Why Nuggets fans should be optimistic heading into 2020-21 season
Despite having a relatively unfavorable offseason, the Denver Nuggets will be just fine in the 2020-21 season.
It’s safe to say that the 2020 offseason didn’t go exactly as planned for the Denver Nuggets.
Jerami Grant, Denver’s top priority, signed a three-year, $60 million deal with the Detroit Pistons. Jrue Holiday, a popular trade target (and personal favorite of mine), was dealt to the Milwaukee Bucks for three first-round draft picks despite the Nuggets’ being in hot pursuit of the highly-valued combo guard.
Meanwhile, Western Conference squads such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers, and Dallas Mavericks made savvy moves to improve already-lethal rosters; making the process of securing a top seed more difficult.
To put the cherry on top, Pepsi Center was renamed to “Ball Arena.”
Not the most ideal offseason for a team with championship aspirations.
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However, Nuggets fans need to regroup and take a deep breath. As disappointing as this offseason was, it would be foolish to say Denver took a step back.
First, let’s recap the joyous postseason Denver had.
Jamal Murray cemented himself as one of the best guards in the NBA. Averaging 26.5 points per game while shooting 50.5% from the field and 45.3% from 3-point range (on 7.2 attempts per game!!!) is nothing to undervalue.
Nikola Jokic continued to prove his dominance as the best center in the NBA, quietly posting elite averages of 24.4 points, 9.8 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game.
Michael Porter Jr. made significant strides over the course of the NBA restart and learned valuable lessons about his weaknesses in the postseason. Bol Bol, who made his NBA debut in the bubble, demonstrated his unique skillset and promising potential as well.
Meanwhile, Monte Morris and P.J. Dozier established their reliability, starring in their roles whenever they took the court.
And, what most people tend to forget, is how the Nuggets reached the Western Conference Finals without starting small forward Will Barton. Barton, who averaged 15.1 points per game last season, is now ready to return after fully recovering from a lingering knee issue.
Denver had a roster that was still loaded with talent before adding players like Zeke Nnaji, R.J. Hampton and Facundo Campazzo.
Sure, there are going to be those who still believe the Nuggets need a bonafide third star, like Washington Wizards star guard Bradley Beal. However, there’s really no need to add another star player to the team.
Not because they couldn’t use the added talent but because Nuggets already have the missing puzzle pieces at their fingertips.
I sense a breakout season for MPJ.
If he’s placed into the starting rotation (and there’s still a question of if he will be), Porter will have the opportunity to truly become the third option that Denver has needed. Coming off the bench for a majority of the 2019-20 season, MPJ averaged 9.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, shooting 50.9% from the field and 42.2% from behind the line.
When the training wheels are removed, there’s no doubt in my mind he can become a consistent third option for the Nuggets.
Porter averaged 12.3 points and 7.0 rebounds (2.3 offensive) in 22.7 minutes per game while shooting 41.2% from 3-point range in the 2020-21 preseason.
Like MPJ, 7’2″ Bol Bol is another Nuggets’ wildcard.
Making his NBA debut in the bubble, it’s safe to say that not NBA fans in general are excited to see what Bol can become.
A foot injury sidelined Bol for the entirety of the pre-bubble 2019-2020 regular season but the former Oregon standout made strong impressions when he finally made it onto the court in late July. Possessing elite length as the son of 7’7″ former center Manute Bol, Bol carries the characteristics to become the NBA’s next great unicorn big man.
Bol has the size and length to protect the rim, the shooting touch to space the floor, the ball-handling ability to lead fastbreaks and the passing ability that should make him yet another playmaking weapon for the Nuggets. However, his weight at 220 pounds is worrisome for his height as he has a slight frame and it raises questions as to his potential as an interior defender and enhances injury concerns.
My guess is that Bol carries the role MPJ had last season as a backend rotation player.
Bol averaged 8.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in 11.5 minutes per game in the preseason, shooting 33.3% from 3-point range.
With the 22nd overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Nuggets selected Zeke Nnaji, a 6’11” center from Arizona. Nnaji gives Denver another big who is proficient in rebounding and interior scoring but with the added benefit of being an elite athlete and promising 3-point shooter.
Since Mason Plumlee left for Detroit during free agency and Paul Millsap only signed a one-year deal to return to the Nuggets, it makes sense to invest in a big man who can replace both Plumlee and Millsap roles in the near future.
Nnaji averaged 6.0 points and 0.7 blocks in 10.3 minutes per game this preseason, shooting 60.0% from the field and 75.0% from 3-point range.
Two picks later at 24, Denver traded their 2023 first round pick to New Orleans to acquire the rights to former high school standout R.J Hampton. Hampton was ranked fifth on ESPN’s Top 100 high school recruits in 2019 but chose to play overseas in New Zealand instead of a freshman year at college.
In my opinion, Hampton is a classic Nuggets pick. He has a special playmaking ability and provides a strong defensive presence on the perimeter. With an organization who takes great pride in player development and patience, like the Nuggets, Hampton can mold into a very solid player.
In the 2020-21 preseason, Hampton averaged 4.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 0.5 steals in 15.4 minutes per game, shooting 27.3% from the field and 25.0% from 3-point range.
Denver also made some sneaky moves in free agency as well. Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly didn’t bring in any ‘brand-name’ free agents onto the roster but he sure brought in smart new additions. In response to Grant’s departure, the Nuggets’ front office moved quickly to sign former Clippers forward JaMychal Green.
Like Grant, Green is a stretch-four with decent size, athleticism and defensive potential. Though Grant is a bit more athletic, Green is a decent replacement to fill Grant’s shoes.
Another under the radar move was signing G-League champion and All G-League first-team center Isaiah Hartenstein to a multi-year contract.
Lastly, the Nuggets signed two-time EuroLeague champion Facundo Campazzo to a multi-year contract. Campazzo, an Argentinian point guard, has a wizard-like passing ability that could mesh well with the second unit.
It’s easy to overreact when a significant rotation player, like Grant, leaves the team. However, I’m positive the Nuggets made the right moves this offseason to keep Denver in the top-tier of Western Conference teams.
They have youth, strong leadership and, most importantly, continuity. The Nuggets will be a playoff team not only this year, but for the seasons to follow.