The Denver Nuggets were one of the most pleasant surprises in the NBA this past season, winning 54 games and making it to the second round of the playoffs before falling to the Portland Trail Blazers in seven games.
In spite of so much player movement occurring this summer, the Nuggets largely remained the same, only adding Jerami Grant, and that is certainly not a bad thing for an up-and-coming team.
Many feel Denver is a legitimate contender in the Western Conference heading into the 2019-20 NBA season, but it is obviously going to be difficult to top the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers, not to mention the new and improved Utah Jazz, among other teams.
So, here are the three biggest storylines surrounding Denver going into this 2019-20 NBA season.
3. The health of Gary Harris
From an all-around standpoint, it’s hard to debate that. Unlike Murray, Harris is a two-way player, and when he is healthy, he is a heck of a lot more consistent.
But that’s the problem.
Harris has played in 57, 67 and 57 games, respectively, over the last three seasons due to injury. This past season was particularly rough, as Harris’ impressive numbers from 2017-18 fell off a cliff.
The good news for the Nuggets is that they played as well as they did this past season with Harris averaging just 12.9 points per game on an ugly true shooting percentage of 52.6 percent. The bad news is we don’t have much evidence that he will ever be able to stay on the floor.
If Harris can make it through this coming season healthy, the Nuggets will have an outside shot of winning 60 games. If not, well, Denver’s ceiling will be capped.
2. The status of Michael Porter Jr.
Speaking of injury issues, what about Michael Porter Jr.?
Considered by some to actually be the most talented prospect in last year’s draft class, Porter missed his entire rookie campaign as a result of back surgery, and a knee injury kept him out of Summer League this offseason.
The expectation is that Porter will be ready sometime in November, but for a guy who has barely played organized basketball over the last two years (he played just three games at Missouri), what can we anticipate even if he does return at that time?
I’m not sure how much we can expect Porter to contribute this year, as it will obviously feature a learning curve, not only in terms of skill, but in terms of the rigors of playing a few times a week.
Porter has not really done that since high school, so it remains to be seen how he will handle that on the NBA level.
But don’t get it twisted: this kid’s potential is through the roof.
1. Nikola Jokic’s push for an MVP
But then there is Nikola Jokic, who is easily one of the biggest sleeper candidates to win the award entering this season.
The big man is coming off a terrific 2018-19 campaign in which he averaged 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 7.2 assists. Yes, seven assists a night for a 7-footer.
Jokic will almost surely have the numbers, and the Nuggets will probably end up with one of the best records in the NBA, so I don’t see any reason why Jokic shouldn’t at least contend for the MVP award in the 2019-20 NBA season.
Don’t be surprised if the 24-year-old finishes in the top three in voting.