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Denver Stiffs Roundtable: Rookie progression and 2016 free agency

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What is the reason for Emmanuel Mudiay's upswing lately? What is Nikola Jokic going to have to do to take another step forward? Is there a Eastern Conference power forward that could be a fit for the Nuggets next season?

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The Nuggets have less than a two percent chance at earning a postseason trip, according to 538 projections, but that doesn't mean the season is over. March and April can make a big difference for an organizations mood in the offseason, and the Nuggets should be wanting to finish strong.

A strong finish can also show free agents that the Nuggets are a team to take seriously. Denver, like nearly every team in the league, will have lots of cap space in the summer, and what to do with it is nearly as big of a question for the Nuggets as the upcoming draft. Let's roundtable!

What are your thoughts on Emmanuel Mudiay's improved play with Danilo Gallinari out of the lineup?

Jeff Morton (@jmorton78): Not sure Mudiay's improved play and Gallo's absence have much to do with each other. Mudiay seems to have improved his playing after he came back from his ankle issue as well. Having Gallo as an additional ballhandler does free up extra duties for Mudiay, so in that sense it helped.

Zach Mikash(@ZachMikash): I think it's been huge for Mudiay. As I wrote in the Knicks recap, the young Nuggets seemed to rely too heavily on Gallo on offense. There was a lot of standing and a lot of Gallo bailing them out in the final seconds of the shot clock. Without him in Mudiay (and Gary Harris and Nikola Jokic) is working harder on offense, is looking to score more and is finding open shooters who are constantly moving and cutting. This experience is big for Emmanuel especially because he's the de facto future of the franchise and that means he's got learn how to not only take on that type of pressure, but also to excel under it which is something he struggled mightily with as the season began.

Mike Olson (@visiblemike): Correlated? Maybe. Causal? Doubtful. I agree with Jeff's assertion that Mudiay was on the upswing before Gallo even went down. But does Danilo's absence place an added play/leadership burden on the rookie? Probably so. It will be interesting to see if Gallo's return has any impact on the current movement and rhythm on the court, as he and Mudiay took a fair bit of time to develop chemistry through the season.

Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): I think it has. The Nuggets offense has a different feeling about it lately. There were too many times when the young guys would panic with the shot clock in single digits, toss the ball to Gallo, and just watch. Now Mudiay gets the ball, looks for Gallo, gives out a big welp, and makes something happen. Even if it's missing a jumper, at least he's getting film of shots from different spots on the floor and at different times. I do think that he would be playing better with Gallo, but the veteran's absence has, how goes the phrase, necessity is the mother of invention.

What is the next thing that Nikola Jokic needs to add to his game to take another step forward?

Morton: He needs to stay on the court. First and foremost. Jokic has a tendency to foul and get two quick fouls. IF he stays on the court he will open up more opportunities for himself on the offensive end. I've seen him working on the "Dirk Nowitzki" one foot fadeaway. It will be interesting to see what he adds to his already impressive all-around arsenal in the offseason.

Mikash: Girth. Jokic has the skills in the post to make him a dominant offensive force but he's going to need to bulk up to be able to really maximize his ability down low. With a little more size he should be able to bully his way into the post more regularly and with his touch near the basket it'll make him virtually unstoppable. It also will help him be a much better defender. A good full summer with Steve Hess will do wonders for Big Honey.

Olson: Time. The M&M's above are both correct in needs for Jokic, and the only thing that will help him in both regards is time. His summer will be spent bulking up and strengthening (I'd hope), and Jokic's foul issues are a combination of his getting a hair faster in reaction time, and shaking the rookie credibility curve with referees. Beyond that, time will only solidify his rhythm and timing with this young team... and sadly, it's the only thing he cannot force to go any faster.

Lewis: Conditioning. This is something that Mudiay has to work on as well, but if Jokic is going to be playing 35 minutes a night for the Nuggets, he's going to need to have the strength and endurance to compete for a full game. He's a real difference maker for the Nuggets, but if he's able to improve his conditioning, he'll be able to do more on defense while also being able to stay active on offense. Setting screens, adjusting for position in the paint, that takes a lot of energy - expect to see Jokic running stairs at Red Rocks this summer.

The Nuggets will likely have between $20-25 million in cap space next season. Pau Gasol said in a recent interview that he will opt out and become a free agent. Is he someone you think the Nuggets should reach out and make an offer to?

Morton: Simply put, no. I'm not sure it would help either Gasol or the Nuggets to go down that road. It's likely that Gasol would want to gravy-train on a championship team at his age and the Nuggets need to have ample developmental time for Jokic for next season as well. No fit.

Mikash: Got to agree with Jeff here, I just don't see the fit. Even if the Nuggets were to move on from Jusuf Nurkic this offseason there's no way Jokic is going back to the bench. I doubt Gasol would be interested in signing on to come off the bench and I doubt Denver wants to pay the salary he could command for a non-starter.

Olson: Two years too late. Had Gasol been able to come in and steady the center position right before we'd brought in these great rookies to learn from him, I'd be singing a different tune... But then none of the rest would have unfolded as it did anyway. Bottom line, Gasol needs floor time we cannot afford to give with a lot of development happening under the hoop, and he's not looking to teach a bunch of youngsters, anyhow. No go.

Lewis: This was tough for me to decide on. I really like Gasol, but according to Nylon Calculus' playing time by position estimates, he's not a power forward anymore, and has played as a center all of this season. I think his passing, shooting, and veteran experience would be a positive to the Nuggets, but with his declining athleticism, his lack of rebounding, defense, and rim protection would be a negative. He'd probably be upset if Jokic started over him, and I don't know if the two of them could co-exist in the frontcourt. If he ended up signing with the Nuggets, I'd trust Malone to make the best of the situation, but I would be a little disappointed, especially if the contract was for more than two years.