Denver Nuggets 2019-20 Season Roundtable
The Nuggets’ thrilling and often dramatic 2019-20 season came to a close on Sunday, and what a journey it was.
Exciting young players? Check.
A dream run in the playoffs? Check.
Things to look forward to in the upcoming season? Of course.
Nuggets.com writers Alex Labidou and Eric Spyropoulos took a look back at the 2019-20 season and offer their thoughts on where this team can build upon as it looks ahead.
What was your takeaway from this season?
Spyropoulos: The biggest takeaway is this team proved that with Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokić as the centerpieces that they can win and win big in the playoffs. There were doubts about that heading into this season and even heading into these playoffs. Last year, they made the second round, but the opponents weren't elite in comparison to this year. This year, they had a tough regular season and they weren’t as dominant as expected. They had a trade where they saw two long-term players in Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez leave. And you saw both Jokić and Murray still developing at times through the season.
Then the playoffs came around and those guys took over. They played like superstars and this team made the Western Conference Finals and were pretty competitive in that series. So, proving to people that they can win big in the playoffs with those two as the centerpieces is probably the biggest and most significant takeaway from the season moving forward.
Labidou: It’s the old cliché, but just how bright the future is with this team. That would be my biggest takeaway.
The Nuggets have two stars in Murray and Jokić who are under 26 years old and are going to be here for the foreseeable future. You have Michael Porter Jr., who showed a lot of promise --especially in the seating games. I thought that he looked great, though he will have to continue to grow on defense as we saw in the playoffs. But overall, he looked good.
Then you got Bol Bol, who was the talk of the scrimmages and seeding games. So yeah, the future is really bright. For me, it's just cool to be a part of that a small part of that journey and tell that story of how exciting this team can be in the future. With this team’s trajectory, it doesn’t appear as if it will take a step back. There’s plenty to look forward to.
Who was the team MVP?
Labidou: This is a tough. Because at times, you could really make a case for four players: Murray, Will Barton, Paul Millsap and Jokić.
In the first quarter of the season, it looked like it was going to be Millsap. People forget just how good he was during the team’s opening 20 games. For me, and this might surprise a few people, but I’m going to go with Jamal.
The reason why I’m picking him is due to the fact Nikola kind of worked his way back after being involved in the World Cup. We didn’t see the center at his best until really late November, December. Even when Jamal struggled, he picked up his playmaking and defense. Then to spend the hiatus period getting stronger and become a superstar in the bubble, that speaks to his desire to get better. So that cements that choice for me.
Spyropoulos: I’d have to split the question up because the regular season was so different from the playoffs. So for the regular season, I'd go with Nikola. He had a slow start, but then from about late November on he was just dominant. He made all NBA second team for a reason.
In the playoffs, the MVP was Jamal. He broke out and played at an All-NBA level with scorching hot shooting, really good playmaking and consistent defense. He led the playoffs in minutes played by far. It’s not a bad problem to have when you have two different MVPs of the team taking over at different points of the season.
What was the biggest surprise of the season?
Spyropoulos: The fact that they made NBA history made two 3-1 comebacks. I think that is the biggest surprise in and of itself. I mean, to make one 3-1 comeback, only 11 teams had done that before the Nuggets did in the first round. But to be the first team to ever make to let alone against the team, that many including myself picked in the Clippers to win the championship has to be the biggest surprise overall.
I think if you want to kind of go more specific in terms of the players, I think Jamal's playoff performance is the biggest surprise in terms of that. People were high on him this whole time, throughout the regular season and leading into the playoffs. But I think even if you ask some of the biggest Jamal optimists, I don't think they would have told you ‘yeah, he's going to average 27 points and around seven assists per game in the playoffs’. He shot around 50, 45 and 90, 50 percent from the field, 45 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line in the playoffs and played 39 minutes per game. I think even the biggest optimist would probably not have predicted that level of performance for him.
Labidou: Obviously, the playoff run is a huge surprise, I don't think anyone would have predicted them beating the Clippers to get to the Western Conference Finals.
For me, I was surprised by both Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol for different reasons. I knew MPJ had a lot of potential and talent, but to actually see it on the court was exciting. Remember, we were all like talking about him like he was like some mythical creature last season. To actually see him in that first game in preseason against Portland and then his journey through the season, was fun.
And then Bol. I didn't know what to expect from Bol aside from seeing him shoot some threes at practice. I didn’t expect him to be anywhere near as seamless of a fit as he looked during the seeding games.
What is the biggest need in the offseason?
Spyropoulos: Let's start with the shooting. This team could really benefit from just having one, or hopefully two pure knockdown shooters. Shooters that the defense just will not leave them open. The type of shooters the defense cannot leave and are forced to stay on them so they can't help on drives or double-teams.
Even if you just only add one shooter to this team, it would be huge. It opens up the floor for Jamal’s drives to the basket and perhaps more importantly, as we saw in the playoffs, it makes it harder to double Nikola, which happened a lot in the playoffs, especially the Clippers series. He torched those doubles because he's the best passing big man of all time. But if he's going to pass out now to a knockdown shooter or two, then the offense is deadly and you really can't even double Nikola which makes him basically unstoppable as well.
Labidou: If the Lakers series taught this team anything, it is that the Nuggets need more physicality and they need guys who can be enforcers in the paint. The Nuggets were in the bottom third of shot blocking at 19th. So just adding someone who can block shots in this league would be key.
And then obviously shooting is important. Jamal really stepped up with his three-point shooting, hitting at 45.3 percent. But aside from Nikola, who shot an impressive 42.9 percent, it was sporadic from the rest of the team.
What are your expectations for next season?
Labidou: I think they’ll be a top four seed again, but it really depends on a few things. One thing to watch is just how crowded the West will be next year. You got the Warriors presumably back to their best and other teams like the Suns, Pelicans and Kings, who are fighting to take a step forward. I think that the Nuggets will win above 50-52 games, but the playoffs are where everyone wants to see progress and it really comes down to matchups.
What I am excited about is seeing if MPJ becomes the legitimate third option for this team. Because I think if that happens, then you have a situation where this team does match up really well with the contenders in the West.
Spyropoulos: I mean, it's so hard to predict because we don't know when the season is going to start, where they're going to be playing and what the team is going to add in the Draft and free agency. Let's say Murray continues to play at an All-Star level and we assume that Jokić will be All-NBA as usual. I think you combine those two guys with just the depth that they're going to have, regardless of what they do in the offseason, they're going to have enough depth they should be a dominant regular season team. You know, upwards of 50-55 wins, I think is what you can expect in the regular season.
For playoff performance that's so hard to predict because it's all about matchups. You’ll have to come back to me for those predictions next season.