The Denver Nuggets are coming off of a surprisingly impressive 2018-19 campaign in which they won 54 games and nabbed the second seed in the Western Conference before being ousted by the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round of the playoffs.
Now, the Nuggets are getting set to enter the 2019-20 season with largely the same group as this past year plus a notable addition in Jerami Grant, so Denver should have a whole lot of continuity.
So, here are five bold predictions for the Nuggets going into this coming season:
5. Paul Millsap will Show Serious Decline
Now 34 years old, Paul Millsap has been a bit of a disappointment since joining Denver during the summer of 2017, as he has played in just a combined 108 games over his first two seasons with the club due to injuries.
It has also been relatively clear that even when healthy, Millsap is not the same player as he was during his days with the Atlanta Hawks, and it’s hard to see him righting the ship moving forward.
As a matter of fact, it seems somewhat likely that Millsap will continue declining this year, but it will be even more noticeable than the previous couple of seasons.
That doesn’t mean Millsap can’t still be a useful or productive player; it just means that he will keep getting further and further away from being the player he once was, which will certainly make things a bit more dicey for the Nuggets up front.
4. Gary Harris will Have a Bounce-back Year
Denver may have played above expectations this past season, but Gary Harris certainly didn’t.
Harris played in just 57 games due to persistent injury issues and averaged just 12.9 points per game while shooting just 42.4 percent from the floor and 33.9 percent from three-point range.
By comparison, Harris registered 17.5 points per game while making 48.5 percent of his field-goal attempts and 39.6 percent of his long-distance tries in 2017-18.
It’s hard to imagine Harris not bouncing back from what was really a disastrous 2018-19 campaign, and if and when he does, it would provide the Nuggets with a huge lift. Think about it: they won 54 games with him playing well below his norm.
That being said, the caveat here is that Harris has become a bit injury-prone, as he has appeared in 57, 67 and 57 contests over his last three seasons, respectively.
It might just be a matter of the soon-to-be-25-year-old staying healthy.
3. Michael Porter Jr. won’t Play More than Half the Season
This one is a bit of a negative prediction, but it’s really difficult to envision Michael Porter Jr. playing extended minutes this coming season.
Porter missed his entire rookie campaign while recovering from back surgery, and he also missed all of Summer League as a result of knee sprain. He is currently expected to be out until the beginning of November.
There has been some hope that Porter could become a rather key member of Denver’s rotation in 2019-20, but based on his injury history, I just find that very hard to believe.
Even if he stays healthy, the Nuggets will almost surely be very cautious in managing his minutes. The kid is just 21 years old, so Denver is not going to want to push him too hard and potentially damage his long-term future.
Porter may very well be the most talented player from the 2018 draft class, but we probably won’t get to see that talent on full display for another couple of years.
2. Nikola Jokic will be a Top MVP Candidate
Yes, the Nuggets are really deep and have a lot of talent from top to bottom, but let’s face it: their title hopes start and end with Nikola Jokic.
Jokic is coming off of a masterful season in which he averaged 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game while shooting 51.1 percent from the floor, 30.7 percent from three-point range and 82.1 percent from the free-throw line.
Those are MVP-caliber numbers right there, and those numbers are likely to improve in 2019-20.
Let’s say Jokic has an even better season than he had this past year and Denver goes on to finish with one of the best records in the league again. If that occurs, you can bet that Jokic will receive serious MVP consideration and may even finish in the top three or four in MVP voting.
Jokic is too good to not legitimately contend for an MVP award at some point of his career, and I don’t see any reason why he won’t be able to compete for one as soon as this coming season.
1. The Nuggets will Finish Second in the West
There is a lot to be said for continuity in the NBA, especially for a young team that is still getting better.
As stated earlier, the Nuggets are returning all of their key pieces from this past season, and their players are still improving. For that reason, I see Denver finishing behind the Los Angeles Clippers with the second-best record in the Western Conference.
Disclaimer: that doesn’t mean I think the Nuggets will be the second-best team in the West. I actually like the Utah Jazz better for their ceiling, and i think the Los Angeles Lakers will be more dangerous come playoff time because of the duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
But during the regular season? This is a team that could win in the neighborhood of 60 games if everyone stays healthy and if the youngsters continue their upward trajectory.
Do I think the Nuggets are a sure-fire title contender just yet? Maybe not, as I still think there are some issues here defensively and I think most of their players are still a year away from truly hitting their stride, but they will be really, really good.