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Nuggets climb to 20th overall in ESPN Future Power Rankings

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The Denver Nuggets moved up four spots in the ESPN Future Power Rankings thanks to impressive play by some of their young players.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets finished in the bottom third of the league in the ESPN Future Power Rankings, compiled by Kevin Pelton and Chad Ford.

After finishing the season with three more wins than in the 2014-15 season, the Nuggets moved up four spots to claim the No. 20 rank. Here's what Chad Ford, who got the Nuggets this time around, had to say about the team as well as the categorical rankings.

Overall rank Players rank Mgmt rank Money rank Market rank Draft rank
20 20 24 21 17 3

The Nuggets moved up four spots in our rankings thanks to some of their young talent. It was rookie Nikola Jokic, not Emmanuel Mudiay, that surprisingly earned the most votes for rookie of the year for the Nuggets, finishing third in the voting. Jokic had a ridiculously good and underrated rookie season, and while Mudiay struggled, especially early -- though by the end of the season you could see his talent breaking through.

Add in the No. 7 and No. 15 picks in this year's draft and the Nuggets should have enough young talent to start making a long-term move up the standings.

The rest of the situation in Denver remains a wash, though. The Nuggets don't look like serious free agency players, their front office has been solid but not particularly innovative and the market isn't a major draw.

It's hard to see any way out of this hole for the Nuggets other than the draft. How they perform this summer should go a long way toward helping us understand their trajectory.

The ranking at No. 20 puts the Nuggets tenth in the Western Conference, ahead of the Mavericks, Lakers, Grizzlies, Suns and Kings. Denver is last in the Northwest Division, with Oklahoma City (5), Utah (7), Portland (8), and Minnesota (9) all finishing in the top 10. That's a ranking that is similar to what Stiffs writer Evan Fiala wrote about two weeks ago, which also had the Nuggets ranked fifth in the division.

The Nuggets highest mark came in the draft, and was something Chad Ford mentioned in his summary of the team. The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers ranked higher than the Nuggets in this category, with the 76ers benefitting from Sam Hinkie's hijinxs and the Celtics benefitting from the Brooklyn Nets egregiousness.

The Nuggets lowest mark came in management, where they were ranked No. 24. ESPN analysts have painted a dark picture of the Nuggets management for years, with Ford beating that drum in his summary by criticizing the front office's lack of creativity. The Nuggets finished ahead of the Kings, Suns, Knicks, Lakers, Nets, and Pelicans (from 30 up).

I personally would have ranked the Nuggets higher in this category, moving them up to No. 20. The Magic (20), Bucks (21), 76ers (22), and Wizards (23) were ranked too high in my opinion.

Orlando bungled the situation with Tobias Harris, signing him to a new contract and then trading him for Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings. They made a smart decision by hiring Frank Vogel, but he'll have to figure out what to do with the mishmash of players they have assembled over the years.

Milwaukee did make a good move for their analytics department, hiring Seth Partnow of Nylon Calculus (disclaimer: I also write for the Hardwood Paroxysm network), but signed Greg Monroe to a four-year contract only to realize months into the season that they made a mistake. They also traded for Michael Carter-Williams, who has been relegated to the bench and placed on the trade market since his acquisition last season.

Philadelphia ranked higher than the Nuggets, for reasons? Bryan Colangelo has earned Executive of the Year awards before, but is in charge of the team after being hired by his father, a move that forced out former General Manager Sam Hinkie, who resigned midseason. The 76ers have the No. 1 overall pick, but a roster with no NBA-caliber guards, one NBA-caliber wing, and have too many young big men in a league where guard play is becoming vital.

Washington also fired their head coach, Randy Wittman, and brought Scott Brooks on to develop the young talent on a team where the players in the top 10 of minutes played last season had five players above the age 29. They failed to build a team that could entertain the notion of signing Kevin Durant, and are on the verge of giving a max contract to a shooting guard that has stress fractures in his right leg that will cause him to monitor minutes the rest of his career.

Denver made great moves by signing Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler to contract extensions before the salary cap increased, and have been innovative in their ability to find European talent. Nikola Jokic finished third in Rookie of the Year voting after being a second round pick, helping validate the Nuggets investment in international scouting. The Nuggets were able to finagle two second round picks from the Thunder for Randy Foye. They waited too long to move on from Ty Lawson, but through the grace of Daryl Morey the Rockets made the postseason and Houston sent Denver their first round pick this season. Tim Connelly and friends had a rough start (Hickson, Foye, Brian Shaw) but they are definitely on an upward trajectory.

The draft is a few weeks away, followed by free agency, giving the Nuggets an opportunity to improve their team and take the next step in their development. Hopefully for Nuggets fans, things will work out for the best, so this team can get back to winning games and making the playoffs.