2017-18 Kia Season Preview
2017-18 Kia Season Preview

2017-18 Season Preview: Denver Nuggets

Denver hopes signing of Paul Millsap can help it realize playoff dreams

Shaun Powell

Shaun Powell

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Oct 4, 2017 11:09 AM ET

 

Can the Nuggets build off their success from the end of last season?

Once again, the Nuggets failed to make the playoffs and haven't sniffed the postseason since 2012-13 when George Karl was the coach and Andre Iguodala the team leader. At least Denver dropped hints that its playoff drought might not last much longer, especially after they jelled in the second half of last season, helped by Nikola Jokic. The emerging center flashed an all-around game (shooting, passing, defending) that raised the excitement level in Denver and also expectations entering the 2017-18 season.

> One Team, One Stat: Jokic's play fuels Denver's big boost
> 30 Teams in 30 Days: Can Nuggets snag playoff berth?
> DA's Offseason Rankings: Denver is No. 7
> Former second-rounders Millsap, Jokic become top priority

ICYMI

The Nuggets aren’t known for being a free-agent destination, yet they scored one of the better players on the market in Paul Millsap. He's a solid All-Star who has gotten better with age ... Once the Hawks decided not to extend his contract, Millsap became the top priority for the Nuggets, who rightfully are dreaming big as they pair him next to Jokic. ... There were also two trade rumors that didn’t happen: Gary Harris and Jamal Murray remain on the team; Harris was mentioned in a package for Paul George and Murray for Kyrie Irving. ... Third-year man Trey Lyles, who languished on the Utah bench last season, came in a draft-day trade.

THREE POINTS

1. The Nuggets won’t stumble out of the gate like last season, when a poor start doomed their playoff chances. Jokic didn’t become a full-time starter until December 15, and 10 different starting lineups caused Denver to go 9-16.

2. Are you sold on sharpshooter Jamal Murray being a point guard? Coach Mike Malone has sampled Murray at the position, with mixed results. We’ll see how long this experiment lasts this season.

3. Kenneth Faried will generate plenty of trade rumors come February. He’s no longer at the core of the club’s rotation and Denver just extended Mason Plumlee, who can play some minutes at power forward. Don’t cry for Faried; he carved out a nice career while in Denver and would be in demand.

MAN ON THE SPOT

The Nuggets felt their point guard position was set when they drafted Emmanuel Mudiay in the 2015 Draft and dumped Ty Lawson. Well, Mudiay hasn’t lived up to the promise, to be kind. Last season he was the starter until an injury in January; when he healed, he came off the bench. The Nuggets turned to old reliable Jameer Nelson but he’s obviously not the future. If Mudiay doesn’t mimic a true point guard, someone who sets up teammates and hits open jumpers, the franchise will look elsewhere and his days in Denver will be numbered, since the Nuggets must make a financial decision on him next summer.

STARTING FIVE

Gary Harris | 14.9 ppg | 3.1 rpg | 2.9 apg
Increased his production across the board in a mini-breakout year, Harris was protected from trade talk this summer.

Emmanuel Mudiay | 11.0 ppg | 3.9 apg | 37.0 pct
Nuggets worried about Mudiay’s shooting and also his ability to create scoring chances for others.

Paul Millsap | 18.1 ppg | 7.7 rpg | 44.2 pct
A pro’s pro whose trademark is consistency, a trusty mid-range game and blue collar attitude.

Wilson Chandler | 15.7 ppg | 6.5 rpg | 4.0 apg
Sturdy and dependable veteran remains a solid piece of the Nuggets’ core.

Nikola Jokic | 16.7 ppg | 9.8 rpg | 4.9 apg
Perhaps the surprise player in the NBA last season, Jokic has the tools to be a premier center.

KEY RESERVES

Kenneth Faried | 9.6 ppg | 7.6 rpg | 0.6 apg
Future for Faried might be off the bench, especially with Millsap around; he remains a top rebounder.

Will Barton | 13.7 ppg | 4.3 rpg | 3.4 apg
Barton ranks as one of the league’s dangerous sixth men and brings solid production in limited minutes.

Jamal Murray | 9.9 ppg | 2.6 rpg | 2.1 apg
Nuggets tried him often at point guard but his true skill is shooting; primed for a breakout.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Nuggets had a winning record over the last 2 1/2 months of the 2016-17 season once Jokic became a revelation and the rotation stabilized. And now they add Millsap to the mix, and so you can understand why the Nuggets are trending up. This is the best lineup and certainly deepest team since the George Karl years and Harris could give the Nuggets a very good three-man core. They’re in a loaded conference, yet if their defense improves, watch out. It will be a surprise if the Nuggets aren’t in the playoff hunt, especially with the Clippers and Jazz, two playoff teams last year, dealing with major losses to their lineups.

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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