The Denver Nuggets were a team that turned heads this 2018-2019 NBA season. Their impressive run however, ended at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers in a nail biting Game 7 loss in Round 2 of the playoffs. Yet despite their heartbreaking Game 7 loss at home, they still showed a lot of promise.
The Nuggets would have been a perfect opponent for the Golden State Warriors who cruised to a 4-0 sweep over the Blazers in the Western Conference Finals because of their size and athleticism. With the best passing Big Man in the league right now in Nikola Jokic and a High Octane offense led by Jamal Murray, no one expected these Nuggets to accomplish what they did this season. Mike Malone, who was recently named as a Coach of The Year finalist, has done an outstanding job with this young and athletic team. Malone and the management will have to face the music soon and decide on how the Nuggets move from here.
Questions facing the Nuggets’ offseason are their Team Option for Paul Millsap’s large $30 Million contract, Will Barton’s starting job, Michael Porter Jr.’s rookie season and who they will trust off the bench to make a deeper run to the playoffs next season. The Nuggets have a great future ahead of them if they bring the same line up next season but they have to deal with these things first this summer before they head to Training Camp.
Keeping the Core
The Nuggets should keep the core of this young team. They were the second youngest team entering this season and they certainly exceeded expectations. Denver eliminated the San Antonio Spurs in a thrilling 7 Game Series and were just a quarter away from reaching the Western Conference Finals. Denver Fans are hoping that they keep the core of their team and follow up their successful season. The Nuggets had the 4th best record in the NBA regular season and appear primed for success in the years to come.
They can go as far as Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray can take them. These two have not yet reached their full potential and are still in their early 20’s. Jokic, who turned 24 in February, averaged 20.1 points 10.8 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game this season. His all around play has experts considering him as one of the best passing big men the NBA has had in years. He averaged a near triple-double in this year’s playoffs and has proved to make an impact in every game.
His supporting cast consists of young players Jamal Murray and Gary Harris. Murray, 22 had explosive scoring outbursts this season including a career-high 48 points against the Boston Celtics last November 2018. The former Kentucky Wildcat averaged 18.2 points and 4.8 assists per game while Harris, despite playing just 57 games this season, showed flashes of his defensive prowess although he lost his touch in offense and had to take the back seat to focus on defense during the playoffs.
If he can be the offensive-minded Harris of the previous season, a two way Gary Harris would be deadly for the Nuggets and will be a headache for opponents. Their performance in this year’s NBA Playoffs showed promise for the franchise. Certainly they will follow it up next year given their experience. With these 3, Denver’s young team can make another run next season.
What About Millsap?
Another major question for the Nuggets this summer is their team option on Paul Millsap’s $30 Million contract. Millsap’s value may not be seen thru his stats but his veteran smarts and experience have helped the team improve every year since he signed a 3-year deal last July 2017 with Denver. The Nuggets do need Millsap’s services but with his declining production (12.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game), it looks like they need to restructure his contract and allow the team to have some cap space in order to bring another player can be a big lift for the team.
Millsap’s presence on defense is still important for them given that they have a question mark on the Power Forward position. Trey Lyles contract has expired and Juan Hernangomez is still a work in progress. Having the Veteran Millsap back would be great. If the Nuggets and Millsap agree to a cheaper Multi Year deal, that would put a check on one of the Nuggets wish list this offseason. Having Millsap back would solidify Coach Mike Malone’s defensive plan and solidify the Nuggets frontcourt.
If they can’t have Millsap back, they can have flexibility on their cap and get some options to replace him with Free agents. 3 other Nuggets’ contract have expired:Trey Lyles, Isaiah Thomas and Tyler Lydon. Denver is not an attractive market for free gents but given how the team performed this season, there is certainly a reason why free agents would take a look and consider joining the Nuggets.
How is Michael Porter Jr.?
Another reason why NBA analysts are high on the Nuggets next season is because of Michael Porter Jr. Porter Jr. The 14th selection in the 2018 NBA Draft has been recovering from a back injury and is ready to play in the NBA Summer League this July. The 6-10 forward can play multiple positions and can shoot from the outside. Porter has all the tools to be the 3rd star the team is looking behind Jokic and Murray.
Porter was once touted as one of the top 2 players in the High School Class of 2017 and although he played only 53 minutes in Missouri his credentials are enough for Nuggets fans to be excited with. After a lost season in college due to injury, Porter Jr. is eager to showcase his skills. His performance in the Summer League will determine how he can help this team moving forward. Given the lack of production on the 3 spot and Barton’s decreasing production in the Playoffs, a healthy Porter Jr. would give the Nuggets a boost in that position. Whether he starts or will be playing off the bench, MPJ would certainly be an added asset for the Nuggets
Reserves Monte Morris and Malik Beasley will be back as well. Both improved in several categories this season but were inconsistent. These two, who averaged below 4 points per game in the previous season, took advantage of the opportunity Coach Malone gave them and they were able to contribute to the team’s success this season. Both did not let the team down as their scoring average went up. Beasley averaged 11.3 points while shooting 40.2 from 3-point range. Morris on the other hand, stepped up his game and upped his average to 10.4 points and 3.6 assists per game. Both have provided a spark off the bench. With playoffs experience under their belt, they would be a big help for the Nuggets campaign next season.
The Rest of The Cast
If there is a player that the Nuggets are high on next year, it should be Torrey Craig. Craig who signed a 2-year deal last summer was a pest on defense. His defensive intensity in this year’s playoffs allowed him to shine and earn a starting spot for Coach Malone. Malone praised Craig for his defense especially in the second round of the playoffs against Superstar Damian Lillard. His comeback from a nose injury in Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals showed the grit and spark he provided for the team.
If there is a disappointment for the Nuggets’ this season, it’s the play of Will Barton. Barton who signed a multi-million extension last summer, was expected to produce more as the season went on. Being the 4th option on offense after Jokic, Murray, and Millsap, he performed below par and lost his starting job to Torrey Craig in the playoffs. The Nuggets can consider trading him and get another piece that can help the team. Should they keep Barton, he should raise his game a notch higher for the team to succeed next season.
We can never tell what would happen with this team that surprised a lot this season. They were never expected to finish top 2 in the Western Conference but proved everyone wrong by advancing to the Western Conference Semifinals and even had home court advantage through the 2nd round of the Playoffs. I would not say that there is a need to change their roster this offseason. If they keep the same core, they will be as explosive and dynamic as they were this year.
Will the Nuggets need some changes this summer? Will they keep the same roster and add some pieces that can get them over the hump? Coach Malone should be proud of this group for what they have done. Instead of making changes, he should make them hungrier next season.