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 | Sacramento Kings
Last season the stars seemed to align for the Portland Trailblazers until they ran into the Pelicans buzz saw in the playoffs, and promptly got swept in four games. The same big question remains, can Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum play together? When teams have time to gameplan for the Blazers, they simply don't guard the other players at the three point line and clog the lane. The Blazers bring back mostly the same team but lose key rotation pieces Shabazz Napier and Ed Davis and hope that internal improvement can help them take the next step. With bloated untradable contracts still on the roster the only logical (and wanted) trade pieces are Lillard and McCollum. If the Blazers fall short of the lofty expectations it might be time for a shakeup in Portland.
Seth Curry SG (free agency), Anfernee Simmons SG (draft), Nik Stauskas Wing (free agency), Gary Trent Jr SG (draft)
Pat Connaughton SG, Ed Davis C, Shabazz Napier PG
Offensive Rating 106.1 (16th)
Defensive Rating 104.2 (8th)
Net Rating 1.9 (11th)
True Shooting Percentage 54.9% (17th)
Assist Percentage 49.6% (30th)
Rebound Percentage 51.4% (4th)
Turnover Percentage 13.6% (8th)
Pace 98.82 (19th)
Dame and CJ
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are two of the most dynamic guards in the NBA, but can you build a team around them? The Blazers are proving it's extremely difficult to build a defense around two poor undersized perimeter defenders no matter how good they are offensively. In the regular season, Dame and CJ can dazzle on offense and they both have time to be the offensive focal point (while the other one sits on the bench), but in the playoffs with shortened rotations where weaknesses are exploited they run into the same problem every year. The answer seems to be no, and a shakeup might be needed if the Blazers want to take the next step.
Replacing Ed Davis
Ed Davis was a gritty tough defensive minded player, and Portland's best rebounder and rim protector. Jusef Nurkic is a decent starter but can't be used in every matchup (see Pelicans playoff series), a lot rests on the shoulders of Zach Collins. Despite his college pedigree of being a good shooter, Collins has struggled from the three point line in his NBA career shooting just 31% last season. He does have a completely different style of play that Davis, but the Blazers are hoping that his offensive ability and floor spacing can outweigh the loss in the defense and rebounding department.
Still Making the Same Mistakes
The summer of 2016 still haunts the Blazers who were loaded with cap space and unfortunately had many role players due for contract extensions. The notable signings were CJ McCollum 4 years 106 million, Allen Crabbe 4 years 75 million, Evan Turner 4 years 70 million, Mo Harkless 4 years 42 million, and Myers Leonard 4 years 41 million. McCollum was a no brainer and Harkless has been fine, but the other three were disasters. The Blazers ended up giving away Crabbe, have been forced to play Turner, and still have Leonard who played a measly 254 minutes last season. Instead of learning from past mistakes, this summer in a year where there was no market for centers, Portland have Nurkic 4 years and 48 million immediately after free agency had begun. Once considered a smart franchise the Blazers continue to overpay their own players and are stuck in cap purgatory.
Player to Watch: Seth Curry
After missing all of last season due to injury, it has been forgotten that Curry had a breakout season in 16-17 with the Mavericks. He averaged 12.8 PPG with an impressive 48.1/42.5/85.0 shooting percentage. With Shabazz Napier leaving in free agency, Curry should slide in as the third guard and can play on or off the ball. Without much scoring outside of Lillard and McCollum, if Curry can integrate quickly don't be surprised to see him post big scoring numbers and possibly even contend for sixth man of the year. He is undersized and will struggle defensively, but he does give the Blazers much needed offense.
PG: Damian Lillard
SG: CJ McCollum
SF: Evan Turner
PF: Al-Farouq Aminu
C: Jusuf Nurkic
PG: Seth Curry
SG: Nik Stauskas
SF: Maurice Harkless
PF: Jake Layman
C: Zach Collins
Westgate Projected Win Total: 41.5
Projected Record: 44-38 (9th in Western Conference)