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Season Preview: Denver Nuggets

With the NBA season just a week away and the majority of player movement being done, I’m going to start previewing the teams. Based on my projected order of the standings, we’ll start at the bottom and work towards the top rotating between East and West. Past previews will be linked as well.

Atlanta Hawks | Brooklyn Nets | Charlotte Hornets | Chicago Bulls | Cleveland Cavaliers | Dallas Mavericks | Detroit Pistons | Indiana Pacers | Los Angeles Clippers | Los Angeles Lakers | Memphis Grizzlies | Miami Heat | Minnesota Timberwolves | New Orleans Pelicans | New York Knicks | Oklahoma City Thunder | Orlando Magic | Phoenix Suns | Portland Trailblazers | Sacramento Kings | San Antonio Spurs | Washington Wizards

Overview:

Quietly, the Denver Nuggets have turned into an offensive juggernaut led by a budding superstar in center Nikola Jokic. Gary Harris is turning into one of the best two way players in the game, and Jamal Murray is developing into a ice cold scorer. Veteran power forward Paul Millsap came over in free agency, but unfortunately missed the majority of the season due to injury. The problem in Denver remains the defense, and Murry, Jokic, and small forward Wil Barton are poor defenders. A full season of Millsap should shore up the interior defense, something that Denver sorely needs. For the Nuggets to take the next step, they have to continue to be dominant on offense while bringing their defense up to an acceptable level. Once overloaded with bench depth, the Nuggets now have an unproven young bench that is going to need step up as well. If the stars align right the Nuggets have a chance to make a deep run in the playoffs this season.

Photo courtesy of eurohoops.net — by Sean Taira
Photo courtesy of eurohoops.net — by Sean Taira

17-18 Stats:

Offensive Rating 111.3 (6th)

Defensive Rating 109.9 (23rd)

Net Rating 1.4 (11th)

True Shooting Percentage 57.0% (7th)

Assist Percentage 61.7% (7th)

Rebound Percentage 51.7% (2nd)

Turnover Percentage 15.1% (24th)

Pace 97.81 (15th)

Record 46-36

Key Additions:

Michael Porter Jr. SF (draft), Isaiah Thomas PG (free agency), Jarred Vanderbilt PF (draft)

Key Departures:

Darrell Arthur PF, Wilson Chandler SF, Kenneth Faried PF, Devin Harris PG

Small Forward

Just two seasons ago the Nuggets has two small forwards that were capable starters on their roster, Danillo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler. Gallinari left for the Clippers in free agency and Chandler was traded to the 76ers, leaving the Nuggets with undersized Wil Barton as their starter. Behind the oft injured Barton (who profiles better as a shooting guard), there are unproven youngsters Malik Beasley, Torrey Craig, and Juan Hernangomez. First round draft pick Michael Porter Jr. might be a future star, but with his back problems there is just as good of a chance that he never amounts to anything. Gary Harris can slide over as well, but there are minutes available and at least one of the young guys must step up.

Do They Have Enough Defense?

Gary Harris and Paul Millsap are excellent individual defenders, but the other three starters are poor defenders, and that's putting it in a nice way. Jamal Murray ranked 85th out of 92 point guards in defensive real plus minus, Wil Barton was the 61st out of 100 shooting guards, and Nikola Jokic allowed opponents to shoot 66.8% at the rim the worst in the league (amongst centers with 100 shot attempts). The projected starting five only played 65 minutes together last season, but posted an outrageous 121.8 offensive rating. The biggest issue is, is that the Nuggets have to figure out a way to get better defensive play without sacrificing their production on the offensive end of the floor. Millsap is a much better rim defender than Jokic and can play center defensively, but will that be enough to solve all the issues?

Isaiah Thomas Redemption

It was only two seasons ago that Isaiah Thomas finished fifth in MVP voting, leading the Celtics to the number one seed on 28.9 points per game and 5.9 assist per game. Unfortunately Thomas suffered a major hip injury which derailed him in the playoffs and all of last season. The Celtics misdiagnosed Thomas' hip injury, encouraged him to play through it which further damaged it, and subsequently fired the entire medical staff and dumped Thomas. It's hard not to feel for the guy who was in line for a massive payday, and ended up taking a one year veterans minimum contract. Thomas has a chip on his shoulder and has rubbed teammates and organizations the wrong way at times, but when healthy he is a dynamite offensive player who hopefully can find a way to recapture his magic.

Player to Watch: Gary Harris

photo courtesy of nba.com — by Sean Taira
photo courtesy of nba.com — by Sean Taira

Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray get most of the shine for the Denver Nuggets, but Gary Harris deserves just as much recognition. His rise was unforeseen, and as a rookie in 2014 Harris had a real plus minus of -7.05 and was ranked the 473rd out of 474 players. Fast forward to last season and Harris was the 59th ranked overall player and continues to improve as a defender. With the addition of Isaiah Thomas and Jamal Murray taking on a bigger role, Harris can continue to improve as a defender with less offensive responsibility. The Nuggets sorely need a lock down perimeter defender, and Harris needs to take on that role to give the team a chance in the loaded West.

Starters:

PG: Jamal Murray

SG: Gary Harris

SF: Wil Barton

PF: Paul Milsap

C: Nikola Jokic

Reserves:

PG: Isaiah Thomas

SG: Malik Beasley

SF: Torrey Craig

PF: Trey Lyles

C: Mason Plumlee

Westgate Projected Win Total: 47.5

Projected Record: 47-35 (5th in Western Conference)

This article was originally published on @staira06