Denver Nuggets’ Tim Connelly, Michael Malone review 2018-19 season: Three takeaways

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

Denver Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly and head coach Michael Malone held their final press conference of the season and both men shared their insights on a memorable campaign. Nuggets.com looks at some of the biggest storylines that emerged out of Tuesday’s media session.

Here are three takeaways:

Can the Nuggets improve on 54 wins?

The Nuggets tied the second-most win total in the franchise’s NBA history, which led to the inevitable question: How does this franchise take the next step?

Both Connelly and Malone made it clear 54 wins shouldn’t be the barometer of success for next season. Instead they focused on the importance of once again securing homecourt advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs and also seeing the young core of the team make strides from the previous campaign.

“I think it’s safe to assume, and maybe this is me being overly optimistic, that there’s going to be a better version of us next year,” Connelly said on Tuesday. “I don’t think there’s any reason why there will be regression next season.”

Malone added “We've seen in the last few offseasons that the landscape of the NBA can change drastically in a hurry. Who's to say that next year you win 51 and it's still a hell of a season? We'll have to wait and see. But we take great pride in the fact that we're the only team to improve four years in a row and are hoping to continue that trend. We have to find a way to continue to challenge ourselves.”

Roster building

Denver hasn’t been a traditional landing spot for free agents in the past, but Connelly is confident the rising profile of the city along with the trajectory of the organization will be a boost moving forward.

“The city is dynamic. You’d be hard pressed for anyone who visits Denver  and doesn’t leave here thinking ‘Wow, what a great city, I’d love to live there,’” Connelly said. “The ownership group is the most impactful and powerful ownership group in all of sports – from London to L.A. There’s no one who has what the Kroenkes have.”

Connelly continued to explain why the Nuggets should be a top destination by adding, “We have the most unselfish superstar in the NBA [Nikola Jokić], with no contractual issues… When people [free agents] say it’s about winning, I don’t how we’re not one, two or three [as a free agency option].”

That said, Connelly and Malone made it clear the organization isn’t trying to skip steps in its aim to be a perennial contender. Both men discussed how excited they are to see the growth of several players.

“I think before we rush to say 'We need this or we need that', we need to be understanding of what our players just went through, and how we can help them get to the next level,” Malone said. “That's one thing I take great pride in. I think our staff has done a great job of building and developing our guys from within. The easy answer is always ‘Let’s go get Player X.’ The challenge sometimes is let's build one of our own players into that player, and we've had countless examples of that, which I think is a testament to the culture we have, a work culture.”

Can Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray take the next step?

The Nuggets’ star duo both proved they could raise their games in the postseason. Jokić had an historic playoff debut while Murray showed his fearlessness in playing toe-to-toe with Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard. The key will be how both build on what they showed to a global audience in the playoffs.

Malone appeared to be particularly emphatic in his comments about Murray, who has drawn some criticisms for a 4 of 18 showing in Game 7 of semifinals. The coach rattled off several positive stats about his young point guard before explaining what he expects from him next season.

“Overall, I thought Jamal was remarkable in the playoffs.  What I saw was inconsistency at times, which is what happens with most young players not named Nikola Jokić,” Malone said. “For Jamal it's continuing to develop how he approaches the game and the offseason.

“It's about how do I become a better player, a more consistent player. And these are conversations I've had with him. So, it's not 48 points one night and then eight points the next night. It's a consistent approach every single night where you know what you're going to get from Jamal.”

As for Jokić, Malone praised his All-Star center’s historic postseason, but also believes there’s several things he can do to raise his game even further.

“For Nikola, it's continuing to work on his body and footwork,” Malone said. “I thought he took a huge step forward this year in terms of his mental approach and maturity handling adversity and the referees, so that has to continue. From a basketball standpoint, he showed me so much on the offensive and defensive end in the playoffs.”

He added, “I know he'll come back a much better player this year than he was last year because he's done that every summer.”

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