Only a couple of wins separated the Denver Nuggets from a first playoff berth in 2013 last season. The emergence of Nikola Jokic as a budding superstar was a big reason for their seven-win improvement from the previous year. And this offseason, the Nuggets brought in a big-name free agent who may help end their postseason drought.
Arrivals: Paul Millsap, Trey Lyles, Tyler Lydon, Monte Morris
Departures: Danilo Gallinari, Mike Miller
The Nuggets didn’t make a lot of moves during the offseason, but one they did make basically made their entire summer a big win; they brought in Paul Millsap in free agency to fill the void left by Danilo Gallinari.
Millsap, who was once again an All-Star last season, averaged a career-high 18 points and 7.7 rebounds for the Hawks last season. The 31-year-old figures to be an upgrade over Gallo overall, but particularly on the defensive end.
Apart from the Millsap signing, though, their other notable offseason move was trading their No. 13 pick, which eventually became Donovan Mitchell, to the Utah Jazz for Trey Lyles and the No. 24 pick, which became Tyler Lydon. That move isn’t looking very good for them after seeing how well Mitchell played and how poorly Lydon did in Summer League.
At the time of writing, the Nuggets had also not yet signed restricted free agent big man Mason Plumlee. But after trading a first-round pick and Jusuf Nurkic to get him last season, chances are they strike a deal eventually that keeps him on the team for at least this year.
Denver were the No. 1 offensive team in the league after Jokic made the full-time switch to the starting lineup. Yes, they were even better than the Kevin Durant-infused Golden State Warriors.
With the Serbian’s emergence as a legitimate star and the focal point of their fast-paced offense, the Nuggets were close to unstoppable on that end of the floor. The 22-year-old’s passing and rebounding also contributed to the Nuggets ranking second in both rebounds and assists per game last season.
Meanwhile, head coach Mike Malone was able to surround Jokic with strong three-point shooters like Gallinari, Gary Harris, Jameer Nelson, and Juancho Hernangomez, all of whom shot 39 percent or better from three. The Nuggets as a team were in the top-10 in three-point shooting.
Gallinari’s shooting will be missed, but Millsap is a capable shooter as well and Hernangomez could make another step forward next season. Jamal Murray should also take a marked step up in his second year after he shot just 33 percent from beyond the arc as a rookie.
Depth will also be one of the team’s big strengths. The Nuggets can go three-deep in just about every position except for small forward.
As good as the Nuggets were offensively, they were just as bad defensively. They finished second from bottom in the league in defensive efficiency for the year. A big factor in their struggles on that end has been their sheer inability to create turnovers. They were dead last in turnover rate last season.
The presence of Millsap as an above-average defender should help them improve, but he might not help enough for them to get out of the bottom-third defensively.
And despite the Denver offense’s improvement, they still lack someone on the team who can be able to create offense consistently off the dribble against a top defense. Gallinari provided much of that last season, and it will be in short supply even more now that he’s not on the team anymore.
Player to Watch – Jamal Murray
Murray could be a candidate to fill some of that playmaking void on the team. The Canadian guard struggled with his shot for most of his rookie year although it has since been revealed that he played with a hernia for basically the entire season. Now that he’s had that problem fixed, there’s a good chance Murray takes a significant step up in Year 2.
The Nuggets certainly see the 20-year-old as someone with the talent to turn into a star, as evidenced by their reported unwillingness to part with him in a possible deal for Kyrie Irving. Those are some high expectations to live up to, and it’ll be interesting to watch whether Murray can go some way toward fulfilling his potential this season.
Millsap provides what the Nuggets need at power forward while the Nuggets’ young stars take another step up in their development. Denver finally gets over the hump and makes it to the playoffs as they go 47-35.
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