Today WTLC kicks off our preview of the Western Conference teams. First up - the Denver Nuggets.
The Denver Nuggets are a vastly unnoticed team in the Western Conference's roiling bloodbath. Three years of mediocre 30-odd-win seasons have left them in the rear-view mirror of a Conference that is arduous to rebuild in. However, Mike Malone and his men are beginning to construct a team worthy of a return to prominence.
Rebuilding is a frustrating process, more so in the NBA than perhaps any other professional sport. With no guaranteed draft spots, downtrodden teams struggle without knowing where they'll land in the lottery. There are anomalous upsides of course (look at Cleveland's incredible luck), but a rebuild is almost always a drawn out ordeal with little promise of success.
The Nuggets are on their way, though, and the hiring of Malone has been key. The former Kings Head Coach was a popular man in Sacramento, but the owners' trigger-happy fingers meant he was out of a job earlier than expected. Much to the distaste of DeMarcus Cousins.
Now Malone finds himself in Colorado, and with his presence, the Nuggets' trajectory appears to be on an upswing. Can Denver break through next season, or will it be another year of rebuilding ball?
33-49 (.402), 11th in the Western Conference
106.2 (19th in NBA)
109.5 (23rd in NBA)
-3.3 (23rd in NBA)
D.J. Augustin (Orlando, Free Agency), Joffrey Lauvergne (Oklahoma City, Trade)
Malik Beasley (Florida State), Jamal Murray (Kentucky), Juan Hernangomez (Estudiantes), D.J. Kennedy (Yenisey Krasnoyarsk), Robbie Hummel (Free Agent), Jarnell Stokes (Free Agent)
Retained Free Agents
Darrell Arthur (3 years, $23 million), Mike Miller (2 years, $5 million)
Projected Starting Lineup
(C) Nikola Jokic, (PF) Kenneth Faried, (SF) Danilo Gallinari, (SG) Gary Harris, (PG) Emmanuel Mudiay
$74,863,998 million (28th in NBA)
The development of youth. Last year's third-best rookie (Jokic) joins another promising big in Nurkic, as the two battle for the center spot. In addition, Emmanuel Mudiay is coming along nicely at the point. Mudiay's development as a shooter can determine the team's ceiling as a whole.
Gary Harris is a great defender and terrific two-way player, and the hoard of draft picks available means there is more youth coming through the ranks. The Nuggets are a sleeper team this season with serious League Pass potential.
Projected Performance & Team Record
33-49, 5th in the Northwest Division. Despite heading for a similar record to last season's, the Nuggets will continue to improve. This progression will mostly come from Denver's talented youth. Meanwhile, veterans Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, Will Barton, Darrell Arthur and Jameer Nelson will further enhance the development process of Denver's bright nucleus.
The Nuggets should offer a solid offense, with depth in both the starting lineup and bench units. Unfortunately, they'll still have limiting defensive issues. Like last season, Denver will only advance as far as their defense will allow.
However, due to a load of assets and cap space, Mike Malone's bunch can be both creative and patient in improving this season. They've stayed the course thus far and have smart management that won't panic about speeding up the process.
Danilo Gallinari is one of the keys to the team progressing; his health has been questionable the past few years. Jokic is already vital to what the Nuggets do, and they were +9.5 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor during his rookie season. Eventually, extensions to player's on rookie scale contracts will diminish their cap room. Currently, however. they can afford to be patient and flexible.
This season, Denver's record won't be of utmost concern to the organization. Internal improvement and development will be just as important. Extra wins on top of that will be a bonus in a loaded and clustered mid-level of the Western Conference. The future is bright for the Nuggets, with a ceiling that matches the city's "Mile High" nickname. Don't sleep on Denver.
Be sure to check out the great Nuggets site Denver Stiffs to get the best coverage and community for Denver fans.