Nuggets Excited About Improved Season, Say Bigger Things Are Ahead

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider

Emmanuel Mudiay’s crystal ball into the Nuggets’ future in 2017-18 reveals a win total he knows could be a tad high, but achievable nonetheless.

“I don’t know who we’re bringing back, I don’t know what is going to happen,” the second-year point guard said. “But I think we have a chance at 45-plus wins. Who knows; maybe get to 50. I’m not promising that, but that’s my projection.”

In other words, Mudiay predicts a similar kind of jump to what the Nuggets experienced this season. The Nuggets won seven more games than they did last season, which was the sixth-highest improvement total in the NBA. Do that again next season, and that puts the Nuggets right within Mudiay’s prediction.

Since the end of the Nuggets season, the tone has been overwhelmingly positive from coach Michael Malone and players as they talk about the team’s immediate future.

“I think it was a great season,” Malone said. “Whether it is the media or fans, as the season goes on and they see progress, expectations change. Back in Omaha (for training camp), we wanted to make the playoffs, that was our goal internally. Nobody outside of our team thought there was a realistic chance for us to be a playoff team.

“And, for us to make the run that we did with all of the injuries that we had and the young players that we were playing, I think is really remarkable. Moving forward, I’m really excited about this upcoming offseason. To go from 33 wins to 40 – plus seven is a (heck) of an improvement in the Western Conference.”

That improvement was spearheaded by a breakout season from second-year center Nikola Jokić. Jokić averaged 16.7 points and 9.8 rebounds overall, but the Nuggets point to the stretch after he was installed as the starting center as the true view of what he was. Jokić, named starter on Dec. 15, averaged 19.2 points per game – tying Danilo Gallinari for the team lead – and 10.9 rebounds from then to the end of the season. He also had six triple-doubles.

But in true Jokić style, the team was always the thing. Jokić wasn’t even fully aware of what his points per game average was until player development coach Ognjen Stojakovic pulled him over and told him moments before he met the media on Thursday morning.

“We had some tough losses…but we had some great wins,” Jokić said. “It was fun. We had more wins than last year, so we improved. We didn’t make the playoffs, that was our goal.”

Jokić turned his analysis toward next season.

“We cannot make our sole goal the eighth spot, the eighth seed,” Jokić said. “We cannot think about playoffs. We just need to play the games. I think the playoffs were too much pressure for us.”

Shooting guard Gary Harris agreed with Jokić.

“A lot of us had never been in that position, so we really didn’t know how to approach it,” Harris said. “We had a lot of the vets show us the way, but a lot of us young guys playing; it was something new for us, definitely a learning experience.”

Tops on the Nuggets to-do list in the summer is find ways to improve defensively. Play better defense, players and coaches say, and many more wins will follow.

“Obviously the defensive side of things will be the major point of emphasis moving forward,” Malone said. “How can we internally get better? How can we help our players better as coaches? And, are there ways to add to the roster that can maybe help address some of the weaknesses that we have on that end of the floor.

“But I’m really, really excited about the season that we had. I’m more excited about the direction that we’re headed with the young core that we have.”