The Nuggets improved from the 2017-18 season to 2018-19 by giving a contract extension to head coach Michael Malone, signing up-and-coming superstar Nikola Jokic to a max contract, winning eight more regular season games, and getting to the Western Conference Semifinals. Denver hasn’t seen this type of success since the Nuggets went to the Western Conference Finals in 2009.
After an embarrassing Game 7 loss to the Portland Trailblazers on Sunday afternoon, however, the question looms of how the Nuggets can improve in the offseason and realistically contend for an NBA title next season.
The biggest thing Nuggets fans are going to be excited about is the debut season of Michael Porter Jr. After being considered the No. 1 high school recruit in 2017, and considered one of the top prospects in last year’s NBA Draft, Porter Jr. has been cleared to play in the NBA Summer League this July. Now don’t forget that this is a player who didn’t play a second in the NBA in his rookie year and didn’t even play a handful of games in college.
Even with all of the excitement and the Kevin Durant comparisons from Chauncey Billups during last year’s NBA Draft, this is a player that will have some learning curves to battle in 2019. The question isn’t when he will be a star for Denver, but when will he be in the starting lineup.
Since the Nuggets don’t have any draft picks in this year’s NBA Draft, they’re going to have to rely and focus on free agency at the end of June. Isaiah Thomas, Trey Lyles and Tyler Lydon will all be free agents for the Nuggets and don’t expect any of them back.
One area of weakness that Denver must focus on in free agency is their three-point shooting. Denver finished the season shooting only 35% from beyond the arc, which ranked 17th in the NBA during the regular season. That 35% mark was also the third-worst long-distance shooting team in the entire playoffs.
You would think that Jamal Murray, who was being compared to Steph Curry when he was drafted, would have led the team in three-point shooting, but he didn’t. It was Monte Morris. The former second-round pick out of Iowa State led the team, shooting 41.4%, followed by Malik Beasley who shot 40.2%. The only issue was that Denver was getting an average of seven shots from behind the arc from these two per game.
In the playoffs, Denver shot only 33% from deep and a whopping 10.2% combined in both of their Game 7s. The Nuggets need to focus on someone who can shoot effectively from three-point range on a nightly basis, but can also score the basketball consistently.
One player the Nuggets should target is J.J. Redick. The former Duke star has become one of the best shooters in the NBA, making the seventh-most three-pointers in the regular season, just one short of tying Klay Thompson. The sharpshooter shot nearly 40% from beyond the arc this past season and attempted eight three pointers per game. Redick is also coming off arguably his best season yet, averaging 18.1 points per game for the high-powered 76ers.
Another name to watch for the Nuggets to help them improve their shooting is Danny Green. The former NBA champion with the 2014 Spurs is a player who made a name for himself this season with the Raptors, shooting 45.5% from deep. That’s the highest of his career. Green isn’t going to go off for 30 points a night, but he will hit the big shot late in games to safely get the win for his team.
Another decision the Nuggets are going to have to make this offseason is whether they’re willing to keep Paul Millsap in 2019 at a total of $30.15 million. Denver has Millsap under a club option for 2019 and can choose to move on from him after just two seasons. Among all of the players scheduled to make at least $30 million next season, Millsap ranks second worst in points per game (12.6) from 2018.
Now don’t forget that Denver could restructure his contract to clear some more cap space and allow the 34-year-old power forward to finish his career here in Denver. Also the Nuggets are going to have to be prepared to pay Jamal Murray his big contract in a couple of seasons to pair with Nikola Jokic.
There were some rumblings that when Murray was drafted in Denver that he was not thrilled. If Denver wants to convince Murray to sign a long-term contract, they must show him that this team is going to be competing for NBA titles for years to come. The best option would be to move on from Millsap and go younger in the paint. I would expect the Nuggets to go after a forward that can win in the paint and run with this Nuggets offense with some success shooting from the outside like Marcus Morris.
Finally, don’t expect the Nuggets to go out and sign a big-name star. Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard or even Kyrie Irving are not going to come to Denver. One reason is because the Nuggets don’t have the kind of money like the Knicks or even the Lakers have to pay multiple max contracts.
One wild card name to keep an eye on is Klay Thompson. He is ready to get paid and if Durant somehow stays in Golden State, the three-time NBA champion will be on his way out. The Nuggets might not end up with the No. 2 seed next season, but they can improve in the playoffs with the experience they’ve had this season and the correct offseason moves.
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