, Jerami Grant. A clear vision to bring in more interior size, drafting the 7’2″ center Bol Bol as well. Both Grant and Bol Bol will give relief to Millsap and Jokic throughout the season. Allowing the Nuggets to focus on load management to keep the starters fresh for another playoff run.
Most of all, a healthy Gary Harris provides a lockdown perimeter defender going along with efficient shooting. The team will go as far as their young core and superstar Jokic will take them.
Capitalizing on their continuity while other teams take time to build chemistry, the Nuggets should have a hot start to the season. Last season the Nuggets came out first in their competitive division. This season will not be as hard as last to finding a pathway to controlling the division. One example of this is the Thunder and the departure of superstar players Paul George and Russell Westbrook.
Furthermore, the matchup’s against other division rivals, the Portland Trailblazers and Utah Jazz work in favor of Denver. Also, the Golden State Warriors are no longer the favorite in the western conference heading into 2019-20. Subsequently, leaving the conference open for the taking.
Together, Jokic and Murray are poised for a breakout season proving to be the top five players at each other’s respected position. Especially Jokic, who finished fourth in MVP voting last season. Apart from this, head coach Mike Malone has an exciting season ahead of him with more talent to work with. To begin the season with an opportunity for revenge. The Nuggets travel to Portland for the season opener on October 23rd.
Final Record Prediction: 56-26
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