1. Who is currently the best player on the Nuggets roster?
Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): The Nuggets best player is Danilo Gallinari. He's the player opposing teams view as the biggest scoring threat, he's an underrated defender, and he can play over 30 minutes a night.
Mike Olson (@visiblemike): Can’t argue much with Daniel here, Gallo is certainly the team’s best two-way threat, and is only 16 months removed from a 47-point night. Before he went down to injury last season, he was having his best year yet. My greatest hope is that this conversation is harder to call by next offseason with the giant step many of the Nuggets younger players make this year.
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): Gallo is still their best player, with Nikola Jokic having the best potential. Danilo could make the All-Star team with a performance like last year’s if Denver comes out of the gate hot (though that will be hard looking at the schedule over the first 15 or 20 games). I don’t think I can legitimately make that same All-Star berth claim for anyone else on the roster for this year.
Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): Going into the season the best player on the team is unequivocally Gallinari. I’d really like to throw out a hot take here and say by the end of the year it will be Jokic, but I think we’ll see him hit a wall given that he really hasn’t taken any time off since prior to the 2015 Summer League. Still, Gallo’s reign as the best Nugget is coming to a close very quickly, which is not a knock on him at all but I believe there is some special talent in this young core and at least one bona fide star among them,
2. Who will be the best player on the Denver Nuggets in five years?
Lewis: Emmanuel Mudiay. He has incredible physical tools, and he seems to have the mental tools to continue to improve. He can be a difference maker on defense, and his ability to score should improve over time. As he continues to refine his shooting touch from all three areas (at the rim, midrange, and 3-point) he could be a very special player. His defense gives him an edge for me over Jamal Murray and Jokic.
Olson: Jokic has the physical skills and acuity for the game to be exactly the sort of post player the game seems to be gravitating to these days. His defense will continue to grow, as he’s smart on that end of the floor, and needs growth and time to realize it. His ability to shoot from all over the floor, and distribute like a player 10 years his senior make me think he’ll be a "who would you compare him to?" type of a guy in the next five years.
Gross: I love Mudiay, but I have to go with Jokic as well. 5 years should be enough time for Mudiay to climb up to that mix of Chauncey Billups and Jason Kidd that he looks like he can be, but is that better than what Jokic can be even if Emmanuel gets there? When Kidd and Dirk were both on the Mavericks, Dirk was still the best player. The Nuggets duo might "just" top out at Mike Conley and Mark Gasol, but even if that’s the case: who takes Conley as the best player? If Mudiay is the best it’s because Jokic didn’t hit the peak he looks like he could hit. Still, I’m fine with Mudiay being a HOF talent and playing second fiddle to Jokic. Can someone make that happen, please?
Mikash: I’d normally say Jokic, but I’ll play devil’s advocate here and say Murray. I think we all saw during Summer League that Murray’s shot mechanics are exactly what we thought they were and he let them off the hook (RIP Danny Green)! However, what I was pleasantly surprised with was his aggressiveness to get to the basket and score. Despite all the talent on the team, no one outside of Murray really profiles as a dominant scorer and whether it’s fair or not, the guy who puts up the most points is most often perceived as the best player on the team.
3. Will the Nuggets have a top 20 player on their roster in five years?
Lewis: I’m a believer in Mudiay being great in five years, but if I think of a player being more of a star (like the Wade/Bosh combo) than my pick is Murray. Murray seems like more of a public person than Mudiay, and would be more comfortable being in the limelight. He has appeal as potentially one of the best Canadian players in the league. If his ability to score is as good as advertised, being able to light up the scoreboard gives him the potential to be a star player. I believe Mudiay would be the best player, but Murray would be the star player.
Olson: I’m going to step a teensy bit out on a limb here and say that though Jokic, Murray and Mudiay all have the potential, Malik Beasley has the physical tools to become a top-20 or even top-10 star in the game over the next decade. There will be some luck and an amazing amount of hard work to realize it, but if that all comes together, watch out for Beasley. This team could be terrifying in five years with some of the pieces they have.
Gross: I still view Denver as building along the Chauncey Pistons line: really good players that fit together amazingly well and make each other great. That team had a bunch of "decent" players on it… until those players started winning ECFs year after year and got a title. All of a sudden they had 3 guys getting All-Star berths. So my answer would depend on when we get serious about winning things. Victories validate players, especially outside of major media markets. Because I think Denver will be a serious contender then, I’ll vote yes. Mudiay or Jokic (or both) will splash down loud enough to be heard on the coasts.
Mikash: Yes. I can’t say whether it will be Mudiay, Jokic, Murray or even a guy like Beasley, Jusuf Nurkic or Juan Hernangomez (#JuanFuego) but I simply will play the odds here. There are far too many under 23 year olds on this team with high upside and I have far too much faith in Tim Connelly’s ability to identify talent in the draft to think that NONE of them will pan out to a top 20 player. Top five or even top ten would be a bit more risky business but top 20? Pretty safe bet that happens, or everyone from Coach Malone to Connelly will be looking for new jobs.
4. Which player do you think will be most underrated in the next five years?
Lewis: In terms of a player that won't get a lot of coverage but is vital to the team winning, I'm going with Hernangomez. My ideal projection for Juancho’s development is Shane Battier. They're similar in size and weight, and both fill the ¾ role. If Juancho can be a great defender, knock down 3-pointers from the corners, rebound and pass, that should play so well next to some of the core players the Nuggets have. That versatility can help the Nuggets play big or small, and make them so hard to score on. He wouldn't be the categorical leader in any statistic, but he'd have such a huge impact on wins it wouldn't matter.
Olson: One more slightly risky bet, but I’ll guess that the Nuggets will lean heavily on Murray’s shooting abilities early in his career arc with Denver, but that he will only truly be coming into his own in other aspects 3-5 years out. I don’t know if that will be "underrated" or not, but I could see a headline in five years that is some version of, "THIS is the guy we thought we were going to get in the 2016 draft!"
Gross: Dan keeps stealing my answers. I’ll pick Hernangomez because he will be the one doing the dirty work on the boards, scrambling for loose balls and generally hustling and pestering his way into great contributions. Some guys are glory guys, and some guys are glue guys. Hernangomez looks right now to me like a really nice glue guy who in 5 years will be able to do anything asked of him without getting all the outside praise for it.
Mikash: I’m going to throw out two names here: Nikola Radicevic and Petr Cornelie. I’m not confident that either ever makes it to the NBA but with Connelly’s track record you have to give them the benefit of the doubt. It’s also very interesting that the Nuggets made no attempt to sign a true back-up point guard in free agency this season, electing to stick with the aging and oft injured Jameer Nelson, possibly indicating they see Radicevic as his future replacement. Radicevic is coming off hip surgery but the Nuggets were very high on him and made sure to get him in the draft a la Hernangomez. His size makes him ideal to back up Mudiay and five years from now he could be an integral part of the Denver bench. Same goes for Cornelie who looked far more NBA ready than I expected during Summer League.