Denver Nuggets Position Season Preview: Centers

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@Eric_Spyros

During the 2018-19 season, Nikola Jokić established himself as one of the best centers in the NBA and a true MVP candidate. The Serbian big man finished fourth in the MVP race and was rewarded with a place on the All-NBA First Team.

In what was also his first All-Star season, Jokić averaged 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game, leading the Nuggets in all three categories. The blend of scoring and passing that Jokić provides from the center position truly establishes Denver’s offense as the most unique in the league.

Jokić’s ability to score in the post, hit the three and operate in the pick-and-roll make it nearly impossible to stop him on a nightly basis. Defenses also have to deal with Jokić as the primary ball-handler, as the 24-year-old big man is able make every pass to open shooters or teammates cutting to the rim.

Jokić is supported by Mason Plumlee, a big that can thrive on the boards and serve as a facilitator in Denver’s offense. Plumlee averaged 5.1 assists per-36 minutes this past season, and while he isn’t the primary ball-handler in the second unit, he is able to find open shooters and cutters on a regular basis.

Plumlee also provides the Nuggets with a big presence on the boards. The 29-year-old big man grabbed nearly 11 rebounds per-36 minutes, and his presence on the glass allowed Denver to maintain a strong rebounding advantage on a regular basis. Plumlee’s ability to get up high for contested rebounds and then bring the ball up the court is a unique component of the Nuggets’ transition game, an area in which the team thrived.

As a result of both centers being capable passers, the Nuggets are able to run a similar offensive system for all 48 minutes of a game, which can do wonders for team cohesion and chemistry. It’s a reason why despite several injuries to starters last season, bench players such as Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez and Torrey Craig were able to slide into the starting lineup and not disrupt anything.

Last season, an important aspect of Denver’s two-man center rotation is that both players were able to have success when operating together. As a result of Nikola Jokić’s shooting ability and Plumlee’s passing, the two big men have thrived when sharing the court together in recent seasons, and that trend continued in 2018-19. The duo posted a +7.9-net rating this past season, which is a result of the varied play styles that both men possess.

With Jerami Grant joining the frontcourt rotation in the offseason, it’s unclear if the two centers will spend much time on the court together in 2019-20, but it still provides a safety valve for Michael Malone.

Finally, an addition was made to the center group in the offseason in the form of Bol Bol. Although Bol will spend the 2019-20 season on a two-way contract, he may find some playing time at the NBA level towards the latter stages of the regular season.

Bol enters the NBA with one of the most unique skill sets at the center position. While the 19-year-old isn’t the passer that Jokić is, he has a blend of 3-point shooting and shot blocking that is rarely seen from the center position.

Although he played just nine games at Oregon, Bol averaged 21 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. That aforementioned 3-point shooting played a key role in his offensive success, as he connected on 52 percent from beyond the arc in college.

"My game is pretty unique because for my size, I can dribble pretty well, can shoot from anywhere pretty well, and my passing is pretty good,” Bol said after being drafted. “I can just do a lot of things that people my size can't do."

On the defensive end, Bol immediately sticks out as a result of his height and wingspan, which allows him to defend the rim and intimidate opponents from driving to the paint. Not only did Bol average 2.7 blocks per game (3.6 per-40 minutes), he also had four blocks in four of the nine collegiate games he played in. His length allows him to block jump shots when guarding out on the perimeter, while he is a natural rim protector given his stature.

Bol’s playing time in the NBA will be limited this season. However, as has been the case in recent seasons for Denver, player development can make a big difference for young players that enter the team’s system and locker room. The Nuggets can feel safe in knowing that they will have an elite one-two punch at center for another season as they look to compete for an NBA championship.

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