The Nuggets missed the playoffs by a couple of games last time out. Denver under-performed early in the season and were playing catch up thereafter. The main reason for the early slump was their front court logjam, with Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic not playing well together. Once the Serbian began starting, the Nuggets became an offensive juggernaut and by the end of the season possessed the third best offense in the league.
With a full season of Jokic starting, the Nuggets will be one of the up-and-coming teams in the Western Conference. However, the 22-year-old is not the only reason that the Nuggets will be successful. The addition of All-Star power forward Paul Millsap will make their frontcourt one of the most dynamic in the league, one that plenty of teams in the East will have trouble dealing with. Both Millsap and Jokic are extremely versatile offensive players and will make Denver, once again, one of the best offenses in the league.
The Nuggets also have many young players who showed improvement throughout last year. Gary Harris is quietly becoming one of the best young shooting guards in the league after shooting 42% from three and averaging 15 points a game last season. Having started the 2016/17 campaign injured and missing 25 games, Harris returned to action and was another reason the Nuggets turned their season around. If the 22-year-old stays healthy for the full season the Denver are definitely going to have a much better finish than last year.
Another young Nugget to look out for is Jamal Murray. At the start of last season, Murray shot extremely poorly and looked like he did not have what it took to be an NBA player. He turned it around after his tough initiation and looks set to be a quality contributor in the coming year.
The addition of Jimmy Butler to an already solid young core has made the Timberwolves a team to look out for this coming year. Butler adds a necessary defensive edge to the Wolves as it has been something they’ve lacked these past few years. His addition will let Andrew Wiggins focus more on offense and worry less about guarding the opposition’s best wing player. Butler’s late-game scoring ability will also provide a boost in clutch time for the Timberwolves, who suffered many losses last season after looking in control.
Butler is not the only reason to be excited about this team. Karl-Anthony Towns had an incredible rookie year and further improved in his sophomore campaign. Towns scored 25 points and collected 12 rebounds per game in 2016/17, becoming only the second 21-year-old in NBA history to achieve such a feat. The other was a player that went by the name of Shaquille O’Neal. Obviously, Towns has a lot more work to do before reaching Shaq’s level, but he has already established himself as a top center in the NBA.
With Towns and Butler at the helm and a great supporting cast of Wiggins, Jeff Teague and the newly added Jamal Crawford, Minnesota should easily compete for a playoff spot this coming season. There are high expectations in the Gopher State and they have the personnel to meet them.
After producing a terrible span of basketball that was not worth watching, the 76ers have finally assembled an exciting team. With Ben Simmons coming back from injury, Markelle Fultz joining as the top draft pick, J. J. Redick signing on, and the likely return of Joel Embiid, the Sixers have assembled a talented starting lineup which, if healthy, should make the playoffs. Simmons and Fultz should combine to provide excellent playmaking for the rest of the team which was something that they sorely lacked in previous years.
If Embiid manages to play a good proportion of the season, expect the Sixers to be one of the better teams in the league. When Embiid was on the court, the Sixers defense went from atrocious to one of the better rearguards in the East. A game changer in the truest sense, a healthy Embiid is one of the best centers in the NBA. The new schedule should also help him play more games. Last year, the Cameroonian was limited as he could not play any back-to-back games, which have now been reduced in number by the NBA. Additionally, with the season start moved back, ‘The Process’ will be able to play more games this season.
There is even more to be excited about in Philly. After an excellent rookie year, Dario Saric should have an excellent sophomore season. Saric provided a bit of everything for the Sixers after Embiid’s injury, and his well-rounded game will help the Sixers in whatever role he ends up playing, whether it be starting or off the bench. The Croatian is an excellent scorer, rebounder, and a flashy playmaker; he will have plenty to offer in the coming season.
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