2016-17 Denver Nuggets Season Preview: More of the Same?

The Dunkyard continues its 2016-17 preview with the Denver Nuggets.

Last season by the numbers

  • Record: 33-49 (22nd, tied)
  • Offensive rating: 105.6 (17th)
  • Defensive rating: 108.9 (24th)
  • Pace: 95.7 (16th)
  • True shooting: 53.1% (21st)
  • Turnover rate: 13.2% (17th)
  • Offensive rebounding: 25.8% (5th)
  • Defensive rebounding: 77.3% (10th)
  • Giveashitameter: 30th
  • Highest PER*: 21.5 (Nikola Jokic)

(*) – minimum 1,000 minutes.

At a glance

(Converts the above rankings into a rating out of 10).

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Recap

It should come as no surprise that a team with slightly below average offensive metrics and well-below average defensive metrics finished with a mediocre record – and is stuck in NBA purgatory.

To really iron things in, the Nuggets also had the league’s worst attendance record, ranking 30th on the giveashitameter.

Denver’s main offensive problems stemmed from the fact that they couldn’t put the ball in the basket (who would have thought?), particularly from outside – sporting the league’s 26th ranked three point accuracy (33.8%). The story wasn’t much better inside, with the Nuggets ranked 20th in two point accuracy.

The Nuggets’ only saving graces were that they were able to get to the foul line (ranking 10th in free throws made and attempted) and mop up their bricks (5th on offensive rebounding) – thanks in large to Faried, Nurkic and Jokic. All up, these things combined to raise Denver’s offense to ‘slightly below average’ (17th).

Things were a lot worse on the defensive end. On the inside, Faried, Nurkic and Jokic were a combination of too small or too slow to stop the league’s better inside players. To be fair, Jokic more or less held his own – but he was hardly the second coming of Draymond Green. Elsewhere, Mudiay was naive, while Gallinari, Barton, Harris and Arthur were average at best. Of particular concern was the fact that the Nuggets allowed opponents to shoot 37.1% from three point range (27th).

Simply put, the Nuggets didn’t have a single stopper among them last season and their 24th ranking on overall defense was fitting. The main hopes for the future lie in Mudiay and Jamal Murray, who possess the physical tools to be above average defenders.

Reasons to be optimistic

Nikola Jokic. This guy can play basketball. Yes, really:

While his ceiling probably isn’t much higher than what he displayed last season, he’s already very solid and future All-star selections would come as no surprise. With Jusuf Nurkic as his backup (or possibly partner down low?), Denver’s got the pivot sorted for the foreseeable future.

Mudiay showed glimpses of potential and was very young and raw in his first season. He has the tools to turn into something special and now is certainly not the time to give up on him. Remember: Gary Payton’s shooting also completely stunk in his first two seasons.

For all their defensive flaws down low, the Nuggets were great on the boards. With Jokic, Nurkic and Faried still on hand, this looks set to continue.

The New York Knicks. Thanks to the Melo trade, Denver managed to turn this year’s no. 9 pick into the no. 7 pick – which they used to select Jamal Murray (Pöltl went no. 9). Murray has a very good all-round game, high potential as a defender and gives the Nuggets serious hope for the future they otherwise would not have had with the no. 9 pick. Between Murray and Hernangomez – who could be the steal of the draft – the Nuggets appear to have drafted very well this year.

Reasons not to be

Mudiay really struggled last season and almost qualified for the Adam Morrison rule (he actually did qualify, with a PER of 9.96, but the Dunkyard rounded up and let him off the hook). If he doesn’t figure out how to put the ball in the basket, the Nuggets will have wasted last year’s no. 5 pick, with no end in sight in their search for a franchise player.

The wing and power forward positions are stacked with solid players (e.g. Faried, Gallinari – when he plays), but none that strike any major fear into opponents or which have any serious potential as future All-stars. Murray could be part of the answer, but this will need time – assuming he isn’t a bust.

Major Ins

Jamal Murray, Juancho Hernangomez

Major Outs

Joffrey Lauvergne, JJ Hickson

The Dunkyard’s recommended ‘death’ lineup

  • Mudiay
  • Murray
  • Gallinari
  • Faried
  • Jokic

Dave’s lowdown

The Nuggets drafted well with Hernangomez and Murray, Jokic and Nurkic are very promising young bigs and I’m almost convinced Mudiay will develop into a top-level point guard. Despite the fact that Gallinari can’t last anywhere near an 82 game schedule and Faried hasn’t shown any signs of development in 4 seasons, I like a lot of the pieces Denver has assembled.

Unfortunately for them, their time to shine isn’t 2016-17, with at least a couple more seasons of growing pains to suffer. I don’t think they get anywhere near the playoffs this year and will probably be on the receiving end of more beatings than a red-headed step child.

Forecast record: 35-47

There is nothing to suggest that Denver’s defense will materially improve on last season. Jokic, Nurkic and Faried will always be a combination of slow and/or undersized, Mudiay and Murray still need time and the small forward position offers little hope.

On offense, incremental improvement is about all that there is to hope for. Jokic is already pretty much at an All-star level, Faried and Gallinari have hit their ceilings, while Mudiay and Murray need time. Unless either of them turns into something special over night (don’t bet on it), then it’s more purgatory for Denver.

All up, Denver clearly needs more time to rebuild. The only problem is that they won’t stink anywhere near enough to land a super high draft pick and they’re hardly a sough-after free agent destination.