The Denver Nuggets are near and dear to my heart, and they will always and forever be my #1 team, but it’s no secret that I am very much a Boston Celtics enthusiast. I talk about the Celtics so much that I can practically hear my fellow Denver Stiffs rolling their eyes whenever I bring up my admiration for how Boston has structured their team. (They’ve never rolled their eyes at me, but I’d imagine they want to.)
Because of my Celtics admiration, I was particularly psyched when I found out that Isaiah Thomas had signed with the Nuggets this summer. I’m typically not a proponent of trying to find second-hand stars to boost popularity, but in this case it fits.
However, because I try and avoid being a homer at all costs, I like to look at things as objectively as possible. While Thomas in Denver looks good on paper, there are some real concerns I have heading into the coming season.
Balancing the good and the bad is what a good GM is for, but here are some things I will be watching for as the season gets underway.
Strength off the bench
This is probably the most obvious, and most talked about benefit that Thomas stands to bring to the Nuggets this coming season. A reliable point guard off the bench is something the Nuggets have been sorely missing for many years now, and it can be argued that their lack in this area has cost them a couple of playoff appearances. Thomas will be able to maintain scoring while Jamal Murray is on the bench, and hopefully keep the Nuggets out of deep point deficits that are nearly impossible to come back from.
If all goes well, and we get to see the aggressive Mason Plumlee we saw just before his injury last season, the Nuggets should have a nice blend of offense and defensive from the backup unit to remain competitive over the course of the season.
Drama in the locker room
I read an article by ESPN’s Adrian Wojranowski detailing his interview with Thomas after he made his commitment to the Nuggets, and I had one major concern. Woj highlighted how Thomas probably expected this summer to be the summer that Thomas signed a max contract extension with the Celtics on his way to an NBA title, but instead he finds himself committed to the league’s veteran minimum with a team who hasn’t been to the playoffs in years.
Thomas blamed this turn of events largely on his hip injury stating that he played with the injury too long in Boston, and came back too soon in Cleveland making the problem worse.
He went on to say,
“People are scared of my hip now. I just had to be real with myself. I had to understand that it’s not going to be about the money this summer. I’ve got to show people that I can play—and play at a high level again. And I will.”
While I will agree that the hip injury has probably caused some teams to worry about signing on a liability, there was major speculation that one of the big reasons Cleveland parted ways with Thomas was because of his attitude in the locker room. Cleveland had some unsightly public drama last season, and to their credit they squashed it in a hurry with some pretty epic trade deadline house-cleaning. Maybe Thomas’ situation isn’t all a result of a bum hip. Perhaps this has given other teams in the league some pause when looking at how Thomas might fit onto their roster.
Nothing official has been confirmed about Thomas’ involvement in that situation, but I hope that he’s coming to the Nuggets ready to get to work and maintain unity with the team. I personally don’t want to see any drama in Denver.
Defense on the perimeter
Signing Michael Porter Jr was a huge gain all around, and the Nuggets stand to benefit particularly on the defensive end once he’s up and running. However, Porter won’t be available over night, and adding one defensive player doesn’t cure the team’s woes entirely.
It’s no secret that Thomas isn’t known for stellar defense. His 5’9” stature alone poses a world of problems that even the most aggressive defensive player wouldn’t be able to overcome.
When Thomas is in the game, the Nuggets will need to compensate for his shortfalls on defense by making sure that newly-signed Torrey Craig is there to guard the perimeter. Craig’s enthusiasm and aggressive approach to defense is a breath of fresh air for the Nuggets’ back court. He and Thomas will prove to be an attractive duo off the bench for Denver which will provide some much needed depth and balancing of minutes to keep players healthy for the long haul of the regular season.
I believe Thomas’ upside far outweighs any of the possible negative outcomes, but my hope is that he’s ready for a total fresh start. If he plays his cards right, Denver could become a place for him to build a long term empire.