Welcome to 2017 everyone!
How many people are planning to make 2017 a better year than 2016 right now? I sure am. Lots of great things happened for me this past year, but it won’t stop me from trying to make the next year even better. There are many checklist items on my list of things to accomplish, as I’m sure there are for many others.
The Denver Nuggets are no different, as there are many items which they are sure to be proud of from 2016. The emergence of Nikola Jokic, the bright future of the young players behind the steadying hand of the veterans, and a fresh start after the Brian Shaw era. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t factors left to improve, but it was certainly a great start.
In 2017, the Nuggets will have a checklist of their own, New Year’s Resolutions for the team. Here are your Denver Nuggets New Year’s Resolutions, as authored by me in reverse order:
10. Occasional sightings of Juancho Hernangomez and Malik Beasley
It was never believed that Hernangomez and Beasley would be a part of the game-to-game proceedings during this Nuggets season, but when they have stepped on the court, the flashes for each player have been exciting. In a limited capacity, both players could be useful to the team, especially in the event of an injury to players at their respective positions. Juancho in particular is the ideal replacement in the starting lineup if either of Danilo Gallinari or Wilson Chandler were to go down, since Juancho has the size, agility, and shooting to replace either guy. Having both players play occasional minutes would keep them fresh and ready in case the need were to arise for either player.
9. Appreciate the veteran contributions
Gallinari, Chandler, Kenneth Faried, Jameer Nelson, Darrell Arthur, and Will Barton have been integral to the success of this Nuggets team at different points of the season. Gallo and Chandler have provided the heaviest minutes, while Nelson and Faried have been the steadying forces when things go wrong. Barton is still the ideal sixth man, and Darth has single handedly kept the Nuggets in games at times. Appreciate these players while they are here.
8. Make a trade
As I say that, the Nuggets organization has the obligation to put itself in the best position to win from now on, meaning that decisions are not just made for this year, but for the next five years. With as many young players as the Nuggets have, it’s reasonable to assume that the team will be in a better position to win in the future rather than the present. Because of that, certain players that don’t fit into the future timeline may be moved to put the team in a better position down the line.
7. Find consistent minutes for Jamal Murray
One of the reasons to make a trade is to allow one of the highest ceiling players on the Nuggets develop his game. Murray is an integral piece, as the only other players to win Rookie of the Month in Denver Nuggets franchise history are Faried, Carmelo Anthony, and Dikembe Mutumbo. Each of those players have game-changing abilities to varying degrees, and so does Murray. The Nuggets MUST find a way to put Murray in the best possible situation. If they do, he will reward their faith for years to come.
6. Figure out the front court rotation and stop tinkering
There have been too many rotation changes to count for this Nuggets team, and it seems like they are settling into a rotation that works. That could change at any moment though, and if it does, it’s in the best interest of the team going forward to find a more permanent solution the next time around. With multiple players struggling to see consistent minutes in Faried, Arthur, Hernangomez, and Jusuf Nurkic, a trade is certainly a likely option. Once they make the final change (if that ever happens), stop tinkering with the lineup for 20-30 games and see what happens.
5. Make the playoffs in the 2016-17 season
I struggled to put this one so low, as it would make everything so much easier. That being said, making the playoffs this season has never been the be-all end-all for this team. It would be nice to see the fanfare and the excitement of a low seed, but it’s very shortsighted with little to no chance of advancing past the first round. The goal should always be to win in the NBA, but there are other ways to win than just the final score. Sometimes, it takes one less step in the present to vault three steps farther in the future.
4. Identify and acquire a long, athletic power forward to pair with Nikola Jokic
Chandler has done an admirable job this year of becoming the starting power forward. He’s averaging the third most rebounds on the team at 7.1 boards per game, but he’s blocked just five shots total while spending the majority of his minutes at power forward. He does little to alter shots in the paint, something that Jokic desperately needs his front court mate to do. It’s unlikely that Faried is the answer either, as he struggles to provide space from the perimeter offensively. It could end up being Hernangomez, but he struggles rebounding greatly and has blocked just six shots in 246 minutes himself. The Nuggets could look elsewhere to find this ideal player, and in my opinion, it would greatly improve their winning prospects if they do.
3. Allow Emmanuel Mudiay more opportunity to grow
Here’s a look at Mudiay’s shot chart since the starting lineup change:
Emmanuel Mudiay’s shot chart since the Nuggets made the lineup switch. Gotta like that distribution. 61.5 TS%!! pic.twitter.com/6YCOZoUKJT— Michael Gallagher (@MikeSGallagher) December 31, 2016
Obviously, the shots at the rim are still concerning, and the sample size is small, but that’s a whole lot of green or at least average for the rest of the floor. Also, according to Basketball Reference, Mudiay actually shoots 46.6% from 0-3 feet, so 50% is an improvement. Hopefully it continues to rise as Mudiay feels more comfortable with the new spacing of the offense.
2. Address Nikola Jokic’s fouling problem
The elephant in the room is how great Jokic is but how difficult it is for him to stay on the floor. In games when Jokic is on the floor for 30 minutes or more, the Nuggets are 4-1. The one loss came in the home opener against the Portland Trail Blazers when Jokic posted 23 points and 17 rebounds. When Jokic has five assists or more, the Nuggets are 6-3. It’s clear that Jokic needs to be on the floor, and that’s been beaten to death, but until he cuts out the fouls, the Nuggets won’t succeed.
1. Forge an identity and direction this season
The Nuggets have slowly forged an identity this season around Jokic as the point-center, and in my opinion, it’s a pretty good one. There are many advantages to this path as it enhances Jokic’s impact as a playmaker, but it also has ramifications for the rest of the roster. A completely new identity from the identity at the start of the season, the personnel doesn’t necessarily fit like a glove, and the defensive principles clearly need to be reconfigured. If the goal is to play Jokic 30+ minutes per game, then the pieces around him must fit together, and the other 18 minutes cannot be a complete disaster, as they recently have been. When Jokic has been on the floor the last eight games, the team has a Net Rating of +9.2. When he’s been off the floor, it drops to -7.5, which is a full 16.7 points per 100 possessions of difference.
The next step is to figure out the direction this team wants to go. If making the playoffs is the end goal, then the Nuggets will find a way to shore up the defense and the bench play. If the end goal is to continue to develop the young talent, then the Nuggets will find a way to play the younger players in the best possible way. Time will tell which direction the Nuggets choose.
What say you, Nuggets Nation? What are your 2017 Resolutions for the Nuggets team and organization as a whole?