Why the Nuggets Need to Blow Things Up This Season
The Denver Nuggets must blow things up while they still can. Otherwise, franchise cornerstone Nikola Jokic’s MVP-caliber season will go to waste. The nimble big man, who is averaging 26.6 points per game, 11.1 rebounds, and 8.5 assists, trails frontrunners Joel Embiid and LeBron James, and is being held back by the Nuggets’ 16-14 record (7th in the Western Conference). Granted, Jokic will likely replicate this stellar play in the seasons ahead; but in today’s NBA, teams need to surround their franchise superstar with a roster built to win it all — and not give that player a reason to request a trade, like James Harden did earlier this season.
After reaching last season’s Western Conference Finals, hopes were high that the Nuggets will take an even bigger leap this year. And while Jokic has stepped up as one of the game’s best players, and Jamal Murray (20.9 points, 47.7 FG%) continues a strong scoring streak, the Nuggets haven’t quite played up to preseason expectations. With their current record, the Nuggets are a losing streak away from falling out of the top 8, and are consequently projected by Bwin as a long shot to win the NBA championship — well behind Western Conference rivals the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, and Utah Jazz, and Eastern Conference powerhouses the Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, and Philadelphia 76ers.
Such struggles are to be expected. The Nuggets are woefully thin on contributors outside Jokic and Murray after trading away Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez in February 2020 and losing Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee, and Torrey Craig to free agency in the offseason. Making things worse, the players expected to step up the most this season — Gary Harris Jr. and Michael Porter Jr. — haven’t done so. Harris, who is being paid like a superstar is producing like a role player, posting per-game averages of 9.7 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists on just a 32% shooting from the trey-land.
Porter Jr., has been marginally better, averaging 13.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.0 assist, though he was sidelined for an extended period due to a virus-related issue. That’s likely one of the reasons why Porter Jr., so dynamic on offense, has been anything but on defense, as he struggles to keep up with the league’s elite wings, routinely misses assignments and rotations, and often looks disinterested playing D altogether.
These Nuggets aren’t hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy. They might not even make the playoffs! But the silver lining is that the team still has time to upgrade their roster and elevate it from middling to contending. And in an op-ed in the Denver Post, sportswriter Mark Kriszla suggests that president of basketball operations Tim Connelly make a run at Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal. The newly minted All-Star is leading the league in scoring at 32.9 points per game and is exactly the kind of all-around playmaker the Nuggets need.
But to get that kind of superstar, the Nuggets ought to be willing to part ways with a few players, along with lots of draft capital. They can start with an offer of, say, Harris Jr., PJ Dozier, RJ Hampton, Bol Bol, and three unprotected first-round draft picks for Beal. Or should the Wizards prefer it, the Nuggets can make Porter Jr. the centerpiece of such trade and add a couple more draft choices.
Of course, the Nuggets can pivot in another direction and go after a Zach Lavine, who is having an All-Star caliber type of season himself; a Lonzo Ball, who is a steady lead guard and terrific defender; or a Victor Oladipo, who looks on his way to rediscovering his All-Star form. Whatever the case may be, the Nuggets should make a move or two between now and the March 25 trade deadline.