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, there’s no reason to believe Denver can’t reach new heights next season.

Of course, after the season they just had, they won’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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