The Denver Nuggets are coming off a very impressive post season, defeating the Los Angeles Clippers and reaching the Western Conference Finals. Both Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray showcased their superstar abilities at the next level.
The expectation to win in the Western Conference is now set, so the off season is critical for Denver.
Let’s take a look and see what they’ve done:
#1. Nuggets Drafted Well
The Nuggets are consistently taking the players that fall in the draft. In 2018 the Nuggets took Michael Porter Jr 14th overall when he was projected to be a top five pick. Porter was projected as the first overall pick before back surgery in his Freshman year with Missouri. When he fell in the Nuggets lap at 14, many believed it would be one of the steals of the draft. In 2019 they took Bol Bol in the second round of the draft 44th overall.
This season, the Nuggets take Zeke Nnaji at 22 and then RJ Hampton two picks later at 24. Nnaji was picked where projected, but RJ Hampton falling to 24 was a gift. At one point RJ Hampton was a projected top five pick. Getting him at 24 is excellent value.
Hampton will most likely back up Gary Harris at the two, and may even play some reps at the one on their second unit. Hampton is a 6′ 5′ combo guard with a 6′ 8′ wingspan who loves to play in transition and is good in the pick and roll. Although Hampton had defensive struggles overseas in the Australian NBL, his offensive potential makes him a worthy gamble.
The Nuggets add rotational players no matter how deep they fall in the draft. Really good GM work from Denver.
#2. Lost Some Key Pieces
Denver had six players enter free agency, four of whom were critical rotational pieces. Jerami Grant, Paul Milsapp, Mason Plumlee, and Torrey Craig all hit the market. Denver was only able to keep Millsap due to salary restrictions.
Losing Jerami Grant definitely hurts the Nuggets the most. Grant was Denver’s premier defender, and was critical in defending Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and LeBron James during the playoffs. Grant’s defensive excellence made him a crucial piece to this team.
Losing Torrey Craig hurts the Nuggets small forward depth even more. Plumlee leaving frees up time for Bol Bol to see the court, but will hurt them in the rebounding category.
The Nuggets ran into some cap trouble and aren’t able to retain some key pieces.
#3. Smart, But Small Acquisitions
Despite some major losses to the Nuggets roster, Denver softened the blow by signing two-solid rotational players.
The Nuggets were able to secure veteran power forward, Jamychal Green. Green is an offensively skilled big who can play the four or the five. Green shoots the ball well for a power forward as well. From deep, Green is a career 37% shooter.
Green is also a very good interior defender. He is athletic for his size and uses it to be disruptive on the defensive end. Decent free agent pick up there for the Nuggets.
The Nuggets also picked up a free agent that nobody seems to be talking about. Why? It could be because he is a 29-year old rookie from Argentina who plays for Real Madrid in the Euroleague.
The Nuggets signed Facundo Campazzo this offseason. Campazzo is a 5′ 11′ combo guard who averaged 10.1 PPG and 5.5 APG last season with Real Madrid. Campazzo will bring guard depth and pick and roll experience to the Nuggets second unit.
Campazzo is a good playmaker and has potential to be the primary facilitator on the Nuggets second unit.
Though compared to other contenders out there like the Los Angeles Lakers or Milwaukee Bucks, their moves may not necessarily move the needle so much.
Overall Grade: B
Denver drafted well, taking RJ Hampton and Zeke Nnaji. Some key free agency pickups should also add some much needed depth for the Nuggets as well.
Losing Jerami Grant, however, really hurts the Nuggets. Grant was one of the teams most effective players in the post-season, showing his ability to play on both ends. He was a crucial starter for the Nuggets and losing him alone negates all of the positive the Nuggets had this off season.
The Nuggets get slightly worse this offseason and get a B grade overall. Salary restrictions happen sometimes, so the best a team can do is supplement the loss with young talent. They do everything right, but unfortunately cannot make up the loss of Jerami Grant.
The Nuggets have set the bar high for the 2021 season. The emergence of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray as one of the leagues best duo’s gives the Nuggets a fighting chance in the Western Conference. Beyond any offseason moves, it’s their internal improvement that could be key to their success.
If some of the Nuggets young stars show development next year, Denver has the potential to be one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA.