Happy Fourth of July everyone! Free Agency is in full swing, and the Denver Nuggets have made three extremely important moves so far. They handed Nikola Jokic a five-year max contract, they re-signed Will Barton to a starting level salary and plan to follow through on that, and the player he’s replacing, Wilson Chandler, has been moved to an Eastern Conference contender in the Philadelphia 76ers.
There’s a lot to talk about this week, and I plan on discussing as much as I can. If you want to be a part of the conversation, make sure to either ask me on Twitter (@NBABlackburn) or email me your questions (email@example.com). I love interacting with Nuggets fans. It’s extremely important to have a pulse on the franchise throughout each season, and at this point, it sounds like the Nuggets are doing reasonably well by fan standards.
Now, onto the questions.
At this current moment, the Nuggets have two point guards, two shooting guards, and an additional shooting guard they will primarily play at small forward. Neither Monte Morris nor Malik Beasley, the projected backups at each position, inspire a lot of confidence in case one of Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, or Will Barton are injured.
It’s my feeling that the Nuggets still have a plan of action for the backup positions. One of the players rumored was Tony Parker. He would make sense as a veteran option with experience handling the ball in important situations. Hypothetically, the Nuggets could play two point guards off the bench with Parker and Morris, add more spacing and defense with Parker and Beasley, or go young in less pressure situations with Morris and Beasley.
Another point guard option is Marcus Smart, who’s a more expensive option but fits a backup role in Denver extremely well due to his defensive versatility. The Nuggets could bring back Devin Harris or Jameer Nelson if they are confident in Monte Morris stepping up. They could bring back Ty Lawson if that bridge hasn’t been burned. They could go young with Shabazz Napier, Tyler Ennis, or Tyler Ulis.
There are a ton of point guard options out there right now, all for varying prices and roles in a rotation. My guess? Denver holds off until Morris and Beasley play Summer League before they make a final decision.
As the roster currently stands, I would expect Beasley to play more, but there’s an argument for either player.
On one hand, Barton starting at small forward eliminates a backup guard option for head coach Michael Malone to utilize from night to night. He will likely be forced to play Beasley simply due to a dearth of playable talent in the backcourt right now.
On the other hand, I expect Denver to add an additional option in the backcourt, most likely a veteran option for Malone to utilize. I expect Denver to also retain Torrey Craig at a cheap price, most likely a two-year, $8 million contract or something similar. Those two potential bodies, along with Morris, could eliminate Beasley from any backcourt rotation. Hernangomez, on the other hand, is valuable due to his size, shooting ability, and overall smarts on the offensive end. Denver will be starting a small forward that weighs under 200 pounds in Barton. If Michael Porter Jr. isn’t healthy, I expect Hernangomez to claim the first opportunity at backup small forward, regardless of who’s on the roster.
So, to answer the question...I expect the Nuggets to sign another player in the backcourt, but depending on who it is, it may or may not affect Juancho or Beasley at all. If it’s Tony Parker, both will still have an opportunity to earn time. If it’s a wing like Wayne Ellington, that’s a bit more dicey.
Here’s the thing about the Nuggets: they are always high on themselves, as any team should be.
Last year, the Nuggets played just 868 minutes with Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap on the floor together. During those minutes, they outscored teams by 188 points. Jokic and Murray played 1,911 minutes together, the most of any duo, and outscored opponents by 292 points. The Nuggets coaching staff and management believe that had Millsap been healthy for the majority of the year, the Nuggets would not only be in the playoffs, but also potentially have home court advantage.
And it’s not crazy talk either. If Millsap’s healthy for three of Denver’s losses and helps turn those into wins, Denver would’ve been the third seed in the playoffs this past year.
The Nuggets, as they should, see themselves as an up-and-coming team that got unlucky from an injury perspective. It’s clear that Barton was a top five player for Denver last year, and by retaining each of their top players and hopefully experiencing internal development, it’s likely that Denver sees themselves as a 50+ win team. If everything goes right, Denver could win as many as 55 games this year, which would likely be good enough for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
At this point, they simply need to wait on development.
I answered some roster questions above, so I will skip that one. I believe the Portland Trail Blazers, Minnesota Timberwolves, an San Antonio Spurs all have a massive chance of dropping out of the playoffs.
The Blazers didn’t experience any major injuries last year, benefitted from other team’s injuries, and only made the playoffs by three games. They just lost Shabazz Napier and Ed Davis, two key members of their bench unit, and it remains to be seen if their replacements will be as good.
The T’Wolves are in disarray, as your third question suggests. They are likely to play Derrick Rose as their backup point guard over Tyus Jones, a younger and better player. Andrew Wiggins has regressed, not improved, as his career has gone on. Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler are pissed at each other. It feels like a ticking time bomb to be honest.
The Spurs will trade Kawhi Leonard. Don’t let differing reports fool you. Right now, they are in the process of adding youth while their veterans age out of the rotation. I would guess that Dejounte Murray, Danny Green, Rudy Gay, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Pau Gasol start, but as each of those veterans get older, I expect the offense to massively decline. Whoever they get back from a Kawhi trade will help, but the Spurs are built on continuity, and I expect this trade to provide some disruption and finally put them out of the playoffs altogether.
Last year, it took 47 wins to make the Western Conference playoffs, and I expect that number to go up. I expect the Lakers to achieve 50 wins or more given LeBron’s arrival, and I expect the Nuggets to crack 50 wins as well. Eyeballing the Western Conference right now, I expect it to be something like:
- Golden State Warriors - 62-20
- Houston Rockets - 60-22
- Utah Jazz - 54-28
- Oklahoma City Thunder - 53-29
- Denver Nuggets - 52-30
- New Orleans Pelicans - 50-32
- Minnesota Timberwolves - 50-32
- Los Angeles Lakers - 50-32
- Portland Trail Blazers - 48-34
- San Antonio Spurs - 46-36
Now, if Kawhi Leonard is traded to the Lakers, that number probably goes up by five or six wins. Still, while the Nuggets are steadily building, teams around them like the Blazers, the Pelicans, and the Spurs are all experiencing major rotation changes. Continuity is extremely important, and the Nuggets are in a situation where, given health, they should make another solid jump into the playoff picture.
So, to answer the question, I think 50 wins gets a team into the playoffs guaranteed. There have been years where that’s not always the case, but injuries always happen, and they will affect what many perceive the win totals to be for a number of teams.
I have always thought this. It doesn’t make sense to penalize Western Conference teams for consistently being better than their Eastern Conference counterparts. While the Western Conference will once again be a bloodbath, the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, and Philadelphia 76ers will once again waltz into the Eastern Conference semifinals, regardless of who they play.
Mixing the conferences would not only have helped the Nuggets make the playoffs last year, they would’ve been the 14th seed out of 16 playoff teams, comfortably in the picture with two or three games to go. Throughout the Carmelo Anthony era, the Nuggets were penalized for the same thing. In the 2007-08 season, the Nuggets won 50 games and were an 8 seed. They would’ve been the 4th best team in the East and most certainly wouldn’t have faced the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs (again) had the conferences been mixed.
That scenario will happen once again this season, whether it be the Nuggets or another West team. Somebody will have to face the Warriors in the playoffs after winning 50+ games in all likelihood, when they would’ve faced the Indiana Pacers had they simply been shifted 1,000 miles east geographically. What a shame.
Thanks for all of the wonderful questions this week! If I didn’t get to your question, don’t worry. I have a few in mind for next week as well. Happy Fourth of July everyone. Stay safe, enjoy the off day if you have one, and let me know on Twitter if the Nuggets do anything crazy!