We’ll take a look at all 30 teams in the next 30 days as they prepare for the 2017-2018 regular season, which is when the real fireworks begin! Today's team: The Denver Nuggets.
A year ago the Denver Nuggets came oh-so-close to snapping a four-year playoff drought, finishing one game (40-42) behind Portland (41-41) for the eighth and final playoff spot out West.
They bring back the core group from last season while adding Paul Millsap, a difference-making All-Star big man who can stretch the floor, score around the rim and defend at the highest levels.
Back in the playoffs right?
Maybe, but it’ll be tough going when you consider the Northwest Division should arguably be the toughest in the NBA when trying to get past a foursome of Utah, Oklahoma City, Minnesota and Portland.
The Northwest Division is the only one in the NBA that consists of all five teams fielding rosters with legit playoff potential.
For Denver, what’s going to help them stand out from the rest is their frontcourt 1-2 punch of Millsap and big man Nikola Jokic, who has blossomed into one of the brightest young bigs in the NBA.
Last season, Jokic, 22, averaged 16.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists which included the 6-foot-10 center racking up six triple-doubles.
For the Nuggets to build upon last season and take that next step which is getting to the playoffs, they’ll need better guard play this season.
Figuring out where Emmanuel Mudiay plays would help. The 6-5 guard is very much a tweener with great size and power but doesn’t seem to set up teammates for easy scores, which is what you want in a lead guard. Short of that, you want a guy who can score, which is part of Mudiay’s game but far from his greatest strength at this point.
In his two NBA seasons, the one thing Mudiay has shown is a desire to attack the rim and finish. He shot 50.5 percent from the field last season when his shots were within three feet of the rim. From 3-10 feet, that number dipped to 29.0 percent from the field. And from 10-16 and 16-plus but less than a 3-pointer, Mudiay was 26.2 percent and 32.7 percent.
Denver is also hoping for Gary Harris to continue growing as a solid two-way player, as well as second-year guard Jamal Murray and Malik Beasley.
Veterans Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried will also factor in how far the Nuggets will go this season. Denver is clearly a better team than last season but that still may not be enough to get over the hump and back into the postseason for the first time since 2013.
Key free agent/draft/trade additions: Paul Millsap (Atlanta); Trey Lyles (Utah).
Key losses: Danilo Gallinari (Los Angeles Clippers).
Rookies of note: Tyler Lydon.
Expectations: 46-36 (Fourth in the Northwest Division, seventh in the West).