Despite having the MVP from last season, the Nuggets failed to qualify for the Conference Finals for a second straight year. The team was taken down in the second round despite making moves at the trade deadline for Austin Rivers and Aaron Gordon. With that said, the team clearly showed that without sharpshooter Jamal Murray, the team is competitive, but not a contender.
The Nuggets do not have a timetable provided for when Murray will make a return this season after tearing his ACL late in the season. If Murray returns, the Nuggets are a contender for a top spot in the conference, as well as the NBA Finals. Without Murray, the team is a playoff qualifier with Nikola Jokic leading the team at a bare minimum. With Murray, the team is so much more.
Point Guard - Monte Morris
Morris is one of the most underrated backup point guards in the league. In 47 games, Morris averaged 10.2 points on 48.1% shooting. There are times that Morris shows flashes of a younger Patty Mills, who was once a backup point guard for the championship-contending San Antonio Spurs teams.
As for Morris, he will be thrust into a starting role until Jamal Murray comes back. The 26-year old is a true success story after being selected with the No. 51 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Each year, Morris defies the odds for even being in the league. Now, with more responsibility, he will look to defy more doubters.
Shooting Guard - Will Barton
Barton has been with the Nuggets since 2014 and you kind of know what you are going to get from him. You are going to get a player that can score around 12 points per game and provide a few outside shots. He is not the best shooting guard in the league, but he is reliable, proving that with seven straight seasons of averaging double digits.
Last year, Barton showed off his outside shooting by shooting a career-high 38.1% from three-point range. The Nuggets are going to need the 2019-2020 version of Barton, who averaged 15.1 points per game while Murray is out. When the Nuggets made the Conference Finals that season, they were without Barton in the series. The team will need Barton to revert to that player to help lessen the offensive load.
Small Forward - Michael Porter Jr.
This should be the best season we see from Michael Porter Jr. His rookie season saw him recover from an injury he sustained in college. His second season saw him truly have a rookie season with a minutes restriction. Last year, Porter averaged 19.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, and shot 54.2% from the field in his first season averaging over 30 minutes per game (31.3).
The true face of the franchise is Jokic, but Porter is the next up and coming young prospect. There were rumors that the team was looking into acquiring Bradley Beal, but refused to part with MPJ. This is Porter’s chance to shine. Will he take advantage of the opportunity?
Power Forward - Aaron Gordon
Gordon agreed to a four-year, $92 million extension to stay with the Nuggets. With Gordon staying with the Nuggets, it gives the team the premier piece on defense to match up with teams bigger than Denver. When the Nuggets made the Conference Finals, Anthony Davis exposed the team with his length. It took Jokic out of his game. With Gordon playing more of a defensive role, it will allow others to provide in other spots.
Offensively, Gordon saw his worst overall numbers since 2015. His 4.7 rebounds were his lowest since his rookie season. With that said, Gordon has a new role in comparison to his time with the Magic. Gordon was asked to be a No. 2 with the Magic and it never transpired into true team results. With the Nuggets, Gordon will be a primary defensive big man, but surely the Nuggets are hopeful he can produce close to his career average of 12.7 points and 6.3 rebounds.
Center - Nikola Jokic
What else can you say about Jokic? The MVP from last season averaged 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 8.3 assists. We nearly saw a center average a triple-double. Jokic finished last season with the highest player efficiency rating, as well as led the league in win shares. He was the most important player on any team from the eye test and according to advanced metrics.
With Jokic leading the way without Murray, the current roster was good enough to make a second-round playoff appearance. Jokic is just 26-years old, so who knows who much better he can get, but we are in the current prime of his career. Jokic could get better and that is what makes watching him this season even more exciting.
Jamal Murray, Facundo Campazzo, Markus Howard, Austin Rivers, Nah’Shon Hyland, Shaquille Harrison, P.J. Dozier, Vlatko Cancar, Jeff Green, JaMychal Green, Zeke Nnaji, Bol Bol
Take Murray being listed with a grain of salt. We don’t know if Murray is coming back this season. According to the normal timeline of ACL recovery, he could come back late in the season. He could make a splash in the playoffs if the Nuggets qualify. Then again, it all depends on his health and if the team wants to rush in back. Before Murray was injured, he was averaging a career-high 21.2 points and tied his career-high in assists with 4.8.
Having Murray back would allow Morris to return to a backup role, or the team could use Murray off the bench to provide instant offense. That is exactly what Austin Rivers was brought in to do. Rivers was acquired by the Nuggets from the New York Knicks, where he averaged 8.7 points in 15 games.
Jeff Green was brought in to replace the aging Paul Millsap, who ironically joined the Nets, so it feels like a one-for-one swap. Green was a key reserve for the Nets last season, starting 38 games in place of key players. It was the most starts he made since 2015. The announcers are going to have a field day with Green and JaMychal Green on the same roster, as both could see the floor at the same time.
The development of Bol Bol is interesting. Bol enters his third season in the league. Once touted as a top-5 prospect in the draft, Bol averaged just 5.0 minutes of playing time in 32 appearances. Bol is considered a backup center for now, but the 21-year old is starting to run out of time to prove his worth in the league. Keep an eye out for Bol’s development because it will have major implications on his NBA future.
If Healthy, A Championship Contender?
It all comes down to if Murray comes back and plays. With Murray in the lineup, the Nuggets are a championship contender. One year ago, the Lakers easily took down the Nuggets in the Conference Finals, but that core of players was playing for something great for the first time in their career. Barton didn’t play either and he was having a career season. The Nuggets would still have lost as the Lakers were just better, but the experience would have likely ended in six games.
Murray has the potential to pop off for 50 points each night because he is just that skilled offensively. He also makes Jokic better because then Jokic doesn't have to take as many shots. He is the best passing center in the league. With Murray, Barton, and MPJ on the court, there are plenty of open bodies and Jokic is the type of player who seems to always find them open. When Murray is out, it forces Jokic to carry more of the offensive load.
The addition of Gordon was the missing piece to the puzzle. Had Gordon played in the Conference Finals against the Lakers, that series might have gone seven games because both teams would have been matched up better. With that said, we have to wait potentially another year for this current assembled team to show their true ceiling.
Speaking of the ceiling, this is a direct message to Michael Porter Jr. This is it, buddy. This is your chance to show that you deserve superstar money. MPJ enters a contract year, as this is the final season on his rookie contract. We have seen players like Trae Young, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Luka Doncic get paid big bucks. The Nuggets believe that MPJ is a superstar so much that the team wasn’t willing to trade him to bring in Bradley Beal, the runner-up in the scoring race.
With Murray out, MPJ will need to help carry the offensive load. It should be a two-man horse with Jokic and MPJ every night. If the Nuggets can hold the fort down until Murray gets back, this team has a cap ceiling of being a four or five seed. Once Murray comes back, it doesn’t matter what their regular season seed is because the overall team will be good enough to compete for an appearance in the Conference Finals.
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