The Denver Nuggets became the NBA’s surprise team last season when they went from being a non-playoff squad the year before to securing the no. 2 seed in the West in the regular season. Likewise, they also exceeded expectations by navigating their way to a pleasantly surprising deep playoff run, falling just one game short of advancing to the Western Conference Finals.
The Nuggets are looking to take it up a notch next season and have championship aspirations on their radar. It’s almost imperative that All-NBA center Nikola Jokic will have to lead them in every way possible for that to happen, while the backcourt of Jamal Murray and Gary Harris should take a leap into becoming borderline All-Stars.
With that said, here are some other secrets that can unlock Denver’s full potential towards a title run this upcoming season.
3. Continuity, Familiarity, and Chemistry
With so much movement happening around the Association, this is one advantage that the Nuggets have over the other elite teams in the Western Conference. Nearly every West powerhouse is bringing in a new significant piece or two to their roster. Sure, talent-wise, people would probably put the likes of the Los Angeles Lakers, the L.A. Clippers, or even the Houston Rockets over the Nuggets.
Denver, however, still has its core intact. Obviously, Jokic will continue to be the focal point of their offense. Moreover, they have arguably one of the best young backcourts in the league with Murray and Harris, who have shown that they are a perfect fit alongside each other. In addition, Paul Millsap should continue to provide them a much-needed veteran presence. They’ve also established a solid bench unit surrounding their core.
With how good their offense looked last year, their established familiarity and chemistry with each other should help bolster their chances against the other top teams in the loaded Western Conference.
2. Home-Court Advantage
Arguably one of the Nuggets’ biggest advantages is its homecourt. The altitude could serve to be bothersome for teams that will look to snatch an all-important road win at the Pepsi Center, especially in a hostile environment like Denver.
This is why it’s important for Denver to vie for at least that top spot in the Western Conference, if not, the entire league. That should prove to be a tough challenge as the West is loaded with elite talent from top to bottom. Still, many of the top teams will be feeling each other out as the season begins. With their continuity and familiarity, that should give Denver the early season advantage to race out ahead in the win column.
Sure, they did lose Game 7 despite having homecourt advantage against Portland in their second round series last year. However, they actually almost got it done when they raced out to that early lead in Game 7 and looked poised to advance to the Western Conference Finals. Unfortunately, Portland’s experience ultimately got the best of them.
With a year’s experience already tucked under their belt, Denver should already have much more confidence in such high-stakes games. Playing in front of a raucous home crowd with that altitude advantage at the Pepsi Center only boosts their chances of getting it done.
1. Consistent Wing Play
This was arguably Denver’s biggest hole last season. They struggled with finding a consistent presence at that three-spot and that eventually hurt them in the playoffs.
The Nuggets relied heavily on G-League standout Torrey Craig, who started 11 of their 14 playoff games last season. Sure, he provided a solid presence for them at that spot. He even gave them quality minutes at times. But it simply wasn’t enough.
Will Barton got injured to start the year and never really found his mojo when he came back midway through the season. That eventually spilled into the postseason.
Head coach Mike Malone pulled him from the starting lineup three games into their first round series against the San Antonio Spurs and went with Craig the rest of the way. Barton did have his moments at times against Portland in their second round series. Overall, however, it was a wildly inconsistent playoffs for Will the Thrill.
The 2019-20 season offers a new kind of hope for Denver at that spot. Craig has had his reps and could get better and more confident. Barton should be healthy and ready to have a bounce-back campaign.
Likewise, the Nuggets’ low-risk, high-reward draft pick from a season ago, Michael Porter Jr., will finally debut for them this upcoming season. MPJ will be a wildcard addition for Denver as the 21-year old has the potential to be a two-way star in this league. However, constant injuries have plagued his career so far, so there’s a lot of uncertainty on his outlook.
Should he find a way to stay consistently healthy and eventually progress as the star many believe he can be, perhaps Porter Jr. could be the answer to Denver’s gaping hole at that wing spot.