Tim Connelly's Denver Nuggets End of Season Press Conference: Three takeaways

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

The 2020-2021 NBA season presented its challenges for the Denver Nuggets, but they still managed to impress on several levels.

Nikola Jokić was named the 2021 MVP. Jamal Murray was in the midst of a career season before going down with an ACL injury in early April. Michael Porter Jr. had a significant jump in his second year and the team pulled off an impressive trade that landed Aaron Gordon. The key will be ensuring this team continues trending in the right direction and that was the key focus of President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly in his end of the season press conference.

“I really like our foundation, but until we’re having this press conference after we win a championship, we’re falling short,” he said Friday.

Connelly touched on several topics, including Jamal Murray’s recovery, the team’s approach in the draft, and free agency, the team’s rookies.

Here are the takeaways from Connelly’s press conference:

Extension for Michael Porter Jr.?

Porter Jr. had a breakout sophomore season, seeing his points per game go from 9.3 in his rookie year to 19.0 this campaign. He also shot a sizzling 44.3 percent from downtown – good for eighth in the NBA last season.

“He’s in pretty rare company for what he accomplished this season,” Connelly said. “We’re excited. We know how bad he wants it [to be successful] and we want it just as bad. He’s basketball-obsessed. His work ethic is A+. So, it’s fun to see guys like that.”

With the 22-year-old being eligible for a contract extension, expect the Nuggets to be aggressive in tying down a key member of their core.

“We’ll sit down with Michael representation [to discuss a potential deal],” Connelly said. “Our M.O. is when we can, we try to lock guys up and reward them for what they’ve done. We’ve had a lot of luck in getting things done earlier than later and I think it’s up to our culture.”

“These guys are colleagues, they aren’t assets, and the more proactive we can be to build a sustainable roster, the better.

Approach to free agency

Murray’s injury has had many speculating on what the Nuggets’ plan will be in regards to offseason acquisitions. Will the team look to add to its guard’s depth while it waits for a likely second-half return from its Canadian star? While Connelly wouldn’t get into specifics, he suggested that keeping free agents while adding some pieces will be his priority.

“You’re always trying to get better,” Connelly explained. “We have a handful of free agents that we’re hopeful we can retain. We won’t have real certainty of what our roster will look like until post-draft. We really enjoyed this group and the more guys we can keep, the better.”

One area he hinted at was trying to find three-and-D players to improve the roster.

“We’re always looking for three-and-D productivity,” Connelly said. “I thought we had some really good moments defensively and not so stellar moments. We lost in the second round of the playoffs so there are clearly some areas we need to improve upon. Us, like the 29 other teams, put a huge emphasis on guys who can strap up and make threes, we’re always looking for those kind of players.”

Bright future for Zeke, Markus

Could Denver already have the Three-and-D it is looking for? Connelly believes Zeke Nnaji could potentially fill that role for the Nuggets in the upcoming season.

Connelly and Nnaji caught up after the season and discussed what the expectations and focus will be for the former Wildcat in the upcoming campaign. Connelly is excited about the young big man’s future.

“I think Zeke’s ability to guard and make shots is really unique for a 20-year-old big,” he said. “Even though he’s 6-foot-10, he’s going to be a heck of a three-and-D guy.”

Another young player who stood out, especially towards the end of the season and the playoffs, was Markus Howard. Although the former Marquette star was the Big East’s all-time leader in scoring, there weren’t many expectations for him as he came on to the Nuggets as an undrafted free agent. In the last two weeks of the season and the playoffs, Howard proved his scoring touch can translate into the NBA. The 22-year-old averaged 14.2 points per game in the final five games of the regular season, shooting 44.4 percent from three during that stretch. He also managed to contribute sparingly in the playoffs, shooting 42.3 percent from three and averaging 4.7 points in 12.4 minutes per game.

“Markus was great, I thought he was fantastic,” Connelly said. “His mental toughness was off the charts – to be thrown into the fire and produce like he did. So expect him to continue to improve…It wasn’t by accident that he was the all-time leading scorer in the Big East.”

“He was great and provided huge offensive boosts when we were really struggling in that Portland series. So, he’s a guy who we think has several more years to reach and we’re hopeful and excited to see how he reaches those years.”

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