The opportunities for post-mortem reviews, and criticisms of the Nuggets’ performance this past season are endless. However, the bottom line is that they didn’t make the playoffs. Again. They dropped the ball at the last minute to be edged out for the 8th slot in the West, again. And, they struggled mightily with inconsistency getting Nuggets’ fans hopes up multiple times only to disappoint them, AGAIN. They don’t get a pass for missing the playoffs this year even though Paul Millsap was injured for a large part of the season. Many teams in the league have lost key players on their roster over the last few months, and managed to maintain to head into the post-season.
The outcome for the Nuggets this year, put simply, stinks. But alas, the world has not yet come to an end. There are plenty of things to look forward to next season as the Nuggets continue making their way up the rebuilding ladder.
Here are three:
The magic of the Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Nikola Jokic combo.
The phrase “Nuggets young core” has been used so many times that it’s almost become a cliche, but Murray, Harris and Jokic have grown together in a way that is truly remarkable. I was nervous to move the ball away from Jokic too much this season (and I still think his offensive facilitation is being under utilized proved by the 35 points, and only 3 assists he had in the Nuggets’ loss to Minnesota last week), but balancing some of the ball movement with Murray has allowed Jokic to be versatile and flex his scoring muscles this season.
The lineup of Murray, Harris, Wilson Chandler, Millsap and Jokic proved incredibly effective, and when Millsap was injured, Will Barton stepped up in a way that only he could do given his ability to play multiple different positions on any given day. Murray is coming off only his second year in the league, and with all three of the young core under 25 years old the Nuggets have many years to look forward to if they play their cards right.
A full season with Millsap and Jokic playing together (hopefully).
Millsap’s injury seemed devastating at the time it happened, but looking back it allowed some of the new bench players to get more minutes and cut their teeth with the team—namely Trey Lyles. I still believe Lyles earned more minutes than he got after Millsap returned, but it’s undeniable that Millsap’s presence on the court brings a marked improvement to the Nuggets defensive focus.
It took Millsap and Jokic a little while to get used to playing with one another, but in time they grew to be a very effective combo as Millsap came back from injury and worked toward full recovery. It appeared that he came back a little before he was ready, but come next season he should be at full-strength, and if Jokic commits to getting himself into the gym in the off season they will be a formidable duo to challenge some of the tougher teams in the West again next season.
A productive off season. (Please oh please!)
I realize that I’m engaging in a little bit of wishful thinking here given the Nuggets’ previous track record of “bizarre” off season decisions, but I’m going to stay positive and hope they’ve learned from their past mistakes. Devin Harris proved to be a good grab in exchange for Emmanuel Mudiay, but his time in the league is drawing to a close at 35 years of age. The Nuggets either need to look to keep him on for another year, or trade for another veteran guard who has a few years left.
Harris’ main contribution to the Nuggets this year was his ability to maintain while Murray was on the bench as opposed to Mudiay who lost all semblance of control the second his foot touched the floor. This is of course dramatic hyperbole, but wow, I couldn’t be more happy that Mudiay no longer suits up for Denver.
Denver will also need to make a move for another small forward as Chandler’s contract will come to an end after next season making him an unrestricted free agent. Barton can be an effective substitute, but his skill set is too versatile to commit him to one solid role so Denver should also look to get another SF for the bench as Juancho Hernangomez’ value is questionable. *I should note that I love Juancho. I’m just unsure of how he will pan out long term.
We don’t have to be happy that the Nuggets dropped the ball on us again this year, but they’re going to need their fans to support them and look to next year with hope. Despite the deferment of hope, the future is still very bright for this team.