Over the next 15 days, the Denver Stiffs staff will be previewing the 2016-17 Denver Nuggets. The team enters Michael Malone’s second season with the Nuggets with a mix of new and familiar faces. With a roster mixed with young talent like Jamal Murray and more experienced veterans like Wilson Chandler, the Nuggets are looking to improve on their 33-49 record from last season.
We begin with a group of players where none of them are guaranteed to be on the opening day roster - Axel Toupane, JaKarr Sampson, Nate Wolters and Jarnell Stokes. DJ Kennedy and Robbie Hummel also have non-guaranteed contracts, but I’m not going to preview them. Sorry!
Toupane: The 24-year-old swingman from France spent time with the Nuggets last season, appearing in 20 games and averaging 3.8 points and 1.5 rebounds in 15.0 minutes per game. He was named the Most Improved Player of the Year in the D-League for the 2015-16 season, and showed during Summer League that he hasn’t reached his full potential yet.
When the Nuggets are at full health, Toupane’s role is as one of the “break glass in case of emergency” players. He plays on the wing, and is likely behind Gary Harris, Will Barton, Jamal Murray, Danilo Gallinari, and Wilson Chandler on the depth chart. If Coach Malone is playing him, it’s either due to injury or a blowout win.
Sampson: Sampson is a great teammate - beloved by his teammates in Philadelphia, a trade gone wrong resulted in Sampson leaving the 76ers and signing with the Nuggets last season. Sampson started 22 of 26 games for the Nuggets, giving Coach Malone some much needed support at the small forward position after Danilo Gallinari went down with an ankle injury.
When Sampson is on the court, he’s out there to be an energy guy for his teammates. Other teams don’t have to guard him on offense, and occasionally he’ll make them pay by cutting to the rim. He didn’t have a training camp to learn the offense however, and coming from the 76ers, he wasn’t used to playing with actual NBA-caliber guards. Difficult to project his future due to such a turbulent history. He’s about to begin his third NBA season, and he’s not yet 24 years old.
Wolters: The Nuggets drafted Jamal Murray to be a points guard (you can ask me on Twitter about that term) but may not be comfortable with Murray being 3rd on the depth chart at point guard after Summer League. Wolters is a backup NBA guard through and through - he’ll give 100 percent on defense, he doesn’t space the floor well, his offensive repertoire is midrange and in, and he doesn’t turn the ball over much.
With Jameer Nelson getting older every day (time can suck it) the Nuggets may be interested in having extra guard depth to insure themselves against an injury. With Wolters, that’d be his role - insurance guard. I can imagine the coaching staff enjoying having him on the bench as well - point guards see the game differently than other players.
Stokes: Full disclosure - I think Stokes is the most likely player to make the team. The Nuggets “big men” are Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic, Kenneth Faried, and Darrell Arthur. That’s it. Gallinari, Chandler, and Hernangomez can play at the 4, but aren’t traditional post players. Stokes, who measures in at 6-foot-8-inches and 250 pounds, is a post player, and a good one at that.
Stokes won the Most Valuable Player award in the D-League for the 2015-16 season, averaging 20.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. With the Nuggets, he’d be their fifth big, an end of the rotation guy that could be in line for more minutes in the case of an injury. With Arthur, Faried, and Nurkic missing time last season due to injuries, there’s a fairly good chance the Nuggets could call Stokes’ number more than most teams.
Toupane: Long and lean, Toupane is a defensive wing that has demonstrated some playmaking ability at times. He uses his wingspan to create steals and deflections, while using his quickness to mark opponents on the perimeter. Is efficient from the perimeter in certain spots, and doesn’t turn the ball over.
Sampson: Sampson is the most athletic of all the non-guaranteed players. That athleticism is on display when Sampson gets out in transition or is defending forwards on the other end of the court. With his size, quickness, and motor, he gives great effort in carrying out his defensive responsibilities.
Wolters: Playmaking and size. At 6-foot-4-inches, Wolters isn’t a mouse in the house when he’s on the court. Defenders judge him before they get to know him, and sometimes, things are more than they appear. He’s quick, and he knows the game well. Has a floater that, no lie, he’ll pull the trigger on from the elbows. He once stripped LeBron in the post. The Minnesota Matthew Dellavedova, there is a 100 percent chance I would buy his shirsey if he makes the roster.
Also: ability to get down and funk.
Stokes: He is so crafty in the paint, and that’s where he manufactures buckets. He won’t rise up and dunk on fools, like Nurkic, but he’ll use his balance and footwork to create an advantage. He’s improved his midrange jumper, which should help him become more of a threat from 15-feet and open up more of his post game. Has great size and can rebound on both ends of the court.
Toupane: He’s lean but lacks the strength to work around screens consistently on defense. Not a great rebounder. Wasn’t asked to do much other than defend and take 3-pointers when wide open last season, so it’s difficult to determine what he can do on offense. Showed more playmaking skills in Summer League, but hasn’t demonstrated those skills at the highest level.
Sampson: He can’t shoot, dribble, rebound or pass. He played power forward in college at St. Johns, and then went to the Hinkie 76ers where at times he was asked to play point guard. He is not a point guard. Doesn’t offer many tools outside of energy and hustle to a Nuggets team that already has Kenneth Faried.
Wolters: Shot creation, perimeter shooting. He’s not much of a threat off the dribble, and the defense counts it as a win if he pulls up for a mid-range jumper. He can make 3-pointers, but in 79 career games he’s made a total of 18 3-pointers. Ty Lawson once made 10 3-pointers in a row for Denver - those were the good days, let me tell you.
Stokes: Doesn’t vertically or horizontally stretch the floor. He’s not going to be able to mark stretch-fours on the perimeter, and bigger centers will be able to just be taller than him in the post. Will need to learn how to use his body to punish his opponent. You know who could teach him how to do that? New Nuggets assistant coach Chuck Hayes, the Chuckwagon, who made a name in the league for being stout on defense in the post despite measuring in at 6-foot-6-inches and 240 pounds.
Projected 2016-17 Season Stats
None of these players are guaranteed to be on the roster in November - no projections are available.