30teams30days 2017

30 Teams in 30 Days: With Paul Millsap in fold, can Denver Nuggets snag playoff spot in West?

Shaun Powell

Shaun Powell

Since the Warriors downed the Cavs to take the 2017 NBA title back on June 12, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason.

NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2016-17 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.

Today’s team: Denver Nuggets

2016-17 Record: 40-42

Who’s new: Paul Millsap (free agency), Trey Lyles (trade), Tyler Lydon (draft).

Who’s gone: Danilo Gallinari.

The lowdown: Sometimes a move is made because it just feels good and feels right, which explains why Millsap signing with Denver was met with almost universal applause.

With a youth movement well underway in the Rockies, the Nuggets needed a strong veteran with great character who was still in his prime and would qualify as one of the two best players on the roster. Millsap checked all the boxes.

Lucky for the Nuggets, Millsap’s former team, the Hawks, changed management and philosophy over the summer, electing to save money and begin a rebuilding program. That allowed Millsap to cross them off the list and go shopping elsewhere. The Nuggets stepped up financially and yet didn’t have to give Millsap more than three years, which was important considering he’s 32.

So it was a win-win for all involved and suddenly the Nuggets have the pieces in place to take the next step in their blueprint and push hard for a playoff spot, which is certainly not unreasonable, even in the very tough West.


As a swing forward, Millsap gives Denver another strong presence on the front line next to Jokic, who was the biggest surprise in the NBA last season. With Millsap’s flexibility, the Nuggets can go big or small on the front line, depending on the opponent, and give teams matchup nightmares.

Millsap is a pro’s pro who rarely takes nights off and his consistency is perhaps his calling card. Well, that, along with leadership and an expanding game that makes him an offensive threat near the rim, at mid-range and even beyond, although he’s not a volume three-point shooter. Last season, his 11th, he averaged 18 points and almost eight rebounds in perhaps his best output of his career.

With the exception of one season, Millsap has never averaged less than 16.6 points and seven rebounds since 2010.

Gallinari became expendable in the process, so the Nuggets moved on from a player who proved popular in town and courageously recovered from injuries to remain a very good player; he signed with the Clippers.

Hopefully for Denver’s sake, Millsap brings more stability to a team that had 31 different starting lineups, most in the NBA. That all depends on health and the continued development of young players who’ll get a fair share of minutes in the rotation.

In that sense, the Nugget swapped their No. 1 pick for more youth in the form of Lyles and Lydon. Lyles is a 6-10 forward and former No. 1 pick of the Jazz who got lost in the shuffle and barely played. Lydon was drafted late in the first round and, like Lyles, will give the Nuggets more front-line depth, provided he can play his way into the mix.

The Nuggets contemplated only one other significant move and it involved Gary Harris, their improving guard. Denver was among those in the mix for a Paul George deal, with Kevin Love potentially coming to Denver. But nothing materialized and the Nuggets began exploring ways to give Harris an extension, for which he’s eligible.

That’s probably wise, considering Harris averaged 15 points and three assists last season while shooting 42 percent from deep and is only 22.

There was also discussion with the Cavaliers about Kyrie Irving, but again, Harris and other goodies required to get Irving would’ve depleted the Nuggets even though Denver is only among a few up-and-comers lacking in star power at point guard.

And so the Nuggets look to elevate in the West by bringing Millsap, Harris, Jokic, Wilson Chandler, Jamal Murray and Will Barton as the centerpieces. Ultimately they must address the point guard situation; Emmanuel Mudiay has been inconsistent since being drafted a few years ago with an often-disappearing jumper and raw point guard skills in terms of playmaking and setting up teammates. If Mudiay doesn’t produce a breakout season then the Nuggets will make point guard a priority next summer, unless they feel Murray is a possibility (most scouts are skeptical).

Anyway, coach Mike Malone has weapons and can adjust his offensive sets accordingly. The process of building around Jokic seems wise, given the young center’s skill set; he’s a superior passer and mid-range shooter, which makes him very relevant in today’s NBA.

Adding Millsap and keeping Harris was a start in the right direction.

Coming Next: Miami Heat

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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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