Although we are in the thick of the NBA playoffs for the 2017-2018 season, basketball is over for the Nuggets for a few months. I will avoid re-hashing the disappointment of another missed playoff appearance. However early it may be, I’m looking to next season and evaluating what my expectations are for this team as they continue to grow. There are some specific things I am hoping to see, and I’m optimistic that each player has a set of goals they hope to accomplish before the start of the 2018-2019 season.

Big picture, here’s what I will be watching for.

Drastically improved defense.

One of my least favorite types of co-workers is a “talker”. We’ve all experienced this person before. They talk a big game about what they’re going to do, and blandly recite company mantras at nauseam. However, they don’t seem to understand the implementation of the goals the company has set forth. The say things like, “This year is going to be our best year yet!” But, they make no daily changes that would cause the cumulative year to be any different than years past.

Now, because I’m not privy to the Nuggets’ internal meetings I can’t say that there are any talkers that are preventing the team from improving their defensive performance, but for several years in a row we have heard endless discussion about how the Nuggets have a defensive focus with little change during the games.

Paul Millsap has brought a defensive presence that I believe will benefit the Nuggets next year when they have him healthy (hopefully) for a complete season. I’ve said before that Millsap sets the defensive tone for the younger players on the team, and they appear to have a better hold on how to execute when he’s on the court.

My expectation for the summer is that each player studies good defenders in the league to understand what areas they need to improve so they can incorporate that training into their daily routines. Saying that the team will have a defensive focus is wonderful, but identifying the how seems to be the gap in implementation. I will also acknowledge that it could be the effort that’s lacking. Either way, I’ve grown weary of hearing the Nuggets talk about they’ll be better at defense with little proof in the pudding.

Improved consistency from Barton if he’s back.

And, I hope he is. Barton is such an incredible asset for the Nuggets. However, his struggle with consistency has been very problematic in multiple games where a poor performance from him can be directly tied to a loss. Sometimes he’s the hero putting up 30 points and saving the day, and sometimes he’s the guy who holds onto the ball far too long, throwing up a three pointer with 18 seconds on the shot clock after he’s missed the last 6.

If you watch the Golden State Warriors’ offense you’ll notice there is very little dribbling, and you’ll almost never see iso-ball. They look for the best shot, regardless of who gets to take it. The Nuggets’ offense is formidable, but I think Barton can be a better contributor if he works on improving his moments of inconsistency.

Perhaps he would benefit from working with Noah Basketball (as the Warriors have in the past) to better understand the facts of why he falls into shooting slumps during a game. NBA players who have worked with this software claim that they are now able to “feel” when they aren’t shooting their best, and they’re able to make in-game adjustments to correct the problem.

The Nuggets need Barton in order to maximize the versatility of their roster as he can be a chameleon in a number of different situations. But, they need him to be more consistent if they’re going to be able to rely on him in the clutch.

Improved strategic decisions from upper management.

Moves and counter moves. -Plutarch Heavensbee

In any business, strategy is King. Like I mentioned above, I’m not a part of the Nuggets’ front office meetings, but from what we’ve seen from them in recent years I believe they have a great opportunity for improvement in how they execute strategic decisions for the team.

They allowed Danilo Gallinari to become a free agent in the hopes that they would take the 8th seed in the playoffs last season thereby exhausting his trade value completely. They made some very bizarre moves during the draft, and lost their opportunity to secure a solid draft pick. Just look at how nicely Donovan Mitchell is working out for the Utah Jazz. And, they traded Emmanuel Mudiay far later than they should have resulting in a reduction in his value, and limiting who they could get for him.

There’s a certain credibility a company establishes when they make smart strategic decisions. They can also create a bad reputation for themselves by making questionable moves that don’t pan out for the organization. The latter situation can cause other companies to be hesitant to do business with them.

I don’t necessarily think the Nuggets have a reputation for making poor decisions, but I also don’t think they’re well known for being strategists. This off season, I hope to see them get serious about their tactics. If it were me, I would be having a weekly meeting to discuss what needs the team has, who is coming available as a free agent or a draft pick, what players would be good to trade for, which Nuggets should be available for trade, and what the team’s draft position looks like to see how it can be optimized.

Perhaps these meetings do take place, but the actions of the front office appear to be more reactionary than anything. It would help Nuggets fans remain hopeful if they can see some solid decisions coming from the suits.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on how the organization develops over the summer. They have all the pieces they need to be a playoff team so next year there will be absolutely no excuses as they work to reach their goals. I hope to not be disappointed.