The Denver Nuggets surprised some last Summer when they elected to not only select three players in the draft, but also to give them all guaranteed contracts. Julian Strawther was the highest selection of the three rookies and ended up being the one who showed the most promise as well. Selected 29th overall, Strawther found a way to find minutes early on for the championship contending Nuggets. Unfortunately a knee injury would sideline him for several weeks and by the time he was deemed healthy enough to play he was sporting a massive brace and couldn’t work his way back into the rotation. Ultimately it was a bit of a disappointing season for the rookie given how his year started, but the future still looks promising for Strawther and the Nuggets need him to realize his potential sooner rather than later.

2023/2024 Season Stats

10.9 4.5 1.2 0.9 0.3 36.9% 29.7% -0.6 -6

Season Story

Strawther was the headliner of Calvin Booth’s #ProjectDynasty draft. He fit Booth’s player archetype as an older college player billed as someone who could contribute to Denver’s lineup. He looked the part out of the gate. As the season began he saw mostly spot duty but it was clear Strawther was on the edge of Michael Malone’s rotation. He showed his x-factor ability with his shooting in an early November game against the New Orleans Pelicans, going 8 for 13 from the field to score twenty-one points. A couple weeks after that he started seeing a regular role in rotation, averaging about fifteen minutes a game. That run went about what one would expect for a rookie. He had his moments of strong play mixed among the typical rookie struggles. Most concerning was his inconsistent shooting from outside. Denver was relying on him to provide spacing for their second unit and be a scoring threat and his inconsistency contributed to rough stretches for the bench in games.

Still, Julian looked promising enough that it felt he would follow the same path as his teammate Christian Braun did the previous season: play about 15 minutes a game learning the ropes in the regular season and hopefully become a solid contributor during a deep playoff run. Unfortunately, Julian went down with a sprained right knee in early January that would sideline him for a month. By the time he returned the Nuggets were headed into the stretch run of their season with the rotation fairly set. Unlike in the beginning of the year, Jamal Murray was also healthy (for the most part) which left little room for Strawther to get back into the rotation. He rarely saw the court for the rest of the season, playing only three more games where he was on the court for more than nine minutes.

’24/’25 outlook with the Nuggets

There’s potential for Strawther to have a direct path to real rotation minutes in his sophomore season. If Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is not back next season then the most likely scenario will be Braun taking over as the starting two guard. That will leave a hole in the bench rotation for a reserve wing. One has to believe that Strawther would be first in line to fill that role. The Nuggets will need to see him find his shooting touch again to make that a reality though. His 29% three point percentage last year was far below what everyone anticipated when the Nuggets drafted Strawther who’s primary “NBA ready” skill in scouting reports was his shooting ability. It will also put the onus on Strawther to lock in defensively and be able to spell Braun or whoever starts on the wings without giving up a ton defensively.

The role also won’t be given to Julian by any means. For starters, there’s no guarantee KCP won’t return next season. If he does, it makes finding opportunities on the wings in the rotation that much more difficult. The Nuggets could also look to replace Pope with a player they acquire via trade or even with their tax payer mid-level exception. If Strawther shows signs early that his shooting woes are real and not just rookie jitters then it won’t shock anyone to see him fall out of the rotation. Last season Malone ultimately decided to lean on Justin Holiday, a thirty-five year old veteran on a minimum contract, over Strawther by the end of the year. That could be the path Julian goes down in particular if he’s also not able to be a positive on the defensive end.

My prediction? I think Strawther finds his way into the rotation as a bench wing. It seems unlikely that KCP will be back and that will create an opportunity. The Nuggets aren’t exactly flush with two guards in their depth so Strawther right now has an inside lane to any openings. His shooting was woeful last year but it was also drug down by an inconsistent second half of the season where who knows just how healthy Julian really was. He’s given every indication in college that he should be a good shooter so I expect that to even out. There will still be some bumps along the way but if Julian can get to about 35% from deep or above while playing strong defense that will be enough for the Nuggets off the bench. If he can raise his scoring ability then all the better. One thing is for sure, if KCP leaves the Nuggets will be counting heavily on Strawther to continue to develop his game and be ready to play significant minutes.