Well, the Denver Nuggets are only 11 days away from their first pre-season game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The season is no longer fast approaching; With Media Day on Monday, September 26th, the season is now official.
The Nuggets enter the season with a unique and specific goal of reaching the first-ever NBA Finals and ending the season by lifting the trophy as the 2022-23 NBA Champions. In order to achieve their goal, there are five questions that must be answered.
Can Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. return to their pre-injury levels before the playoffs arrive?
If the Nuggets are to have any hope of making their first NBA Finals, they’ll need both Murray and Porter not only healthy, but at their best, something that requires a lot of players who basically missed last season.
Could Murray reach a point where he and Jokic could become the elite two-man tandem they were before his injury? Will he be able to relieve the pressure on Djokic when defenses enter the back-to-back best player? Will Murray’s time recovering from an ACL tear make his journey back to being productive in defense a difficult and long one? Are there any concerns lingering in the back of Murray’s mind that his knee will let him down? These are the challenges Murray must overcome before the playoffs arrive in order for the Nuggets to be at their best. That’s a short time to progress so quickly, but Murray is capable of being the player Denver needs.
Porter, although very important, has easier integration on the court than Murray because his role is less complex. Murray must manage the offense as the point guard, constantly finding ways to prepare the Jokic to attack with advantage, keep everyone involved, and defend well at the point of attack. For Porter, his role is to play the role of a shooter on offense and check for smaller attackers when defending. The weight that Porter is carrying is simply less than that of Murray. Hopefully for the Nuggets, this means that Porter will easily slip into his role and could be the six-foot-10 sniper they need.
Will the four-man squad of Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon and Nikola Jokic rediscover the dominance of two seasons ago?
Admittedly, the four-man squad that includes Murray, Porter, Gordon and Jokic has only played 117 minutes all together, but it was amazing in those 117 minutes.
Denver went 4-1 in those five games and that group posted an offensive rating of 126.4 and a defensive rating of 108.2 equal to +18.2 net rating. When comparing those numbers to marks that lasted all season last year, Denver would have the best in basketball in both the offensive rating and the net rating while sitting fourth in the defensive rating. That group completely dominated in every aspect.
Denver will need to extract every bit of potential from that four-man group regardless of the fifth member. These are the four players who will lead Denver to their goals. Without them playing at a high level individually and as a unit, Denver has little hope of truly competing for their berth in the first finals.
Could the new nuggets additions of Bruce Brown and Kentavius Caldwell’s Bob give Denver the boost they need?
In my view, nothing has been more explicit about the Nuggets case over the past few seasons than their particularly porous ocean defense.
The Nuggets’ head of basketball operations, Calvin Booth, apparently agrees with that assessment because his two biggest moves in his first season in his new role were to trade Barton and Morris with the Washington Wizards for defensive-minded Kentavius Caldwell Pope before eventually signing with Bruce Brown. .
Brown and Caldwell Pope are already established as strong defenders in the league. Caldwell Bob won a title and should provide a new level of defense for Denver on point of attack. Brown, despite being six feet four, defended the big men more often than the threats surrounding the Brooklyn Nets, but his influence as a defender was always felt. He can really defend four positions and likely see a lot of opposing flanks as a defensive mission.
If the Nuggets don’t get more than a defensive upgrade to their roster from both, the trade and signature are both worth it, but if both can find a way to help attack – Caldwell-Bob hits three-pointers and it looks like spotting Brown attacking as a breaker, helps set up the others as a passer. , and hits a triple when left open – Denver’s roof can surpass any basketball team.
Will Bones Hyland take over the reserve point guard role and provide the creativity that Denver lost to Monty Morris and will Barton end up third in Washington?
Bones Hyland has shown an incredible amount of potential as an offensive player, but there is no harder role to learn in full basketball than that of a young guard learning to manage an NBA squad. Plus, the safety net of having so many creators on the list is no longer a luxury Hyland will enjoy. With Barton and Morris in Denver, the only other real creator on the bench was Ish Smith. Denver frustrates innovators who in turn put a heavy burden on Hyland’s shoulders.
These facts make this a giant request for a sophomore headguard who is still learning the intricacies of playing a point guard.
Hyland has already shown a lot of variety in his bag of tricks which has helped make up for his lack of experience, but this season he will be an entirely different animal. Last year, Hyland took advantage of the surprise and lack of films to use opponents against him. This year, every team Denver takes part in will know the rules of the game in Hyland and will attack it with greater precision. Teams will be looking to physically engage him to disable his handle and fight on every screen to prevent him from firing three open cursors, so he has to go downhill and make more decisions.
Hyland has the ability to not only fill the shoes Morris vacated, but thrive in a way Morris couldn’t. Where Morris was conservative and steady, Hyland was explosive and lively. The upside is much higher, but in order to truly unleash its potential, Hyland’s consistency will be key.
This will not be an easy task with a lot of pressure on Hyland to perform at a high level for a team with title aspirations despite only entering its second season.
What can bench unit Nuggets do to keep games afloat while novice players rest?
This is a very minor issue and we hope it will be rectified by having better players who have a better fit on the field with each other.
Last year, Beginner Nuggets had a +/- of +275 in 2479 minutes which was the seventh best beginner mark according to NBA.com. Unfortunately, their bench unit was outdone by 86 points in 1482 minutes which is the 23rd best.
This season, Denver will be able to convince the rookies to use the bench unit and they should benefit from a jump in overall talent, but even with these advantages working in their favour, the bench unit will have to prove it can produce before anyone can trust it simply not to fall apart .
As noted above, Hyland will be the reserve server, but the pressure on him to keep playing the bench at a high level will be enormous. Brown will likely slip forward as the junior striker leaving three points missing.
Will Zeke Nnagy lock himself up in the role of backup force forward? Denver certainly hopes so, but if he struggles or continues to deal with injury issues, Vlatko Kankar could slip into the role.
In the reserve shooting guard, there will be a training camp entry site battle. Can Christian Brown hit open three-pointers and defend at a high level, or will more experienced player Davon Reed get the role? Will both Fight and Denver choose to play Ash Smith for Hyland despite defensive limitations? These questions still lack answers.
The backup center is set to be a revolving door. Denver could play big with newly signed DeAndre Jordan or could play smaller with Jeff Green down below. If they wanted, Denver could even look to get Kancar minutes into the center and play with very small intervals. Maybe even Nnaji can grow enough as a defender and painter to score minutes in the center. Nuggets have options and Malone will likely use them all season long.
However, without holding on to the bench unit with strings, Denver could find itself slipping to the bottom of the arrangement. If they want to get a good playoff seed, a bench unit is going to be crucial.