Yesterday some of the great writers over at ESPN.com shared their thoughts on the Denver Nuggets. There is some really great commentary in there so check it out. You've got to be an ESPN insider to see the round table but I figured I'd share a few thoughts about the my overall takeaway since this article is a window into how the Nuggets team is viewed by the national media.
Before I do that, make sure to follow each of the experts and thank them for taking the time to write about the Denver Nuggets. Kevin Arnovitz, Jeremias Engelmann, Steve Ilardi, Bradford Doolittle, and Kevin Pelton were the brain trust for the piece. It's great to see Nuggets coverage on a national stage and hopefully the Nuggets continue to pop up on the national radar in the future as success arrives faster and faster.
Now, onto my top five takeaways on how the national media views various aspects of the Denver Nuggets.
Takeaway #1: Some like the current roster and some do not.
There are some interesting issues with the roster as it currently stands. There are no guaranteed young stars, the veterans aren't good enough to lead the team to the playoffs, and the rest of the pieces seem like a collection of best player available draft picks.
Jeremias Engelmann provides his take here on a free agent we should pursue:
They should throw a max offer at Mike Conley, who is unlikely to sign but would be a great addition with Emmanuel Mudiay still developing (at best). Otherwise, the Nuggets are in a tough spot -- their growing stock of good but not great players will just move them close to 41 wins (no man's land) but probably not far beyond. So they'll probably have to swing for home runs, at least for now.
There are certainly counterarguments to Engelmann's point, but it is worth noting that the biggest hole in the lineup was at point guard last season. The team fielded Mudiay, Jameer Nelson, and Randy Foye for the majority of the year, and they were undoubtedly awful during that stretch.
Consider that Mudiay made major strides during the second half of the season, but he still made just 39.3 percent of his field goal attempts, a terrible percentage. Having doubts that Mudiay will continue to make major strides makes perfect sense. Many fans consider him to be in the "nowhere to go but up" category, but that's just not true. If he stagnates that's really, really bad for Denver, even if Jamal Murray pans out as a point guard (which is no guarantee either).
I find it hard to believe that Mike Conley would sign a contract in Denver, and I would be opposed to offering him a max deal. As one of the steadiest veterans in the NBA, he would speed up the timeline very quickly and provide positive play from the point guard position. That being said, trusting the process and developing the young players more slowly is my preferred course of action.
Takeaway #2: There are lots of soft compliments, but nothing concrete.
Consider the following words in the English language and their connotation: growing, quality, nice, impressive, promising, solid, potential, development, etc.
Those words were found in various places in the article, usually followed by the treasure trove of assets the Nuggets have collected over the past couple of years. Tim Connelly has done a great job of adding these players though the draft and trades, and it looks like people are finally starting to notice.
Unfortunately, Tim Connelly himself wasn't mentioned once in the entire piece. I was pretty surprised by this, seeing as there is one individual who can take credit for all of these moves: Connelly. He was recently extended by the organization before his contract ran out, the first GM during the Kroneke ownership in that regard if I remember correctly.
When the core of the Denver Nuggets starts to win more games, I believe Connelly, Michael Malone, Josh Kroneke, and other members of the organization will receive their due credit for the smoothness of this rebuild so far.
Takeaway #3: An additional scorer to Danilo Gallinari must emerge.
Here is a tidbit from Bradford Doolittle giving the Nuggets advice for the offseason:
The Nuggets are enigmatic in that they've built a roster full of raw talent, with the kind of good depth and athleticism that should play to the strengths of their high-altitude home-court advantage. But they were terrible on defense last season and lacked consistent scorer pretty much across the board.
Some of this could be fixed with better health, but as coach Mike Malone builds the defensive profile, I'd like to see them add a bedrock scorer to pair with Gallinari and take some of the heat off of the young guys.
This take is very reasonable. Will Barton was the second leading scorer on the team at 14.4 points per game behind Danilo Gallinari's 19.5. In looking at the four teams in the conference final games this past year, there were at least two main scorers on each team. Golden State had Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Cleveland had LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, Oklahoma City had Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, and Toronto had Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
Gallinari is a passable scoring option, but given his inefficiency from the field and bill of health he may not even count as an alpha scorer. It's possible the Nuggets need one, maybe two guys to step up as elite scorers if they want to build a cohesive unit next season.
Doolittle believes that Denver should add a scorer in addition to the young players, while many Denver fans want to see if a consistent option can emerge from among the youth. Is there a right answer? To me, adding the caliber of scorer that Doolittle thinks should be added is a big gamble.
If this player can be acquired without sacrificing what I would consider the young core: Mudiay, Murray, Harris, Jokic, and Nurkic, then a deal should be explored. I didn't include pieces like Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez because they can sway a deal with the right team.
A team like the Los Angeles Clippers might accept a package featuring Kenneth Faried, Will Barton, Juancho Hernangomez, and a first round pick for Blake Griffin to add more depth to their team. The Nuggets get a scoring forward to help accelerate the development of the core and make some noise in the playoffs sooner rather than later.
Do I think this is the right deal? No, and I'm not sure if the right deal exists. That being said, it has to be considered by Tim Connelly if he's serious about making a playoff run.
Takeaway #4: Each of the veteran forwards could be traded soon.
Here's Kevin Pelton to explain whether any of the three forwards should be traded before the trade deadline:
As I said earlier, I like the idea of considering deals for Chandler and Gallinari closer to the trade deadline. In Faried's case, I'd take good value whenever it came along since I don't think he'll be considered the missing pieces for a contender the same way Chandler and Gallinari might. A move right now on Nurkic feels like selling low (coming off last summer's patella surgery), and I'd like to see if he and Jokic can play together against select matchups before seriously considering a trade.
This is more in line with how most Nuggets fans perceive the trade value of their forwards. Chandler and Gallinari represent veteran forwards with incredibly spotty injury history, but when healthy, both are solid pieces to a championship puzzle. Chandler being a versatile forward off the bench is alluring to many teams, while Gallinari adding more scoring punch in the starting lineup is a value commodity as well.
Faried has given given a fair share of flack for plateauing in his development offensively and defensively. That being said, of what he can do, he does very well. His skill set is not as alluring to every team, but to the right organization, he could find a fit.
The main reason I believe Chandler is the most likely to stay is the profile that these analysts have for the ideal forwards in Denver moving forward. Spread the floor offensively and play solid defense to complement some of the limitations current players have. Names like Kent Bazemore, Luol Deng, and Boston's collection of defensive oriented wings were all mentioned.
If the young core players become more prevalent going forward, players like Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic will be playing major minutes, and neither is projected to be anything more than passable defensively. Because of that, players who can shoot and play quality defense at small forward and power forward are the best possible fits long term.
Chandler does both adequately. Gallinari can shoot, but he hasn't been effective defensively. Frankly, Faried does neither particularly well, though he possesses other necessary skills. A trade doesn't make sense at the present time for Faried, Gallinari, or both, but if it makes sense in the future, I would expect Tim Connelly to pull the trigger.
Takeaway #5: The future is bright, and maybe sooner than we thought.
The last question of the 5-on-5 was the most intriguing to me because it forced the group to give a really straight answer. The question was "How many times will the Nuggets make the playoffs in the next five seasons?"
Here are the answers: two, two, two and a half, four, and three times. The mean of those answers is 2.7 times, meaning the national analysts expect the Nuggets to go to the playoffs in between two and three times.
This had me pretty excited because they are confident in the young core developing into a playoff caliber team. Here's Doolittle's blurb, as he was the most excited for the group.
Four. I think next year will be another year of consolidation and development but this is an organization that appears to be getting it together. Give them another year, then the Nuggets become a playoff fixture. I just hope they play fast, because that's what teams have to do to fully take advantage of playing in the mountains.
Wow. That's a pretty glowing report, and it's also exactly how I feel. This is how the analysts feel based on how they assume Tim Connelly and company will operate the next couple of years. Pretty exciting stuff.
Do the Nuggets have too many guards? Probably. Are there enough players who can play defense? Probably not. Should the Nuggets make quick adjustments this offseason in order to fix that? Possibly. Different analysts have different opinions.
We have to remember as a fan base that these guys want something to talk about. They want to see big moves, wholesale changes, and a clear upward trajectory featuring big name players. There is certainly an argument for that. We need a star to lead the team, that much is certain. Take this list into account though:
LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and DeMar DeRozan were all drafted by the teams they represented in the Eastern and Western Conference Finals. The only truly high profile players on each of the teams that were traded for were Kevin Love and Kyle Lowry. Everyone else was homegrown.
Trading for a superstar is just not going to happen. It's worked in the past for teams but very infrequently, and for a team like the Denver Nuggets that currently struggles to recruit big name free agents, emptying the cupboard of assets in a trade is a terrible idea if they can't add anybody else.
We simply have to trust in the young talent and hope Connelly continues to add to it. That is a tried and true method, but one that can't be rushed. In the words of the great Sam Hinkie, trust the process. The Denver Nuggets will be coming soon to playoff television. Mark my words.
For now, enjoy more of Nikola Jokic. He was pretty fun.