While the NBA has gone wild this summer, the Denver Nuggets are mostly relying on continuity to improve in 2019-20. The Nuggets have only made one truly notable upgrade this summer, acquiring Jerami Grant in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder, but they also agreed to a five-year, $170 million maximum extension with Jamal Murray and exercised a $30.35 million team option on Paul Millsap.
Denver is coming off a 2018-19 campaign in which it won 54 games and finished second in the Western Conference before ultimately falling to the Portland Trail Blazers in a tightly contested seven-game series in the second round of the playoffs.
The season was impressive for the Nuggets as a whole, but with the Los Angeles Clippers bringing in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and the Los Angeles Lakers landing Anthony Davis, you have to wonder if Denver has enough to make a deep run next season.
Here are three questions remaining for the Nuggets after free agency.
3. Do they have enough shooting?
You might think the Nuggets were a really good perimeter shooting team, but the fact of the matter is they are actually average, as they shot just 35 percent from deep as a team this past season, which ranked 20th in the NBA.
A big problem for Denver in that area lies within its starting lineup, as the Nuggets don’t really have any consistent long-range bombers. You would assume Jamal Murray was, but he was wildly inconsistent from downtown all year and ended up at a solid but not spectacular 36.7 percent. Paul Millsap shot 36.5 percent on low volume (2.3 attempts per game), but otherwise, not a single Nuggets starter shot 35 percent from 3-land this past season.
Denver did add Grant, who made 39.2 percent of his triples this past year, and the Nuggets can also hope for a more consistent season from Murray and a healthier year from Gary Harris. But if Denver struggles yet again from long distance, it could run into some trouble.
2. Are they good enough defensively?
The Nuggets weren’t terrible defensively in 2018-19, as they ranked 10th in the league in defensive efficiency. But there is no doubt that this is far from a shutdown defensive club, and that could spell some trouble for them next season.
Denver does have a few good defenders, like Harris, Millsap (when healthy), Will Barton and Torrey Craig, but we know that Nikola Jokic is not exactly known for being stout on that end of the floor, and Murray is a work in progress, to say the least.
Adding Grant should certainly help, but with Millsap declining and Jokic likely never going to be anything more than a passable defender, the Nuggets’ frontcourt defense could become a big issue, particularly in guarding pick-and-rolls.
The good news is the Nuggets are far from one of the worst defensive squads in the league, as they are at least decent. But in order to reach that next level, they are going to have to get better, and it’s debatable whether or not they have the personnel to do it.
1. Do they have a legit No. 2 guy?
Murray was the Nuggets’ No. 2 scorer behind Jokic this past year. While a lot of people love Murray for his intensity and smooth shooting stroke, he actually isn’t a great scorer, posting a true shooting percentage of just 53.8 percent this past season.
As a matter of fact, Murray took a step back from the 2017-18 campaign, when he logged a true shooting percentage of 57.6 percent.
While Murray is a fine player, I don’t think he will ever be a reliable No. 2 option on a legitimate contender, which isn’t ideal for a player who just agreed to a max extension.
Denver has a ton of depth, but having a dependable No. 2 scorer is huge, and Murray just doesn’t seem to be that guy.
Of course, there is the uber-talented Michael Porter Jr., who was drafted in 2018 but did not play at all this past year due to back issues. While Porter could turn into a stud, it seems like a bit of a long shot to rely on him this early, especially considering he just recently suffered another injury, this time to his knee.
Realistically, unless Murray takes a major step next season, the Nuggets may struggle in this area once again in 2019-20.