With the highly anticipated NBA season set to resume on July 30 after a lengthy hiatus, a lot of different questions loom over the 22 teams going out to the Orlando bubble.
The Denver Nuggets held a 43-22 record and sat in third place in the Western Conference standings before heading into the break.
They’ve held their ground well against some of the league’s top contenders and are in the running for the NBA championship as a dark horse.
With the players coming off a long break and everyone having a fresh start, here are the three biggest questions facing the Nuggets.
3. What impact will Nuggets’ new players make?
After the dust settled on the Feb. 6 NBA trade deadline, the Nuggets had offloaded Juancho Hernangomez and Malik Beasley in exchange for Keita Bates-Diop and Noah Vonleh.
On March 2, the Nuggets also signed Troy Daniels, who had previously been waived by the Los Angeles Lakers.
With the suspension of the NBA season, Vonleh and Bates-Diop were only able to register a few minutes under their belts for the Nuggets, while Daniels has only recorded a single minute of action so far.
A question that hangs over these three players is how Nuggets coach Michael Malone sees them fitting into his plans heading into the playoffs.
As per the NBA, each team will only play eight games before the playoffs begin.
Coach Malone won’t have much time to integrate these players into the rotation within this small window if he does intend to use them as role players off the bench come the playoffs. Given the Nuggets are already quite deep, these players could just end up being part of the deep bench, with spot minutes only when necessary.
Still, these seeding games could be used as a way to give these new players a shot to prove themselves.
2. How will the new-look Nikola Jokic fare?
Nikola Jokic is the star of the Nuggets’ squad as one of the best centers in the league with his tremendous shooting ability, keen eye for a pass, and proficiency in the paint.
Recently, Jokic has undergone a major transformation by losing a ton of weight.
The one thing on everyone’s mind after seeing the new-look Jokic is how this transformation will affect his game.
This weight loss could launch his ball-handling skills to new heights with the possible increase in his speed and sharpness. His more athletic physique could also allow him to get past big men easier, while it should also help him on defense when defending pick-and-rolls.
However, another key component of Jokic’s game is his ability to dominate in the post by playing bully ball and outmuscling opponents. Being leaner could impact this dimension of his game when he goes against stronger players.
The 7-foot big man previously stated in an interview with ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk that he prefers playing at a heavier weight to avoid being pushed around and to keep up with the bigger centers of the league.
Whether or not Jokic’s weight loss will have a positive or negative effect on his game remains to be seen. All we can do now is wait for his on-court performances in Orlando to speak for itself and answer this question.
1. Will Nuggets learn from playoff experience?
The Nuggets are still a relatively young squad, and they’ll look to learn from their experience last season when they lost to the Portland Trail Blazers in seven games in the second round.
A lot of critics believed that their second-round playoff exit last season ultimately came down to the squad’s overall lack of playoff experience. Young star Jamal Murray’s inconsistencies were on full display, while Gary Harris really struggled with his outside shooting against Portland.
This season has hopefully been a time of maturity for Murray, and Harris was starting to finally find his groove again after a disastrous start to the season. Rookie Michael Porter Jr. is a wild card for the Nuggets, as he has made waves in his limited minutes this season. However, Porter hasn’t consistently been in Malone’s rotation, and it’s unclear how much time he’ll get in the playoffs.
New additions to this season’s squad such as Jerami Grant, who has had prior playoff experience with the Oklahoma City Thunder, coupled with veterans such as Paul Millsap and Will Barton, will be crucial in navigating the younger players on the roster through a playoffs where the Nuggets are dark horses to win the whole thing.
Do not sleep on this Nuggets team. While they may not currently be on the level of favorites like the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers, there’s a ton of talent in place and potential for a deep playoff run.