The Denver Nuggets finished last season with a 33-49 record, with young players such as guard Emmanuel Mudiay and Nikola Jokic leading the way for head coach Mike Malone. Slowly but surely Denver is putting together a roster that in time should be able to contend for a playoff spot. But Denver has a small problem as they go through the rebuilding process: the division they’re in has become far more competitive.
Oklahoma City, even with the departure of Kevin Durant, is still a favorite, and both Portland and Utah have made strides in recent years and are expected to be playoff teams in 2016-17. And then there’s Minnesota, a young team chock full of talent that’s looking to make a noticeable jump this season. With a mixture of young players looking to further establish themselves in the NBA and veterans such as Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried, Denver will look to continue the process of becoming a team capable of reaching the playoffs on a consistent basis.
Here’s a look at the roster:
Nuggets Projected Starting Lineup
G: Emmanuel Mudiay (12.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 5.5 apg) Many had questions regarding Mudiay entering his rookie year, as he missed most of his lone season in China with an ankle injury. All things considered Mudiay had a solid year for the Nuggets, making 66 starts at the point guard position. Mudiay shot just 36.8 percent from the field and committed 3.2 turnovers per game in 2015-16, going through the growing pains one would expect. The hope for year two is that he can continue on the path of being a more efficient point guard while maintaining the skill set that prompted the Nuggets to hand him the keys to the franchise.
G: Gary Harris (12.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg) Harris’ second season in the NBA saw him make noticeable strides on the offensive end of the floor. After shooting just 30.4 percent from the field as a rookie in 2014-15, he raised that number up to 46.9 percent in 2015-16, and his scoring average improved by nearly nine points. Next for Harris is continuing his progression as an offensive player while also improving defensively, as he finished the 2015-16 season with a defensive rating of 111.
F: Danilo Gallinari (19.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.5 apg) Gallinari played in just 53 games, all starts, last season due to an ankle injury (two torn ligaments) suffered in late February. He was Denver’s leading scorer, and his ability to get to the foul line (.617 free throw rate) made up for his shooting just 41.0 percent from the field. While he has a player option of $16.1 million for the 2017-18 season, it will be interesting to see what happens with Gallinari moving forward as the Nuggets groom a host of young players for the wing positions in the coming years.
C: Nikola Jokic (10.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.4 apg) While Mudiay was the rookie who received the most pub when the season began, it was the 6-foot-10 Jokic who some considered one of the best newcomers in the NBA last season. Jokic more than held his own in the post, starting 55 of the 80 games he played in and shooting better than 51 percent from the field. Jokic led the Nuggets in defensive rebounding percentage (24.7), and his player efficiency rating of 21.5 was tops as well.
C: Jusuf Nurkic (8.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg) The 7-footer struggled with injuries throughout last season, playing in just 32 games as a result. When he was on the floor Nurkic was solid, but the Nuggets need him to remain healthy. With that in mind Nurkic lost 35 pounds during the first two months of this offseasonafter playing at 280, which should help him have a greater impact in 2016-17.
Nuggets Projected Bench
G: Jameer Nelson (7.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.9 apg) The veteran Nelson will serve as Mudiay’s backup, providing the Nuggets with quality play off the bench while also helping the young starter continue to grasp the responsibilities of an NBA point guard. However, it should be noted that Nelson shot just 36.8 percent from the field in 2015-16.
G: Jamal Murray (Rookie) Murray was one of two first round selections made by the Nuggets in this year’s NBA Draft, and the Kentucky product (20.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg) has the skill set to be an impact player from the start. While Murray, a very good perimeter shooter, played off the ball in his lone season at Kentucky he has the ability to play either guard position. At 6-foot-5 Murray has good size for the point; if used there the key will be navigating the balance between hunting for his shots and getting others involved.
G: Malik Beasley (Rookie) Beasley surprised some by entering the draft after his lone season at Florida State, but with the Nuggets taking him in with their other first round pick the “gamble” was justified in that regard. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard shot 47.1 percent from the field and 38.7 percent from three last year, averaging 15.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
F/G: Will Barton (14.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.5 apg) Barton was one of the top sixth men in the NBA last season, providing the Nuggets with an immediate scoring spark off the bench. Barton shot 43.2 percent from the field and 34.5 percent from beyond the arc last season, and he’s proven to be a good addition to the rotation since Denver received him in a trade with Portland during the 2014-15 season.
G/F: Mike Miller (1.3 ppg, 1.1 rpg) The veteran wing played in just 47 games last season, with his role being more to serve as a veteran teaching the young players the ropes as opposed to being a major contributor off the bench. That will likely be Miller’s role again in 2016-17, with the team re-signing him on a two-year deal (next year’s portion is not guaranteed) this summer.
F: Kenneth Faried (12.5 ppg, 8.7 rpg) There were some questions during the second half of last season regarding the status of Faried with the Nuggets, as various trade rumors involving the 6-foot-8 power forward surfaced. But he’s still in Denver, and in Faried the Nuggets have a player who can be highly active on the boards on both ends of the court. Faried, who shot 55.8 percent from the field last year, posted rebounding percentages of 15.1% on the offensive end and 23.0% on the defensive end of the floor.
F: Wilson Chandler (13.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg in 2014-15) After suffering a torn labrum in his hip during the preseason, Chandler did not play at all in 2015-16. He made 75 starts for the Nuggets in 2014-15, averaging nearly 14 points per contest, but his role now will likely be that of one of the first players off the bench.
Other Players in Nuggets Training Camp
G Nate Wolters
G/F D.J. Kennedy
G/F Axel Toupane
F/G Robbie Hummel
F Darrell Arthur
F JaKarr Sampson
F Juancho Hernangomez
F/C Jarnell Stokes
Of these eight players only Arthur and Hernangomez are on guaranteed contracts, leaving the other six to compete for one remaining roster spot. Kennedy’s play in the winner-take-all “The Tournament” over the last two years has boosted his profile, but he’s also had solid stints overseas most recently in Russia. Toupane played 21 games with the Nuggets last season after starting out with the Raptors’ D-League affiliate, performing well enough on two 10-day contracts to get signed for the remainder of the 2015-16 campaign. Hummel is a noteworthy name for those who follow college basketball thanks to his standout career at Purdue, and he has two seasons of NBA experience with the Minnesota Timberwolves (2013-15).
Wolters, who played two seasons in the NBA with the Bucks and Pelicans, spent last season in Turkey and signed a training camp deal earlier this month. Sampson began his pro career in Philadelphia before joining the Nuggets during the 2015-16 season, averaging 5.2 points per game. And in Stokes, the Nuggets have a rugged forward who was named NBA D-League MVP and D-League Finals MVP after leading the Sioux Falls Skyforce to the championship.
Nuggets Coaching Staff
Head coach: Mike Malone (Second season; 72-116 career record; 33-49 2015-16 record.)
Assistant coaches: Ed Pinckney, Wes Unseld Jr., Micah Nori, Dee Brown, Noel Gillespie
UPDATE (10/15): The Nuggets announced that Axel Toupane, D.J. Kennedy and JaKarr Sampson were placed on waivers.
UPDATE (10/23): The Nuggets announce that they have waived guard Nate Wolters and forward Robbie Hummel.