Road to a Nuggets Championship


The Denver Nugget current roster is young. We have numerous pieces whose potential excitedly oozes off the court, but when will their abilities come to peak? Faried and Gallinari compose a shaky foundation for the development of these pieces, as young and budding talent tends to lean on the experience and brains of team “veterans”.   As one of the younger teams in the league, the responsibilities of primed players like Gallinari (age 27), and Faried (26) fall into a brighter spotlight. The team seemingly has a future physical asset at each position, with multiple options at center. So how does this team progress and grow? Are they doomed to stagnancy? If Jokic, Nurkic, Harris and Mudiay don’t evolve the way one hopes, Denver could find themselves in the playoff contention limbo for years to come. With the obviously and blatantly clear goal of becoming an NBA champion, I will discuss Denver’s fastest route to snagging the Larry Obrien trophy. The easiest and clearest ways to increase a team’s success is through free agency and the draft.

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  • In the Draft:

    In the coming three years the Nuggets have an onslaught of draft picks. This coming summer Denver can play around with the better option between their own draft selection and the New York Knicks (the pick will likely result in a 6th-8th overall selection), the Rockets’ first round pick (likely between 15th and 18th overall) and the Blazers first round selection (17-19th). Their three first round selections are the highest of any NBA team in the league. Stockpile those with their three second round choices and the Nuggets have some fun toys to toss around on draft night.

    Free Agency:

    In regards to free agency, the Nuggets have only about $69 million dished out towards player salaries, a number that decreases to $43 M, $34 M and $26 M annually in guaranteed contracts. Especially with the expected uptick in salary cap in the coming season due to TV contract dough, the Nuggets have a lot of bills to throw around during free agency. Their highest paid player is Gallo at $11 mill (66th highest paid player in the NBA), and his contract expires this summer. The salary cap is expected to increase over $23 million in the coming season, giving the Nuggets nearly $50 mill to spend on high value assets.

    Maximizing Player Assets:

    With the slew of picks and their excessively fat wallet, Denver could be bringing in some fresh meat to improve their system. Here’s what we know:

    Mudiay is raw and unpolished, but seems to be the PG of Denver’s future. His efficiency ratings leave much to be desired of a starting NBA guard (His PER ranks 22nd among fellow rookies), but his athleticism and court vision are good foundational cornerstones to build and develop his other skills (especially jumpshooting) around. His ghastly usage rate of 25.7 ranks first among rookies and 30th overall in the league. He clearly is going to have the ball in his hands, and acquiring a veteran guard’s shoulder for him to lean on could help his output.

    Jokic is impressive. The 6’11’’ Serbian is making waves despite only logging 20 minutes a game. Because of his dearth of minutes, it is tough to measure his value through his per game statistics.  Luckily analytical measures are a thing, and he is dominating numerous categories of efficiency.  He ranks second to Karl Godmode Towns in nearly every advantageous efficiency rating, including PER (21.9), rebound rate (18.9), added value, and wins added over replacement player. We’re talking numbers that rank among league leaders. Give this man some minutes.

    Denver is accruing a deep and strong bench. It may not seem it now, but the Nuggs are quietly building one of the most dependable and diverse benches in the league. A lot needs to progress in the next two seasons, specifically the establishment of bench roles for certain starters now. Will The Thrill, Gary Harris, Jusuf Nurkic, and the healing Wilson Chandler comprise one of the strongest potential benches in coming seasons. This bench will produce a lot of offense, and can be depended on for inconsistent defensive stops.

    Feb 1, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) dunks the ball against Toronto Raptors center Bismack Biyombo (8) in the third quarter at Pepsi Center. The Nuggets defeated the Raptors 112-93. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
    Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

    So Denver has a scoring bench, a PG and a big for their hypothetical championship run. Meaning they need some two way swing players and another big to space out the floor. Faried is under contract through 2019, cementing him as a Nugget for this run unless he is moved in a trade. Which I recommend pairing in a deal with Gallo, whose non-guaranteed contract draws appeal as a trade sweetener allowing teams to freely spend more bills, but we’ll touch on that more later. Nugget expiring contracts include DJ Augustin and Mike Miller. Cut ‘em both. Before draft day and free agency, these holes would leave the Nuggets roster with three empty spots. Knowing what they have on hand, I have composed a prioritized but ambiguous wish list that will help reach the holy grail that is putting championship rings on everybody’s fingers:


    -Defensive 2 guard (ideally 3 + D)

    -Defensive swing

    -Veteran point guard

    -Offensive 4 (Preferably with a smooth jumper)

    -Bench rebounding

    -Star power (More Nuggets on SportCenter)

    Draft Solutions:

    Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
    Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

    Now, to become less ambiguous. Denver’s first venue to feast at is the draft. With 10 games remaining in the season, the Nuggets currently have the 8th, 16th and 18th selections in the first round. As a young team, feeding undeveloped and adolescent mouths is an issue already. Bringing in three new men under the age of 22 wouldn’t bode well for the maximization of development for any of them. This is why trading 1-2 of these selections is a very smart and strategic move. Whether trading up in the lottery or moving picks for players, both are choices in the right direction. It isn’t unreasonable to move the 8th pick with one of the other selections, to move up to snag the 4th or 5th pick, from which they could presumably snag Croatian Dragan Bender (best name in NBA history? I think so). Another work in progress could become overwhelming and add to an already inexperienced core, but gambling on top international talent has always been high risk-high reward. Spending picks on an offensive four means more money for guards and swings in free agency.

    On the flipside, the Nuggs could trade down in the lottery while gaining physical assets. Several teams would willingly hand over seemingly large contracts for the unknown potential associated with draft selections. In a genius deal for both squads, Denver sends all three of their selections  to the Phoenix suns for injury-troubled-kamikaze guard Eric Bledsoe. Upon first glance Phoenix fans would scoff at this deal. In reality, the move would free space for snipersauce shooter Devin Booker to continue his meteor shower of draino performances with a higher level of responsibility. Additionally, the Suns would gain more resources to try their luck in the draft. They already have the 3rd and the 13th selection (according to lottery probability through record). That would mean they get five first round selections and a higher likelihood of striking gold like they did with Boy Band Booker (13th pick last year). More importantly, Denver would bring in a contagious play style of defensive intensity and effort with Bledsoe. The sparkplug’s play style mirrors Mudiay’s career potential, and hopefully Emmanuel could learn a step or two from the process.

    Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
    Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

    A third option for the draft is keeping picks and rolling the dice on players that could fit into Mike Malones jungle offense. At the eighth selection, all the crème de la crème crop will be snagged. That doesn’t mean there isn’t potential to be coddled. Players could be floating under the radar at the middle stage of the draft. Washington PG Dejounte Murray shows promise as a passing and ball dangling 2-guard with smooth shooting form. His NBA comparisons are Jamal Crawford more so because of his size (6’5’’, 170) than his play style. Imagine if Bradley Beal never played with a PG so he was trained to be a ball handler and passer first, shooter second. That’s what I see. Obviously Kentucky’s Jamal Murray and Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield would be great snags at 8, but it is understandable if they are off the board. Although it pains me to say due to an unknown personal vendetta, Denzel Valentine looks like a puzzle fit, especially at 16 or 18. His IQ and defensive strength as well as ability to develop a shot could transfer into a solid 3 for Denver. UNC’s Brice Johnson is another potential gem to sweep up if he drops to 16 or 18. Tyrone Wallace from Cali is similar to Dejounte and could be a good consolation as well, if they cant obtain the alpha between the two earlier. The real steal at any of the later selections is Michigan Wolverine Caris LeVert. The volume shooter and bucketeer ended his season in January when he snapped his foot, but will supposedly be healthy for the combine. LeVert would be a lottery pick if he had stayed healthy, as his athleticism and size (6’7’’ two-guard with 7’1’’ wingspan) give him an advantage over the majority of opposing twos. If I were Malone and Connelly, I would have LeVert on my “must haves” regardless of the rest of Denver’s draft strategy.

    Ideal Draft Day Result:

    -Grab Bledsoe in deal with Suns.

    -Pick LeVert at 16 or 18 (whichever selection remains)

    Free Agency Solutions:

    The Nuggets will have capital to blow. Although, Denver would be ecstatic if they could persuade Kevin Durant into accepting a max deal, it is unlikely due to the onslaught of competing suitors. As solace, the Nuggets have no restrictions on other viable targets (other than LeBron) to target in free agency. Both Pau Gasol and Al Horford are strong offensive fours that have the ability to stretch the floor with their jumper. Horford is a better fit, but Gasol is a more economically responsible target. To compensate for a scarcity of 3-point shooting at the Nuggets new 1 and 2 (Mudiay/Bledsoe), targeting restricted free agents such as Bradley Beal and Harrison Barnes with hefty offers could return amazing value. Other intriguing names include Ryan Anderson, Courtney Lee, Nicolas Batum, Mizra Teletovic and Chandler Parsons. As far as acquiring a veteran point guard to double as a mentor for younger players; the options are fairly weak overall, including the DUI ridden Ty Lawson, former sensation Jeremy Lin and hot n cold master Brandon Jennings. One shining light peeks through the rough with aging PG Deron Williams. He has a player option to take a gaudy contract from the Mavs next season. A sign-and-trade deal to dispose the Mavs of their Deron contract burden will free them money to sign a bigger name in free agency that can help them more immediately. Send Dallas Lauvergne and a future protected first round pick

    Ideal Free Agency:

    -Sign Beal and Teletovic.

    -Sign-and-trade Deron Williams

    Getting Closer to Titletown:

    So now the depth chart looks something like this:

    E. MudiayE. BledsoeD. GallinariK. FariedN. Jokic
    D. WilliamsB. BealW. BartonM. TeletovicJ. Nurkic
    J. NelsonC. LeVertW. ChandlerJ. Lauvergne
     G. HarrisD. Arthur
    Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
    Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

    Obviously this is a vast improvement from the current Nuggs, but moving forward, this team still lacks explosive factors and star power needed to bring home a trophy. This is when to shop some of the bigger names on the squad. Moving Faried, Gallo and Gary Harris will return good value for the Nuggets. Earlier this season the Clippers offered Blake Griffin for Faried, Gallo, Jokic and Barton. Because Griffin’s contract is expiring, the Nuggets were nervous to give up so many assets without assurance that he would stay. After the Clippers lose in the playoffs, fingers will be pointed, and either CP3 (unlikely), DeAndre Jordan (potentially) or Blake (most likely) will be shipped away in hopes that blowing up their system will refurbish a deeper playoff run. Especially after the Clip’s success during Blakes injury absence and his off the court issues, prying him away wouldn’t be an overwhelming task. Moving Gallo, Faried, and Gary Harris is a more than reasonable offer for the Kia spokesman. For the financials to line up the Clippers would need to throw in the restructured contract of Jeff Green (will presumably be cheaper than his current $9 mill expiring contract). The Nuggets would need some sort of verbal confirmation that Blake would extend his contract come the summer of 2017. The teams’ increase in activity on the trade market, draft night and free agency shows stars that they mean business and have the right goal in mind. With the removal of Gallo from the squad, the starting lineup lacks exterior shooting. Testing both Mizra Teletovic and Beal at the 3 to see which produces more chemistry-induced results will make up for the loss of the Italian.


    E. MudiayE. BledsoeB. BealB. GriffinN. Jokic
    D. WilliamsC. LeVertW. BartonM. TeletovicJ. Nurkic
    J. NelsonJ. GreenD. Arthur
    W. Chandler

    This roster is seemingly unthinkable when overlaid with their current lineup, but through consecutive strategic moves a roster similar to the caliber of this is within reach. The Western Conference still remains incredibly competitive and although a roster of this quality warrants greater playoff success, they will still struggle to reach The Finals. This team has the strongest offensive bench in the league, specifically a plutonic pairing of Bosnians Nurkic and Teletovic in the frontcourt. Has a great defensive backcourt to defend the likes of Curry/Thompson, Westbrook/X, CP3/JJ, and other potent guard duos in the west. This depth chart could genuinely evolve to a championship roster within four years, especially with the continued development of Jokic, Nurkic, Mudiay and LeVert.

    Surprisingly, this roster doesn’t breach the expected cap raise close to $90, meaning the team will have more capital to toss at Blake during contract extension talks.

    I apologize if I cause anyone to drool over the prospective possibility that something like this actually occurs, as it is still just hypothesizing and wishful (but reasonable) thinking.