The Season: Denver Nuggets

New Faces: Jarnell Stokes, Nate Wolters, Robbie Hummel, Juan Hernangomez (R), Jamal Murray (R), Malik Beasley (R), Petr Cornelie (R),

2015-16 Regular Season Record: 33-49

2015-16 Achievements: 6th: Offensive Rebounds. 8th: Total rebounds. 10th: Free Throw Attempts.

Leading Scorer: Danilo Gallinari, 19.5

Leading Rebounder: Kenneth Faried, 8.7

The Denver Nuggets had a quiet off-season. No splashy free agent signings. The Nuggets have accepted their current identity as a developmental team with a lot of young guys who need seasoning and playing time.

Last year’s prized rookie Emmanuel Mudiay didn’t have any roadblocks in his way in 2015-16, physical or psychological. He had a good season. 12.8 points and 5.5 assists. But as was the pre-draft Mudiay resume, he was an awful shooter, 36.4% field goals, 31.9% from behind the arc. He showed talent as a playmaker but teams would sag off of him daring him to make shots and he couldn’t.  From 3-9 feet he was particularly awful, 29.2%. Even at the rim he didn’t shoot over 50%.  That is the number one thing he had to work on in the offseason: scoring the ball with confidence. The other parts of his game were solid. He’s a big body defender not afraid of contact who can stay with his man and he’s a good rebounding guard who can get into the lane whenever he wants.

But who is going to score for the Nuggets on a consistent basis? Who is their star now?

No one on the Nuggets has the experience of carrying a team offensively so this year with the Nuggets (as was the case last year) is Danilo Gallinari or bust. Gallinari is the one experienced offensive weapon that the Nuggets possess and even though he’s not a ball dominant workhorse, he’s a player the offense can run through because he’s a willing passer and his defense is decent on the wing and he can make open shots. Last year he made 36.4% of his three point shots and led the team with 19.5 points per game.  However, Gallinari hasn’t come close to the 44.8% shooting of his rookie year,  and 44.4% from three. He has never had a 40%+ 3-point shooting year since.

I really like Gary Harris as someone to have a breakout year. He played 32.1 minutes last year and made 46.9% of his shots. He is an efficient perimeter option when Gallinari is doubled. Last season, he had a good three point shooting year, 35.4%. He needs work on strength and to be more aggressive in the paint. He’s not particularly talented at rebounding.

Helping Mudiay and Gallinari and Harris is Kenneth Faried.. Faried is old school. He plays with kinetic energy and has a nose for the ball. Mudiay will find a willing post target in Faried. Mudiay can dump the ball into Faried when he is out of options. Faried is a hustle player but for the Nuggets to do anything more than linger in the cellar of the Western Conference, they will need Faried to continue to do what he does around the rim but upping his offensive game and consistently making shots outside of three feet. But it’s not just Faried. The big men on the Nuggets lack offensive punch. It is their huge weakness.

In the middle, Nikola Jokic, who received some Rookie of the Year votes, should solidify the front court, grabbing rebounds and scoring. He played in 80 games last year and grabbed 7.0 rebounds. He is a strong offensive rebounder as well, crossing the 2.0 rebound threshold. He’s not a shot blocker and is only 6-10 but he makes 51.2% of his shots. You don’t have to call plays for him and he plays hard.

Wilson Chandler missed last season because of a tear in his hip. It’s  a familiar story. You just can’t pencil him in, even though he was productive when he was available in 2014-15 and played 78 games: 13.9 points, 6.1 rebounds. The return of Chandler should give the offense versatility and his defense is superb. He is a tough, physical player who excels around the rim on both sides of the ball.

Darrell Arthur was re-signed in the offseason and he can fill in the offensive gaps for the Nuggets, shooting 45.2%. His defense is apathetic. Will Barton is another young player who brings offense.

Jameer Nelson is the back-up point/mentor to Mudiay and still has a little left in the tank as far as scoring but make no mistake, this Nuggets team is light years away from competing for anything other than lottery picks. They are rebuilding with young talent. For the Nuggets, it’s about the future rather than the right now, as they let the kid run the show.

Prediction: 36-46

photo via llananba