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NBA Season Preview 2016: Denver Nuggets begin a new era

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Denver Stiffs previews the 2016 season for the Denver Nuggets as part of SB Nation's NBA Preview.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Team Name: Denver Nuggets
Last Year's Record: 30-52
Key Losses: Ty Lawson, Brian Shaw/Melvin Hunt
Key Additions:
Emmanuel Mudiay, Michael Malone, Nikola Jokic, Nick Johnson

What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?

It's weird how the Nuggets can lose just one player and it feels like they made a major overhaul.  The team traded Ty Lawson to the Houston Rockets for a late first round draft pick, three players that have already been waived, and a fourth player, Nick Johnson, that is fighting for the last spot on the roster.  

Most of the team's rebuilding process started during the season last year.  First, the team sent Timofey Mozgov, one of the most productive players on the team, to Cleveland for a pair of draft picks. The move was the first sign that the team was abandoning their current course and charting a new one that would aim for a fairly distant future, rather than a feeble attempt to stay in the middle-of-the-pack.

The team went on to trade Nate Robinson for Jameer Nelson (who has since re-signed with the team), Arron Afflalo for Will Barton (who has since re-signed with the team), brought over 2013 2nd round draft pick, Joffrey Lauvergne, drafted Emmanuel Mudiay, extended both Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari, and brought over 2014 2nd round draft pick Nikola Jokic.

The roster coming into training camp is built entirely around well-respected veterans, an over-abundance of promising young talent, and a new, young coach in Michael Malone who has an entirely new vision for the team.  While most of the players on the team are on fairly moveable contracts, the plan for this season and possibly even into next season appears to be to allow the young prospects to develop under the influence of a loyal and dedicated core of veterans who are good enough to keep the Nuggets relatively competitive.

2. What are the team's biggest strengths?

Since the team was abysmal last season and has a completely new coach and style of play it's impossible to say what, if any, strengths this current team has.  There is a lot of youth on the roster and a fair amount of depth so the obvious answer would be that the team should be able to play fast and wear teams out.  However, Malone is a defensive minded coach and the best bet is that the team will be more focused on the defensive end of the court than anything else.

3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?


Shooting, especially in the back court.  Gary Harris, Will Barton, and Emmanuel Mudiay will all share a lot of court time together and none of those guys can spread the court at all.  Pairing two of them together along with Kenneth Faried and/or JJ Hickson will create some serious spacing issues.  The team's half-court offense will probably get pretty ugly at times, especially early in the season.

4. What are the goals for this team?

There really aren't any tangible goals for the team this season.  The playoffs are probably out of the question and even winding up in the bottom of the Western conference wouldn't be the worst outcome for a team building toward the future.  So the goal of this season is just to show signs of improvement, both as a team and from an individual player development standpoint.  

5. Which of the young prospects is most likely to have a breakout season?

Emmanuel Mudiay will get the spotlight this season and Jusuf Nurkic will be a huge presence on the defensive end when he returns from injury later this year.  However, the Nuggets roster has no shortage of young guys with upside.  Joffrey Lauvergne has been the team's highest scorer through three preseason games and Nikola Jokic has been impressive throughout both summer league and preseason, earning a lot of praise from head coach Michael Malone.  Will Barton and Gary Harris have been much more up and down throughout their young careers but both should get plenty of opportunities to play extended minutes this season and could be primed to make a jump.

5. What is the vibe around the team?

The vibe is more positive than it has been in years.  Last season the team had a complete mutiny against Brian Shaw and players like JaVale McGee, Ty Lawson, and Nate Robinson poisoned what was otherwise a fairly solid locker room.  Malone, who was able to establish a great relationship with DeMarcus Cousins and every other member of the Kings roster when he was in Sacramento, should be able to hold on to the locker room better than his predecessor.  

Most important of all, Danilo Gallinari is healthy for the first time since April, 2013. He's also in excellent shape coming off of Eurobasket and appears to be featured in the offense in a way that he has never been featured before. Through two preseason games, Gallo has played large stretches as a sort of point-forward, a role that he has excelled at in the past.  If he can stay healthy, he has a chance to perform like one of the most dynamic and versatile players in the league.