Preseason Preview #13: Denver Nuggets

Season Goal: Don’t be the 9th Seed

After back to back 9th place finishes, the Nuggets are desperate to finally break into the playoffs. Given how tough the Western Conference is, there’s no promise they will make it. Although, a healthy Millsap and a year of development from their young core will certainly help. They obviously have a lot of room for improvement on defense, but their offense is truly electrifying. They had the 6th highest offensive rating last year as well as 6th most 3 pointers made. If they continue their offensive onslaught and improve at all on defense this team will be trouble in the playoffs.

Storylines:

Baby Warriors

Their pass-happy, three-point heavy offense is extremely reminiscent of the Warriors before Kevin Durant. Jamal Murray is often called Steph Curry lite because of his ability to shoot from everywhere. Obviously, he isn’t as deadly from three as Steph, but he’s still very young. Additionally, the team’s passing is also incredible. The Nuggets had the 5th most assists last year as a team, and one of the few teams ahead of them was the Warriors. A great sign for the team is no one player dominated the assists. This means they all worked hard to move the ball around and get good shots. But, they still have one player who is clearly a special passer. Leading the team with 6.1 APG, Nikola Jokic showed signs of being able to run the offense as a center. This is something the Warriors never had but is still a fun and interesting development.

The Joker

Nikola Jokic became a well-known offensive player this season with his diverse skill set and passing ability. Offensively, Jokic is one of the best. He recorded 18.5 PPG while shooting 50% from the field and 40% from three. His diversity as a passer, post-scorer, and three-point shooter makes him a threat from anywhere on the court. The advanced stats love him as well. He ranked 7th in offensive win shares, 8th in total win shares, 7th in BPM, and 5th in VORP. For reference, Kevin Durant was 8th, 9th, 15th, and 12th, respectively, in those categories. Basically, all of this means Nikola Jokic is one of the best offensive players in the NBA.

Jokic still has flaws, and most come on defense. He is extremely immobile and weighs 250 pounds with very little muscle mass. The worst defensive teams usually have a bad defensive center, which is true for Denver. The Nuggets had the 25th worst defensive rating last year to go along with the highest opponent field goal percentage. In a modern NBA that relies on switching everything, Jokic is unable to help. This is slightly troubling as he was unplayable late in close games. Because of his offensive skills, if he ever finds a way to be an average defender Jokic may be an MVP candidate. At just 22 years old, there is plenty of time to find out how good Jokic can really be.

Depth Chart:

PG: Jamal Murray, Isaiah Thomas, Monte Morris

SG: Gary Harris, Malik Beasley, Xavier Silas

SF: Will Barton, Torrey Craig

PF: Paul Millsap, Trey Lyles, Michael Porter Jr., Tyler Lydon

C: Nikola Jokic, Mason Plumlee, Juan Hernangomez

Salary Cap Situation:

~120M of ~101M cap committed

Expiring Deals: Isaiah Thomas, Xavier Silas, Trey Lyles

Bad Contracts: Mason Plumlee (2yrs, $26M)

*All salary data via sportrac.com*

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