By Thom Casdorph 8/7/17
A Denver Nuggets Season Review and Off Season Analysis
This off season set itself up to be a potential big one for the Nuggets. They had competed for a playoff spot and although failed to make the playoffs, arrived at some key franchise answers. They found a potential star, and arguably a star now in Nikola Jokic. It took awhile, as Nurkic started the season, played well, then slumped before Nikola Jokic was given the reigns. He quickly became the team’s best player and then quickly became one of the best players in the league, according to advanced stat data. His game is not sudden nor flashy, but skilled and savvy.
He is a 6’11 point center who can pass like Magic and possesses a diversified offensive skill set that may remind one of Larry Bird. Of course we are getting a little ahead of ourselves but once the Nuggets realized they can and should run the offense through him, they improved mightily and became one of the best offenses in the league. The team owned a 32-27 record with Jokic as a starter and had a net offensive rating of 117.7, per Basketball-Reference with Jokic on the floor, which would have surpassed the Golden State Warriors’ 115.6 season leading mark.
Additionally, the Nuggets were 11.8 points per 100 possessions better with Jokic on the court then off, which is a 3rd best differential to Lebron James and 2016-2017 MVP Russell Westbrook. The problem was the other end of the court and Jokic couldn’t help the Nuggets there, nor could anyone else for that matter. The Nuggets deployed a Pick and Roll Strategy that forced the bigs to drop and the guards to fight through the picks and rear view challenge without any weakside help. This gave the guards the difficult task of fighting through a pick when the big (Jokic-Faried) struggled to stop the guards’ penetration.
Meanwhile, the screener was open on a 2-1, and if the weakside rotated, a wide open shooter would often emerge. This whole set up usually gave the point guard and open mid range jumper, the big, a nice avenue to the basket or the weakside a wide open 3. Additionally, the transition defense was not good, leading to easy baskets on the other end of the court. All in all, the Nuggets finished with a defensive rating of 29th, besting only the Lakers. They finished 5th on offense behind Golden State, Houston, Cleveland and the Clippers and their rebounding rate was 2nd overall, including 2nd in offensive rebounding and 5th in defensive rebounding.
So what to expect for next year and what do the Nuggets still need to do to take further steps towards success? I think this is a clear playoff team, despite the talented Western Conference. The Nuggets added 4 time all star and steady veteran Paul Millsap. He should be the perfect complement to Nikola Jokic, as he is a top 5 defender at the position, using strength to play in the post and quickness and savvy to shut down the pick and roll. He isn’t going to block shots out of the building but can be the quarterback of the defense on a team that is completely rudderless on that end of the floor. Not only that, but he provides an offensive game as diverse as Jokic’s and almost as unselfish. He can stretch the floor with outside shooting and can attack the rim and post up.
Jokic and Millsap should feed off of each other, in much a similar fashion that he and Al Horford did for the 60 win Atlanta Hawks a few years ago. The offense under Jokic will still be great, even without Gallinari. Gallinari boasted one of the better offensive stat lines in basketball last year finishing in the top 30 in TPA and a true shooting percentage of 62.2, which rivaled Steph Curry and Isaiah Thomas, thanks to his 39% 3 point shooting and elite ability to get o the free throw line. Millsap, Chandler and Murray should be able to pick up the offensive slack and with Milsap and Chandler in the lineup, the defense should improve. Hopefully Malone will change the defensive scheme, to allow the guards to have more success. Maybe, more of a hedging, ice, trapping pick and roll scheme would work a lot better.
As for how to become a championship contender….maybe..just…wait. Although it is intriguing to think about adding another big star such as Kyrie Irving, this team still has a lot of unknown potential that you don’t want to jettison out the door and replace with a player who will change the fabric of how you play which has been recently stamped by Jokic. Let’s see if Murray can become an All-star, and let’s find out just how good Gary Harris can become. Will Malik Beasley become a player, how about Juancho, are we sure the book is written on Emmanuel Mudiay?
Once we have a better idea of how these young players are going to develop, then we can find out what kind of pieces we have, then add the right star. Maybe players will actually want to come here and pay with the unselfish Nikola Jokic and company, as indicated in some off season reports.
The NBA has become about stars wanting to play with other stars, so, let’s create an environment where the big stars want to land and not give up some potential key pieces to fit \a round hole into a square peg. Championships were not built in a day, it takes time to climb the ladder and cultivate the necessary ingredients to cook up a contender.
Thankfully Tim Connolly and company are beginning to form these ingredients and the first decent foray into contender status may be just beginning this coming year. Get ready for some exciting playoff basketball this upcoming year.