Monday, November 28 2022

The Denver Nuggets have made the playoffs four years in a row with Nikola Jokic, getting as far as the Western Conference Finals in 2019-20. Last year’s performance may have been even more impressive than that, however, as Denver reached the postseason with a 48-34 record despite being without the services of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. basically all campaign, and with Aaron Gordon as the team’s second-best player.

Now, with Gordon back to being a No. 3 or No. 4 option on most nights, a healthy Murray and Porter back in the mix and Jokic still performing like Jokic, just how far can the Nuggets go?

Roster changes

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Returning: Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Jeff Green, Zeke Nnaji, Bones Hyland, Devon Reed, Vlatko Cancar

Additions: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Washington), Bruce Brown (Brooklyn), Ish Smith (Washington), DeAndre Jordan (Philadephia), Christian Braun (Kansas), Peyton Watson (UCLA), Adonis Arms (Texas Tech), Grant Golden (Richmond), Kellan Grady (Davidson), Collin Gillespie (Villanova), Jack White (Melbourne United)

Subtractions: Will Barton (Washington), Monte Morris (Washington), Austin Rivers (Minnesota), JaMychal Green (Golden State), Bryn Forbes (Minnesota), Markus Howard (Baskonia), Facundo Campazzo, DeMarcus Cousins

Strengths

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

* The team’s offense should light it up every night… With Jokic and little help offensively last season, the Nuggets still went 48-34 and ranked sixth in offensive efficiency on the year, producing 113.8 points per 100 possessions. That was with the team’s second-leading scorer being Gordon at 15.0 points per game, followed by the now-departed Will Barton at 14.7 points on 43.8 percent shooting. With a healthy Murray and Porter back in the lineup, that number should be even better, as both players are confident bucket-getters who can score from all over the floor – and who can get hot out of nowhere.

* They have a perennial MVP candidate leading the way… Jokic proved last season that he can carry a team nearly to 50 wins basically on his own while continuing on one of the best offensive tears the league has ever seen. The big Serbian was better than ever in 2021-22, averaging 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 1.5 steals on ridiculous 58.3/33.7/81.0 percent shooting splits. He led the NBA by a wide margin in VORP (9.8), BPM (+13.7) and WS/48 (0.296) and sits first overall in our Global Rating metric over the past year at 27.24. With Jokic around and on that level, the Nuggets could be a contending championship-level team in 2022-23.

* Michael Malone is one of the league’s underrated head coaches… Nuggets head coach Michael Malone doesn’t get the credit he deserves, as the Nuggets were nearly Top 10 in net rating last season despite missing arguably their second- and third-most important players for the entire campaign. Denver has been a strong team each of the last four years, and Malone’s leadership at the top deserves some recognition for that.

Weaknesses

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

* The team’s depth can come into question… Even with a healthy Murray and Porter back, Denver’s bench may not be as reliable as that of other contenders. For one, losing Barton, even if Nuggets fans don’t want to hear it after growing tired of his inconsistent play over the years, is a loss that will be felt by the team. Finding a player who can score 15 points as a reserve every night isn’t easy. Can Bones Hyland take over that role? Maybe, but he’ll have to prove it. Then there’s the matter of DeAndre Jordan, who the Nuggets, for whatever reason, picked up this offseason. If he is to be Denver’s backup center, that is worrisome, as last season, the Philadelphia 76ers were 10.7 points per 100 possessions worse with the veteran 7-footer on the floor.

* Will the defense continue to be mediocre? Last season, Denver ranked 15th in defensive rating, giving up 111.5 points per 100 possessions on the season, a mark too poor to seriously compete for a championship. Will Porter and Murray help improve on that rate? Probably not, especially not with both players coming off major injuries. Even when healthy, Porter was a bit of a turnstile and Murray only had moments of stinginess defensively. The additions of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown could help in that regard, as both guys give good effort defensively at the point of attack, an area in which Denver really needs help. If the Nuggets can sneak into the Top 10 defensively – they last ranked that highly back in 2018-19 – it would go a long way in helping their chances for a title.

Depth chart

Salaries

Prediction

1st in the Northwest Division, 4th in the Western Conference (as voted on by our HoopsHype staff)

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Story originally appeared on HoopsHype

Source: Yahoo Sports

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