Denver Nuggets 2018-19 season review: Forwards
Points per game: 36.2 (28th in NBA)
Rebounds: 22.5 (17th)
Blocks: 2.7 (14th)
Field goal percentage: 47.7 (10th)
Plus/minus: +104 for the season (10th)
Players: Paul Millsap, Will Barton, Torrey Craig, Juancho Hernangomez, Trey Lyles
The Denver Nuggets’ rotation at the forward positions is made up of a mix of players that bring different skill sets to the table. From the dynamic offensive presence of Will Barton to the physical defense of Torrey Craig, Denver appeared to have a player for each role throughout the season.
The forward group is headlined by Paul Millsap and Will Barton, who both overcame injuries throughout the season to provide timely contributions, especially in the playoffs. After missing more than half of the 2017-18 campaign, Millsap bounced back and played strong defense across 70 games in 2018-19. Although the majority of Millsap’s traditional scoring and numbers decreased as a result of a different role, the advanced metrics highlight the 34-year-old’s impact on the team, especially on the defensive end. When Millsap was on the floor, Denver had a 107.3 defensive rating, which would have ranked eighth in the league over the course of an entire season. When Millsap sat, the defensive rating dropped to 111.9, which would have ranked 22nd in the league.
Barton nearly missed half of the season as a result of a hip injury sustained in the second game of the season. After returning in January, Barton worked to get back into a flow and regain his confidence as the fifth starter. Despite some inconsistency, Barton still provided ball-handling and shooting for the Nuggets. After the season, Barton reflected on how the brief setback will only set him up for future success, saying “it was a tough season for me mentally and physically, but that will just motivate me."
As a result of several injuries throughout the season, players such as Juancho Hernangomez stepped up to fill in key roles in the starting lineup. Hernangomez started 25 games this past season, averaging 11.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in those contests. The 23-year-old forward also connected on 42.5 percent of his 3-pointers when he started. Hernangomez provided Denver with another capable off-ball player that can hit open 3-pointers or cut to the rim, all while providing a big body on the defensive end.
After playing on a two-way contract during the 2017-18 season, Craig received a two-year deal last summer and provided defense and rebounding to Denver throughout the season. Craig had his breakout moment in the first round of the playoffs when his defense against DeMar DeRozan led to his insertion in the starting lineup. With Denver down 2-1 in the series against the San Antonio Spurs, Craig knocked down six 3-pointers in a 37-minute performance to help tie the series. "I’m just a competitor, going out there and trying to compete to the best of my ability every night,” Craig said following the season. “Doing anything I can to try and help this team."
Trey Lyles rounded out the forward group as he provided a scoring threat off the bench in 65 games. Although Lyles struggled to hit the three at a similar rate to the 2017-18 season (38.1 percent to just 25.5 percent this season), he was still able to chip in 8.5 points and nearly four rebounds per game.
Lyles also had some standout performances throughout the regular season, with perhaps his most impressive coming on Feb. 2 against the Minnesota Timberwolves. In that game, Lyles scored 19 points and grabbed six rebounds in a 107-106 victory for the Nuggets, which was on the second night of a back-to-back following the big win over the Houston Rockets. That win also extended Denver’s winning streak to six games.