After a long and storied playoff run against the odds, the Denver Nuggets’ 2019-20 season has finally ended. And while a lot of lip service has been paid to the choke-power of Kawhi, Paul George and the rest of the Clippers, enough good cannot be said about the Nuggets and their ability to seize every opportunity that came their way, even when their backs were up against the wall.
Looking toward next season (whenever that may be), Denver has a promising path forward. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic both shined in the playoffs as the franchise’s primary one-two punch, and both stars still have a high potential for further growth over the next few years. With Murray and Joker as the heart of the Nuggets and an already powerful two-way supporting cast around them, Denver truly is looking like, as Kenny Smith said, a team of the future.
Of course, a lot of that future depends on how secondary players like Michael Porter Jr., Jeremy Grant, and Monté Morris continue to perform and develop. Grant in particular was a standout in Denver’s losing effort against the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, and Porter Jr. looked like he was just starting to truly hit his stride. If his defense follows suit, he’ll be a powerful third piece.
Of course, despite the cohesion that propelled Denver so far this season, roster shake-ups are inevitable between now and whenever the next NBA playoffs roll around. Paul Millsap – despite a few impressive bursts in the playoffs – will be a questionable resign, and there are a few other key areas where the Nuggets could afford to improve. With all that in mind, here are five players who could majorly help Denver hit even higher highs and reach the finals next year.
5. Kevin Love
Kevin Love is still one of the best stretch fours in the league, and he could be a definitive plus for the Nuggets if they really want to bid for a championship run next year. In a scenario where the Cavs decide to lean harder into rebuild mode, a trade for some of Denver’s younger supporting cast and/or some future picks could make sense.
Love’s three-point marksmanship would help spread the floor on offense, opening things up for Murray and Jokic, and his size on defense could help take a bit of the burden off the Joker when necessary. He’s still got some good years left in him, and he could be a great get for next year’s Denver team.
4. Donovan Mitchell
After the shootout duel between Mitchell and Murray in the first round of the playoffs this year, it’s hard to imagine a more exciting move then bringing the Jazz’s 50-point machine to Denver. Michael Porter Jr. could certainly be on the trading table if a star as dominant as Mitchell were on the line, alongside Will Barton, Monté Morris, Gary Harris, or some future draft potential.
The idea of having Murray and Mitchell on the wings for Jokic’s point center is almost frightening. The potential in the pick-and-roll and lights-out three-point capability would make Denver an intimidating force on offense. Mitchell hasn’t exactly been as strong on defense lately as some Utah fans had hoped, but that wouldn’t hurt the Nuggets too much, especially if Michael Porter Jr. was a big part of the trade.
3. Ben Simmons
It’s no secret that Philadelphia is facing some big decisions going into next season, the most pressing one being whether or not to split up the all-star duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. If the Sixers decide that the guard is up for grabs, a combination of Michael Porter Jr., Barton, Morris, and Harris could be compelling, especially with the added three-point potential they could bring to Philly.
Denver could be a great destination for Simmons. Adding his playmaking ability to Jokic’s would help even the load and increase the team’s potential on offense, and Denver’s superior perimeter shooting to Philadelphia means that Simmons could focus on doing what he does best – getting inside. The ball movement with Jokic, Murray and Simmons all on the court would be a task for any defense to handle, and it could be one of Simmons’s best chances to score himself a ring.
2. CJ McCollum
CJ McCollum’s star is flying high right now, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be staying in Portland indefinitely. Damian Lillard is the locked-in star of the Blazers, and this year’s playoffs made it painfully clear that while Portland’s backcourt duo is killer on offense, they pull the team down on the other end of the floor. What the Trail Blazers need is defense.
Packaging Barton, Morris, and Porter Jr. with a future pick could be enough to swing McCollum over to the mile-high city, where he’d benefit from a much stronger defensive supporting cast. CJ’s knockout shooting would do wonders for opening up Murray’s space to score, and it’s hard to imagine a better sharpshooter for Jokic to kick out to after pulling the defense inside.
1. Bradley Beal
There was a time, not so long ago, when this deal looked very plausible. Despite Beal’s resign with Washington, it still might be. The Wizard’s disappointing season and failure to even make the playoffs could push up plans for more major rebuilding, and Beal’s own frustration at being overlooked as an all-star this year cannot be disconnected from the team’s performance.
In Denver, Beal would have the opportunity to compete with a real championship contender. Strong pieces like Michael Porter Jr, Harris, PJ Dozier, Barton, and Morris – combined with some future picks – could be enough if the Wizards decide to go back to the drawing board, and it’s hard to imagine a better superstar-absent offensive trio than Beal, Murray, and Jokic.