With the 2019-20 NBA season quickly approaching, we're rolling out 30 Teams in 30 Days. Between now and opening night, we'll dedicate one day to each team in the league.
Today, we're looking at the Denver Nuggets.
2018-19 season record
54-28 (2nd in Western Conference)
Projected 2019-20 season record
54-28 (T-3rd in Western Conference)
Bol Bol (draft)
Jerami Grant (trade)
Trey Lyles (free agency)
Isaiah Thomas (free agency)
|PG||Jamal Murray||Monte Morris|
|SG||Gary Harris||Malik Beasley||PJ Dozier|
|SF||Torrey Craig||Will Barton||Michael Porter Jr.||Juancho Hernangomez|
|PF||Paul Millsap||Jerami Grant||Jarred Vanderbilt||Tyler Cook|
|C||Nikola Jokic||Mason Plumlee||Bol Bol|
3 key storylines
Nikola Jokic as an MVP candidate
He'll certainly have a compelling case.
Last season, the 24-year-old earned the first All-Star selection with averages of 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game - numbers that were also good enough for All-NBA First Team honours.
MORE: How Jokic can win MVP in 2019-20
As one of the league's most versatile bigs, the nightly triple-double threat looks to solidify himself as not only the best centre in the league but one of the most important players to his respective team's success.
For the Nuggets this season, there's the potential for large-scale team success and the team will go as far as its superstar big man will lead it. Should Jokic continue to show growth and development in his game and Denver emerge as a team with one of the top three records in the NBA, his case for MVP becomes that much stronger.
Can Jamal Murray become an All-Star?
As he enters his fourth year in the NBA, Murray's ability to make another leap is a major key to the Nuggets becoming a legitimate title contender.
Over 75 games in the 2018-19 regular season, the Canadian posted averages of 18.2 points, 4.8 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game on shooting splits of .437/.367/.848. He increased his scoring production in the postseason, averaging 21.3 points, 4.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds with .425/.337/.903 shooting splits.
The focus now shifts to Murray's contributions becoming more consistent.
SUMMER WORKOUT PLAN: How Murray can live up to his extension
Murray's performance up to this point in his career was rewarded this offseason with a five-year contract extension worth $170 million that will keep him in Denver through the 2024-25 season. Now, it's time for him to live up to it.
In addition to becoming a more consistent player, Murray taking his game to the next level would put him in conversation to earn the first All-Star nod in his career, something that's much easier said than done in the Western Conference.
Just how important would an All-Star nod be? Three of the last 10 NBA champions had just one All-Star on the roster and while Jokic and Murray becoming an All-Star duo wouldn't automatically win the Nuggets a championship, it would do wonders for their legitimacy as a contender.
The battle at small forward
One look at the depth chart shows that Denver has numerous players at all positions that are worthy of earning significant minutes, but a big question that looms is who should start at the 3?
Heading into training camp, head coach Mike Malone told reporters that the team would be holding an "open competition" for the starting small forward position with potential candidates being Will Barton, Torrey Craig, Juancho Hernangomez and Michael Porter Jr. (via CBS Sports).
This open competition is unique in that each of the aforementioned four players bring a specific set of skills that fulfill different needs:
- Barton is gifted offensively with the ability to create for himself, but his slender frame could mean matchup nightmares with some of the league's forwards
- Craig is more limited on the offensive end but has proven to be one of the stronger perimeter defenders in the league
- Hernangomez brings size, speed and athleticism and should be hungry to contribute after falling out of the team's rotation by the postseason
- Porter is perhaps the most intriguing, as he was once considered the No. 1 draft prospect in his class before injuries caused his stock to fall
In addition to performance, the decision on who to start could wind up stemming from what Malone decides this team needs most to round out its starting unit. In other words, it could be a decision based on chemistry and fit rather than the selection of the best overall talent.
Still, Porter is somewhat of a wild card. If he shows signs of why he was so highly touted out of high school, this Nuggets team adds a scary dynamic and could make the argument for having the most talented starting unit in the league.
5 games to watch
Oct. 23 at Portland Trail Blazers
Denver's path to winning the Northwest Division crown in back-to-back years begins early. On opening night, the Nuggets get an opportunity to face the team that put an end to their playoff run in 2019.
What more could you ask for?
Nov. 8 vs. Philadelphia 76ers
While Jokic works to establish himself as the league's top big man, Sixers centre Joel Embiid is one of the main guys that stand in the way.
The two will battle it out in what should be a pretty good game between two teams with a legitimate shot to win the title for years to come. Finals preview?
Dec. 3 vs. Los Angeles Lakers
It's always a big game when LeBron James comes to town, only this time he'll have Anthony Davis with them. The Nuggets, an established power in the West, will look to maintain their supremacy when they face the Lakers for the first of four times this season.
Jan. 12 vs. LA Clippers
The Nuggets and Clippers won't meet for the first time until mid-January but it should be worth the wait, as these two teams are sure to be atop the Western Conference all season.
Jan. 30 vs. Utah Jazz
Utah has emerged as one of the biggest threats to Denver in the Northwest Division but the teams' first meeting comes past the midway point of the regular season. The Nuggets and Jazz will meet four times late in the year, with each likely having high stakes in playoff positioning.
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