Season preview: Denver Nuggets

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Season preview: Denver Nuggets

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Season preview: Denver Nuggets

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The Denver Nuggets, coming off a fantastic 2018-19 where they came within a game of reaching the Western Conference Finals despite fielding one of the youngest teams in the league, head into 2019-20 with heightened expectations.

Whether they meet them or not remains to be seen, but with a nucleus featuring the uber-productive Nikola Jokic and the sometimes-explosive Jamal Murray, as well as with the addition of the impactful 4-man Jerami Grant, thereโ€™s no reason to believe Denver canโ€™t reach new heights next season.

Of course, after the season they just had, they wonโ€™t be taking any teams by surprise, so their jobs will be a bit more difficult this year. Even so, they have it in them to reach the Western Conference Finals, at least.

STAYING: Will Barton, Malik Beasley, Torrey Craig, Gary Harris, Juancho Hernangomez, Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap, Monte Morris, Jamal Murray, Mason Plumlee, Michael Porter Jr and Jarred Vanderbilt.

ADDED: Bol Bol (Oregon), Vlatko Cancar (Burgos), Tyler Cook (Iowa), PJ Dozier (Boston), Jerami Grant (Oklahoma City) and Tyler Zeller (Memphis).

GONE: Brandon Goodwin (Atlanta), Tyler Lydon (Sacramento), Trey Lyles (San Antonio), Isaiah Thomas (Washington) and Thomas Welsh (Charlotte).

STRENGTHS: They return all the key players that helped them win 54 games last year, finish second in the loaded Western Conference and have the league’s eighth-best net rating … They were No. 7 in offensive efficiency last season and No. 10 in defensive efficiency, so they’re close to being elite on both ends of the floor … Jokic could take another step forward, and if he does, he’ll get even scarier … Even then, if he just maintains the level he’s currently at, he’s a borderline MVP candidate … With another year of experience, Murray could improve his consistency, the only issue that has marred the talented ball-handler’s career thus far … The Nuggets are still a young team overall, so most of their rotation could take a surprising leap Grant could legitimately be a game-changing addition … His explosive defense and floor-spacing at the 4-spot will be huge … Michael Porter Jr. finally made his NBA debut this preseason, and if he even comes close to reaching his upside with Denver, they’ll hit another level … They were second in the league in nightly assists last year, and eighth in rebounding; neither of those marks should get much lower this upcoming season.

WEAKNESSES: Losing in the second round of the playoffs last year was a pretty big disappointment, and for now, that means they can’t quite be trusted in postseason play … Jokic’s conditioning … He looks heavier than last season … Injury issues could become a problem, as both Millsap and Will Barton have missed a lot of time over the last two seasons … Who will be their late-game shot-taker? … It should be Murray on most nights, but he isn’t consistent enough yet … They have a ton of good role players off the bench, but not really a true sixth man who can be trusted to get bench buckets … There’s a chance Porter can become that guy.

PREDICTION: 1st in the Northwest Division, 3rd in the Western Conference.

SALARIES:

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