Denver Nuggets: Top 10 influential figures of 2010s
The Denver Nuggets have grown tremendously as an organization over the past decade, going through changes in the front office, coaching staff and of course, on the court. The decade began with plenty of success and several trips to the postseason before the team retooled during the middle stage of the decade. That transition period gave way to this current iteration of the team, which is led by a dynamic young core and head coach Michael Malone, who is in his fifth season as the team’s leader.
Given the amount of change that Denver has gone through over the past decade, Nuggets.com writers Eric Spyropoulos and Alex Labidu have built a list of the most influential figures inside the organization from the decade as the Nuggets look forward to bigger and better things in 2020.
10. Chris Marlowe and Scott Hastings
Chris Marlowe has excited Nuggets fans with his play-by-play commentary on Altitude since 2004. Marlowe joined Altitude and the Nuggets after calling then-Pacific 10 Basketball for FOX Sports Northwest in addition to handling USC Trojan play-by-play duties for FOX Sports West.
Meanwhile, Scott Hastings has spent a combined 25 seasons as a player and broadcaster for the Denver Nuggets and currently serves as the team’s color commentator on Altitude broadcasts. Hastings was formerly a color commentator for the Denver Broncos and entertains Denver sports fans through various Altitude Sports Radio shows.
9. Gary Harris
Harris is the Nuggets’ longest-tenured player on the current roster, which has helped shape his perspective on how the franchise grew during the second half of this past decade. While Harris put up impressive scoring numbers and 3-point shooting percentages in his first couple of seasons, he has now developed into one of the elite perimeter defenders in the NBA, earning the nickname “First Team” throughout the Nuggets’ locker room (referring to the NBA’s First Team All-Defense accolade).
8. Masai Ujiri
Masai Ujiri’s successful navigation of the Carmelo Anthony trade helped build the 57-win Nuggets team for the 2012-13 season, which is still the most wins in a single season in franchise history. Ujiri’s successful draft picks included Kenneth Faried and Evan Fournier, while his ability to play a role in the Dwight Howard trade in the summer of 2012 further shaped Denver’s roster for the 2012-13 season. As a result of the team’s success that year, Ujiri was named Executive of the Year.
7. Wilson Chandler
A key piece in the aforementioned Anthony trade, Chandler arrived in Denver in February of 2011 and would remain a key player for the Nuggets up until 2018. Chandler’s seven seasons with the Nuggets are by far the most he has spent with a single team in his career, and he was very active in those years, posting averages of 13.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game as a Nugget. Although Chandler didn’t experience much postseason success in Denver, he was a stabilizing presence for the franchise in the years following Anthony’s departure and helped transition several new head coaches into the locker room.
6. Jamal Murray
The Blue Arrow arrived in Denver for the 2016-17 season as a final piece to the Anthony trade (Denver selected him with a first-round pick it received from New York) and has captured the attention of Nuggets fans through his incredible shot-making and penchant for hitting clutch baskets. Murray has improved his play in each of his first four seasons in the league and is a key piece of Denver’s future after signing a five-year contract this past summer. Murray’s arrival in Denver occurred during the same season in which Nikola Jokić was handed the reins to the offense, and the rest has been history. The one-two punch between Denver’s center and point guard has fueled a lot of success for the Nuggets and should only continue to do so in the coming decade.
5. Danilo Gallinari
The Italian swingman was one of several key pieces acquired in the move that sent Carmelo Anthony to New York and quickly emerged as a favorite in the Mile High City due to his professionalism and class.
Gallinari was a Nugget for six seasons, averaging 16.2 points and 4.9 rebounds in 303 games. His best season might have been in Michael Malone’s first season as Denver’s head coach as he emerged as the team’s leading scorer at 19.5 points per game. Gallinari refused to let an transitional period affect his mentality as a teammate. He is often credited for being an early mentor to future superstar Nikola Jokić. Gallinari recently reflected on his time in Denver:
I had a great time in Denver, this city and this organization will be always in my heart pic.twitter.com/CWXcwYVtP0
— DANILO GALLINARI (@gallinari8888) December 15, 2019
The feeling is mutual, Danilo! Grazie!
4. Michael Malone
Coach Malone has the third-best winning percentage (54.4) in the Nuggets’ NBA history after George Karl and Doug Moe. Malone is also third in NBA wins for the franchise at 196. With the continued ascent of the team’s young core, those two numbers will continue to climb.
Attention to detail on defense and developing young players have been two of Malone’s strongest qualities since joining the Nuggets in 2015. Malone ensures his players fully understand his concepts before giving them minutes on the court and Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Nikola Jokić are among the benefactors of the approach. An impressive seven of the Nuggets’ 10 players in their rotation (Murray, Harris, Jokić, Malik Beasley, Monte Morris and Michael Porter Jr.) were drafted by the organization. That says a lot about the synergy between the team’s current front office and coaching staff.
3. Josh and Stan Kroenke
How a team fares on the court typically starts at the top and the Nuggets have had two successful rebuilds in the past decade. When Josh Kroenke was given the reigns to the franchise by his father Stan in 2010, he immediately acted with an assertive hand on several key moments for the franchise.
It was Kroenke who insisted on being aggressive with Anthony’s trade request, fighting to ensure the Nuggets would get the maximum assets for an All-Star player. It was also Kroenke’s early backing of Tim Connelly that enabled the Nuggets executive to have autonomy when it came to making bold draft choices, including Jokić, Porter Jr. and Bol Bol this past summer. It is rare that an NBA franchise can build two sets of contending teams as Denver did in the early part of the decade and with its current roster. It comes down to the buy in from ownership and Josh and Stan Kroenke are a big reason why the future is bright for basketball in the Mile High City.
2. Nikola Jokić
The Nuggets got a lot of quality assets in their trade of Anthony in 2011, but they spent years to trying to find their next franchise-caliber player. That all changed when Jokić arrived in Denver in 2015.
Not much was known about the Serbian center back then and even a fast food commercial was played when his selection was announced in the second round of the 2014 draft. Yet, once Jokić got on the court, he instantly displayed signs of his can’t miss potential. Incredible hands, great footwork offensively with an almost John Stockton-like court vision that has become his standout trait.
READ MORE: How the Nuggets discovered Jokić
At just 24, Jokić is already ninth on the NBA’s all-time triple-doubles list – surpassing legends like Bob Cousy and Michael Jordan. He is also the first Nuggets player to receive a spot on the All-NBA First Team since David Thompson did it twice in the late 70s. The lists of accolades continue to grow for Denver’s new basketball superstar and its scary considering he hasn’t reached his prime yet.
1. Tim Connelly
Tim Connelly’s ability to adjust on the fly might be his greatest quality as an NBA executive and the reason why the Nuggets appear set to contend for the next decade.
Connelly will be the first person to acknowledge some of the early challenges of his tenure in leading the Nuggets organization. In a league where some executives are reluctant to move on from missteps, Connelly has admirably been able to quickly pivot and course correct when needed.
Connelly also deserves credit for building a strong front office, which includes well-respected General Manager Artūras Karnišovas and up and coming assistant GM Calvin Booth. The strong emphasis on scouting allows the Nuggets to maximize on their draft capital. As mentioned previously, the Nuggets have seven players in their rotation who were drafted by the team and the organization is constantly praised for having some of the top young players in the NBA.
Under the revitalized culture from Connelly's leadership, players on the current roster have shown a willingness to commit to the team's future with both Murray and Jokić signing early long-term extensions.
It’s an exciting time to be a member of Mile High Basketball and Connelly’s impact is a big reason behind that.