See Why Denver Is Set up for a Bright Future
Starting with the drafting of Carmelo Anthony back in 2003, the Denver-area experienced a basketball renaissance when they saw the typically-struggling team find a winning formula under then coach, George Karl. In going to the playoffs every year starting in 2003-2004 and ending in 2013, fans starving for good basketball were introduced to a squad that was consistently in the mix during the postseason.
Whether or not the current Denver Nuggets make the playoffs (as of right now they are trailing Portland for the last playoff spot), the future still looks bright for the young up and comers. In blowing up the roster just a few years prior, General Manager Tim Connelly and company set about restocking the team with young talent and merging them with holdovers like Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler from the previous regime.
From being in basketball purgatory to being a breath away from the playoffs, it’s a welcome change to the Pepsi Center faithful. This new collection of talent ranging from the best passing big man since Vlade Divac, to a bevy of perimeter players to go along with a tantalizing wing player has Denver teeming with potential and on the verge of something special in the not-so-distant future.
Starting in the frontcourt, Nikola Jokic has been nothing short of a revelation. Starting off his career so lightly regarded it was initially presumed that he needed two or three years in Europe to fully mature, to now being one of the most dynamic young big men in the league, is nothing short of remarkable. Jokic’s play and numbers during the second half of the season put him in the conversation with Karl Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis as the best post player in the league under the age of 25.
In one possession against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Jokic put his name on the minds of many who watch the NBA as he took the presumptive, best player in the league in LeBron James, for a ride. Showing deft footwork, soft touch and some brute strength, Jokic literally put James on his back, bullying his way to an easy bucket, all the while announcing his arrival as one of the top post players in the Association today.
The backcourt has a trio of promising players in guards Gary Harris, Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray. Presumed to lose minutes upon the drafting of Murray, Harris instead put a stranglehold on the starting two guard spot. Easily the Nuggets’ best perimeter defender, Harris has raised his scoring average from last year’s respectable 12.3 points per game to a career best 15.1, as well as becoming a threat behind the three-point line, making 42 percent of his attempts.
Although he hasn’t played as many minutes as initially thought, Murray still shows flashes of why he was a lottery choice this past offseason, as witnessed by his 30-point game on Friday night. In moving over to point guard, the former Wildcat still shows rough spots that need to be worked out over the offseason. However, Murray did give a glimpse of his tremendous upside when he was named the MVP of the Rising Stars Game over All Star Weekend, the first Nugget to win the award since Kenneth Faried back in 2013.
The wild card of the group is Mudiay. The former high draft pick began the season running the show as Denver’s full time point guard until an injury and uneven play sent him to the end of the bench. As much of a disappointment as it has been to see the promising guard not out on the court, Mudiay is still the most physically talented of the three. If he is able to meld his measurable physical gifts with a dedication to cutting down his turnovers and improving his shot selection, he can still be the point guard of the future the team envisioned when he was drafted a couple of years ago.
Including role players like Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez into the mix, you have a team that is built to contend for the playoffs as early as next season. The Denver coaching staff struggles getting meaningful minutes to Beasley that dictate frequent trips to the Sioux City Skyforce in the D-League to stay busy. During his time there though, he has proven to be a capable scorer at both guard spots.
Hernangomez resembles the career trajectory of Jokic in that he is a European player believed to need more seasoning overseas before joining the Nuggets full time. While the player known as “Juancho” does need an offseason or two to add some bulk to his frame, Hernangomez has been an effective three-point shooter off the bench to go along with being a willing defender and rebounder.
The youth movement is in full swing and sets the team up to be a playoff threat for years to come. With a potential superstar in Jokic being paired with solid wing players like Hernangomez and Harris, to go along with Murray and Mudiay, pulling the strings at the point and a combo guard capable of filling up the basket in Beasley, Denver will go a long way in climbing back into respectability in the crowded Western Conference of the NBA.