NBA Season Preview: Denver Nuggets

2019-20 Regular Season Record
: 46-27 (.630%), 3rd in Western Conference, Lost in Conference Finals
Head Coach: Mike Malone

The 2019-20 season resulted in a 3rd straight season with 45+ wins, and a 2nd straight trip to the playoffs for the Nuggets. They were one of the best teams in the league in clutch moments, and won due to balanced scoring – nobody scored more than 20 ppg, but 8 players averaged more than 9 ppg. While the Nuggets were led by All-NBA 2nd Team Nikola Jokic (19.9 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 7.0 apg & 52.8% shooting) and Jamal Murray (18.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 4.8 rpg & 1.1 spg), there was a strong supporting cast, which included Gary Harris, Jerami Grant, Paul Millsap, and Wil Barton. Don’t sleep on Michael Porter Jr., perhaps Denver’s most anticipated draft pick since Carmelo Anthony. Having missed all of the 2018-19 due to a back injury, the 14th overall pick made his debut last year and showed some serious promise in his rookie year. Of course, once the NBA Playoffs started, the Nuggets put on one of the best shows in NBA history, coming back from 3-1 down against both Utah in the 1st Rd. (more on that below) and against the LA Clippers in the 2nd Rd. Ultimately falling to the champs in the Western Conference Finals, the Nuggets should be proud of the season they put together.

What’s Next for Jamal Murray?

Murray had a nice regular season but was sensational in the playoffs. He announced himself as one of the players to watch for in the upcoming season and a superstar in the making. In 19 playoff games, he went off for 26.5 ppg (on 50.5% FG), 4.8 rpg, 6.6 apg and shot a ridiculous 45.3% on 7.2 3-point attempts. In his now-legendary battle with Donovan Mitchell of the Jazz, he put up two 50-point games sandwiched around a 42-point effort. Due to his solid regular season, incredible playoffs and his stance on Social Justice, many in Murray’s homeland of Canada are calling for him to win the country’s highest honor in sport – the Lou Marsh Award, which is awarded annually to Canada’s top athlete (professional or amateur). With last year now behind him, what can Murray do for an encore? There is no doubt Murray can score the ball, and he should be able to get into the 22-25 ppg range. Can he provide an uptick with his playmaking ability? Can he work out a way to dish out 7+ assists per game and make more than 1.5 steals per game? Another area of improvement could see him increase his efficiency to its playoff level – 45.6% FG in the regular season vs. 50.5% FG in the playoffs. Regardless of how his improvements come, the Canadian has found a way to lift his game in the playoffs, now look for Murray to make a big leap during the regular season.

Tom’s Take: Jamal Murray will make the All-NBA 3rd Team this year.

Can the Nuggets Recover From their Offseason Losses?

The Detroit Pistons snapped up Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee in free agency – both important pieces in Denver’s success last year. Grant signed a 3-year, $60M deal while Plumlee signed for a 3-year deal worth $24M. Grant is the bigger loss for the Nuggets, as he has turned himself into the ideal 3&D player. At 6’8”, 210 lbs., he has the ability to guard opponents best wing players as well as knock down the 3-ball (2018 – 39.2%, 2019 – 38.8%). The Nuggets offered the same deal as the Pistons and  most observers felt that Grant would resign. Provided the same offer from the Pistons however, Grant went where he felt he could get more run. And who can fault him? Denver was his 3rd stop in 6 NBA seasons, so he doesn’t owe the franchise any loyalty and he is going to have much higher usage on a Pistons team trying to make the playoffs. Denver tried to recover by signing JaMychal Green to replace Grant, which comes with fanfare from Jokic, as the All-NBA player stated: "I like him. JaMychal is a kind of dog and we need that kind of player." Grant will be joined in Detroit by Plumlee, who will more than likely step into the starting role for his new team. He was the primary backup for Nikola Jokic but will be a little easier to replace than Grant, as he averaged 19.9 minutes per game over the last 3+ seasons.  

Can Michael Porter Jr. Make the Leap?

One of the more intriguing players in the NBA, Michael Porter Jr. is the one wildcard on the Nuggets roster who could take them to the next level. Playing under a minutes restriction for most of the year due to his poor defense and major injury history, Porter picked up his production as the year progressed. Prior to the All-Star Game, Porter Jr. was averaging 14.2 mpg, 8.0 ppg & 4.4 rpg, upping it to 21.7 mpg, 12.6 ppg & 5.5 rpg and then running it up to 23.7 mpg, 11.4 ppg and 6.7 rpg in the playoffs. At 6’10”, 220 lbs., Porter has the body to be the new-wave stretch 4 that teams are looking for. If he can make the leap and become a 3rd go-to playmaker behind Murray and Jokic, the Nuggets could be dangerous this year. 

Tom’s Take: Porter will be in the running for MIP, finishing in the top 3 of voting.

Photo Credit: Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire