Don’t look now but the Denver Nuggets is the latest “objects in the mirror are closer than they appear”. Two years ago, Denver was a Russell Westbrook last-second dagger from making the playoffs. This season they missed the playoffs by a game again but help is on the way.
The Nuggets will decline the team option on Nikola Jokic’s deal so they can sign him to the 5-year max of around $147 million. Though Jokic was only due $1.5M, it was in the best interest of the club to make this preemptive move. Ripping up the current deal will mean Jokic will not become an unrestricted free agent in 2019. With the exception of Paul Millsap’s contract (due $30.5M in 2019), the Nuggets are in good shape cap wise. Besides Jokic, Nuggets would like to wrap up unrestricted free agent, Will Barton but they will have some stiff competition to retain his services. Reportedly, the Pacers let Lance Stephenson walk in hopes of bringing in Barton.
Even if Barton walks, the organization has done a great job putting together the roster. There will be some talk of their swing-and-miss on draft Emmanuel Mudiay but they’ve more than made up for it with Gary Harris and Jamal Murray.
Harris averaged a career-high 17.5 points last season. His strengths work hand-in-hand with Jokic. The Nuggets will run screen and roll action for the top and the wing with Harris and Jokic. The action frequently starts with Jokic having the ball. This allows a series of options for Harris. He can come back and get a handoff, after which, Jokic rolls. He can go back door if the defender overplays. With Jokic being one of the best passing big men in the league along with Harris’s ability to finish in traffic, overplaying is dangerous. Or they can go can go conventional screen and roll. All the options have gotten even more dangerous as Harris’ offensive game has developed.
Murray’s second season was one that showed improvements in most major offensive categories. He can get the same offensive opportunities off of Denver’s offensive actions just in different ways. Murray is slightly more athletic, is a better ball-handler and will dish the ball a little more often than Harris. He’s more of a natural point guard but Denver’s ball movement allows assists to come from more places than the point guard position. Nothing illustrates this more than their leader in assists/game was Jokic.
If Michael Porter Jr. is healthy, the Nuggets got the steal of the draft. Porter Jr. spent most of his freshman year injured and his medicals were the talk of the draft. One can expect the Nuggets organization to be careful with him so it’s highly unlikely he’ll play in the NBA Summer League. In fact, would anyone blame the Nuggets if they took a page out of the Sixers handbook and sit him out an entire year? Denver’s other two picks, Jarred Vanderbilt and Thomas Welsh, don’t figure into their immediate plans. That should be fine since Denver has a strong roster.
Denver has quietly built a solid threesome in Jokic, Harris, and Murray. If Trey Lyles continues makes another jump in his fourth year then this team can be looking at being more than an eighth seed in the West. But, more importantly, the youth on this team can eventually get Denver into a top three team in the West. That would be a Mile High accomplishment.