Season Preview: Denver Nuggets
Quietly, the Denver Nuggets have turned into an offensive juggernaut led by a budding superstar in center Nikola Jokic.
With the NBA season just a month 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 | Los Angeles Clippers | Memphis Grizzlies | Minnesota Timberwolves | New York Knicks | Orlando Magic | Phoenix Suns | Portland Trailblazers | Sacramento Kings
Last season the Detroit Pistons swung for the fences and acquired former superstar Blake Griffin to pair with promising big man Andre Drummond. Despite a late push, the Pistons dug themselves too deep of a hole in the beginning of the season and failed to make the playoffs. New coach Dwane Casey takes over and should improve the bench production. Between young wings Stanley Johnson, Luke Kennard, and Glen Robinson, one of them must step up and evolve into an all around player to keep the Pistons competitive. While the rest of the league goes small, the Pistons are going in the opposite direction which should be fascinating to watch.
Bruce Brown SG (draft), Jose Calderon PG (free agency), Zaza Pachulia C (free agency), Glen Robinson SF (free agency), Khyri Thomas SG (draft)
James Ennis SF, Anthony Tolliver PF
Offensive Rating 104.9 (19th)
Defensive Rating 104.8 (11th)
Net Rating 0.1 (18th)
True Shooting Percentage 54.3% (26th)
Assist Percentage 58.2% (19th)
Rebound Percentage 50.0% (18th)
Turnover Percentage 13.6 (7th)
Pace 98.41 (21st)
Jackson or Smith?
Last season Reggie Jackson was in and out of the lineup with injuries and ineffective play and journeyman Ish Smith played extremely well in his absence. Jackson continues to struggle from the field, and shot just 30.8% from three last season. However, Jackson is still owed 35 million over two seasons, and should be considered the favorite to win the job. He will have an extremely short leash and Dwayne Casey shouldn't be afraid to insert Smith into the starting lineup if Jackson continues to struggle.
At one point in his career, Blake Griffin was a phenomenal athlete and one of the best players in the NBA. Unfortunately injuries have sapped his athleticism, forcing him to evolve his game. Last season Griffin took a career high 5.6 three point attempts per game, and shot it at a respectable 34.5%. Considering the previous season Griffin averaged just 1.9 attempts per game (which was his only season averaging more than one attempt per game) he is showing his evolution. Griffin also took on a much bigger role as a creator averaging 6.2 assist per game in his 25 games with Detroit. He isn't the athlete that he once was, but he is proving that he is still an extremely valuable player.
Reigning coach of the year Dwane Casey comes over from Toronto to replace Stan Van Gundy. Despite his inability to get past LeBron James in the playoffs, Casey was extremely good during the regular season. One thing to expect is improved bench play, as Toronto's "bench mob" was one of the most effective five man lineups in the NBA last season. The pieces might not be quite as good, but expect Casey to find effective combinations and give them heavy minutes. Van Gundy was pretty steady and predictable with his rotation basically subbing and playing them the same number of minutes nightly. Casey is much more willing to let a group that is rolling stay on the court and didn't have a problem rolling with a bench unit and leaving Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan on the bench.
Player to Watch: Stanley Johnson
Entering his fourth season, Stanley Johnson looks a lot like the player he was when he entered the draft, a physical specimen who can defend, but cant score on the offensive end of the floor. Johnson continues to make improvements defensively and could potentially be one of the best wing defenders in the NBA. However, he still can't find a way to contribute offensively shooting just 37.5% from the field and 28.6% from three. With the unexpected emergence of Reggie Bullock, promising rookie Luke Kennard, the addition of Glen Robinson III, and two draft picks Khyri Thompson and Bruce Brown, it's make or break time for Johnson.
PG: Reggie Jackson
SG: Reggie Bullock
SF: Stanley Johnson
PF: Blake Griffin
C: Andre Drummond
PG: Ish Smith
SG: Luke Kennard
SF: Glen Robinson III
PF: Jon Leuer
C: Zaza Pachulia
Westgate Projected Win Total: 37.5
Projected Record: 39-43 (8th in Eastern Conference)