Nuggets Defensive Issues Make Them Vulnerable

The last time the Denver Nuggets made the playoffs, it was 2013. LeBron James and the Miami Heat had beaten Tim Duncan’s Spurs. The New York Knicks were the 2nd seed in the East. Kevin Durant was leading the charge for his Oklahoma City Thunder. Damian Lillard was the Rookie of the Year. Now entering the 2018-19 NBA season, the Nuggets are expected to return to the playoffs after five years.

The Nuggets had an excellent offseason. Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly and his front office resigned Nikola Jokic on a max contract worth $146.5 million over the next five years. Last year, Jokic proved to be one of the premier big men in the league, averaging 18.5 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists. He also shot almost fifty percent from the field and forty percent from three.

Jokic amassed 10 triple doubles last season, more than players such as Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, and Kyle Lowry. Jokic is one of the most unique centers the NBA has ever seen, as not many 6’10 centers have the skillset that he possesses.

The Nuggets also resigned Will Barton, who averaged 15 points off the bench last season. They evaded the luxury tax by trading away bad contracts. Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur were sent to the Brooklyn Nets. Wilson Chandler was shipped to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for a draft pick. The Nuggets got a steal in Isaiah Thomas for the veteran’s minimum, while drafting a “low risk high reward” player in Michael Porter Jr. with the 14th pick in the NBA Draft.

Offensively, this team is going to be almost unstoppable. Last year, with a below average offensive player in Wilson Chandler starting, the Nuggets ranked top 10 in points, assists, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and three pointers made per game. Their offensive rating and effective field goal percentage were both 6th in the NBA. They can get even better.

Jamal Murray is only 21 years old. Gary Harris is only 23 years old. Even Nikola Jokic is just 23 years of age. These players represent the core of the Denver Nuggets and have not reached the ceiling of their potential. Isaiah Thomas can get buckets in spurts. Will Barton can do the same. Paul Millsap can provide the veteran leadership on this young team. After being just one game away from the playoffs last year, they are now expected to make it.

But they will not.

Yes, they were only one game away from being in the playoffs, and their roster has gotten better, but the Western Conference has gotten even stronger. The Warriors added Demarcus Cousins. LeBron James is on the Lakers. Russell Westbrook and Paul George know how to play together now. The Utah Jazz, Portland Trailblazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Minnesota Timberwolves, and San Antonio Spurs are all still in playoff contention. It is not a given that these Denver Nuggets make the playoffs.

Defensively, the Nuggets were atrocious last year. They were 22nd in points allowed and forced turnovers, 20th in steals, and allowed an outrageous 47.6 field goal percentage and 37.8 three point percentage, both numbers ranking dead last in the entire NBA.

Now they have added Isaiah Thomas, who cannot defend and shows no effort to do so. Jokic is incredibly slow, and in today’s NBA in which teams hunt for mismatches on the opponent’s worst defenders. Jokic is constantly put in pick-and-roll situations. Will Barton will most likely start at small forward for this Nuggets team. At 6’6, 175 pounds, he just cannot guard premier small forwards in the NBA.

Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee are the only decent defenders on the Nuggets roster, while Michael Porter Jr. might miss the season with a back injury. The Denver Nuggets will be worse defensively than they were last season.

A majority of the Nuggets games will be against Western Conference teams, and they will not be able to keep up defensively. The West has too many good teams and great players, and the Nuggets do not have anyone that can lock in and shut down an opposing player.

This will lead the Denver Nuggets to another season of missing the playoffs, sitting on the outside, looking in.