ESPN has its NBA Future Power Rankings out, and as has been the case for the last few years, the Denver Nuggets are not highly regarded. The Nuggets are ranked 24th in the rolling three-year prediction of our future success which is based on five categories: current roster, front office reputation, salary cap flexibility, their market, and their future draft picks/draft reputation.
It's hard to get these prognostications right. Prior to the 2012 season, ESPN ranked these 5 squads to be set up best over the next three years (which includes this coming season): Heat, Thunder, Lakers, Jazz and Pacers. Golden State was 19th so Nuggets fans should take the ranking with a grain of salt. The prognosticators involved (Chad Ford and Kevin Pelton) have put a lot of time into this, but it's just flat-out difficult to predict what someone will do with their roster across multiple seasons, or which teams will blow their draft picks, or what coaching changes or health can do to an organization.
S what does the Worldwide Leader in Sports think of our current reality?
Several things jump out immediately:
1) They love our draft positioning. For an entity that was questioning Tim Connelly's basic competence in the beginning of last season, it's nice to know people are coming around on just how well he seems to play the draft. Hopefully we can use our future picks to keep up the good fortune we've had recently. Yes we traded out of the spot that Rudy Gobert was drafted in, but in the same draft we locked down Joffrey Lauvergne who looks like he'll be a nice piece. The next draft brought us Jusuf Nurkic, Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris. We could have drafted Harris in our original spot and suffered just a couple of mutters from the peanut gallery but instead we added him essentially for free, alongside what appears to be two frontcourt mainstays for our future. Nurkic especially looks like a great get. Lastly, this year we stuck to our guns and stole Emmanuel Mudiay for a song, and added Nikola Radicevic as a stash prospect overseas and possible future bench PG. That ain't bad work, especially when you consider we have extra picks and swaps coming to us in future years.
2) They don't like our current collection of talent (ranked 20th around the league).
The loss of Lawson seems to impact us here as we drop a little from last year's perceived talent, and the Brian Shaw hangover is probably still affecting our outlook. When everybody looked as bad as they did last year (sans maybe Will Barton and the last couple dozen games from Danilo Gallinari) it's hard to give them any extra credit. Mutinies do that to your respect level. Mudiay is also a huge unknown, and with Gallo's status as the glass man I'm sure it's tough to predict good things for him 2 or 3 years from now. Still, when people like Zach Lowe are conceding that both Mudiay and Nurkic may prove this year that they should have been top-5 picks, it's odd to me to be ranked this low. It's on our players to disprove it, I suppose.
3) Weirdly, they love our drafting and positioning and hate our front office. We're ranked 25th here. Apparently there is a Connelly / Josh Kroenke hangover to go with the Shaw one. Chad Ford says this:
"The Nuggets are baffling -- not competitive, but not rebuilding either. They have some talent, but their inexperienced management team doesn't seem to know how to move forward. And new coach Michael Malone, while capable, seems like an odd fit for a team that wants and needs to play an up-tempo style in the mountain air."
He then goes on to praise our future ability to add talent around Mudiay in the draft but criticize us for losing flexibility with free agents... who won't come here til we're winners again anyway. I'm not sure how that's the product of an "inexperienced" management team, especially since we're not locked into our signings for very long and the cap is rising considerably. The new NBA needs to balance flexibility and stability with contract lengths coming down and money going up. I find it odd to think that the stability of our few veterans is somehow working against all the kids we've added. Some people like going full Sam Hinkie more than others.
4) Money and draft seem about right. We're placed 21st in money and 16th in market. I'm curious how much market size is going to matter in the future, though. We're never going to be the most desired market for free agents, but as I see players turn down the Lakers for the ability to go to a smaller market with stability and a winning tradition, I start to wonder if maybe the NBA will go away from the coastal model that turned them into a juggernaut and transform more into an NFL structure where the Indianapolis Colts can draw huge ratings.
The NBA has always been a star league, and focuses it's marketing on individuals. LeBron vs. Tim Duncan is the motif rather than Cavaliers vs. Spurs. But the fact that Cleveland (the 19th biggest media market) against San Antonio (the 33rd biggest) can now draw big ratings is a shifting dynamic in the sport. We're the 17th-largest market in the NBA, but all that means is that you have to win to get people to come here. And you have to be able to provide a spotlight that outshines your market. ESPN has already published articles about whether Mudiay will be able to draw free agents to Denver. Players are their own brands now. Nobody cares that Durant is in Oklahoma City as long as he has national advertising deals. If it's me, I worry less about these two factors than I have in the past.
If you can, check out the entire article. They lay out the rankings for all 30 teams in every category, and even the parts I disagree with are interesting simply for the conversational value. Overall, I can't really argue with our positioning as far as this year is concerned. I don't think we'll make the playoffs, so by default we shouldn't be in the top 16. But it's a 3-year future assessment, so how do you decide on our talent level when fully half our players (Mudiay, Nurkic, Harris, Jokic, Lauvergne, Erick Green and possibly even Kostas Papanikolaou) are NBA freshmen or sophomores?
If there was a volatility ranking for how much this assessment could change by next year we'd have to be top-5, and that's what I'm hanging my hat on. Your 2015-18 Nuggets: unpredictable. That's probably a good thing. How do you feel about the ranking, Nuggets fans? A ranking of 24th for expected results over the next three years would indicate we're destined to keep missing the playoffs in the harsh Western Conference landscape until Gallo is a free agent again.
I'm not buying it, but mileage does vary.