The Nuggets have the best offense this side of the Warriors, they have the most exciting young big man this side of Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and they signed one of the most productive two-way power forwards of the past five years. It's time for them to start winning.
Nikola Jokic, 22, is the catalyst. He's either an oversized Magic Johnson or a 21st-century version of Arvydas Sabonis, a 6'11" center with a deep bag of tricks as a scorer and passer. His arrival—coupled with the emergence of 23-year-old shooting guard Gary Harris—brought Denver alive last year.
For those who missed it (and there were plenty who did), the Nuggets dazzled fans over the final two months of the season, averaging 114.4 points to come within a game of the playoffs. Then in July they gave a three-year, $90 million deal to Hawks free agent Paul Millsap, who'll slide in next to Jokic and shore up the defense.
Jokic & Co. are still waiting on national recognition, as well as local: Denver ranked 30th in the league in attendance, averaging 14,770 fans per game. But as Golden State showed, a team that shares the ball and piles up points—and wins—can build a following quickly.
COACH MICHAEL MALONE
(3rd season with Nuggets)
2016--17 RECORD 40--42
(4th in Northwest)
PG JAMAL MURRAY
9.9 PPG; 2.1 APG; 40.4 FG%; 33.4 3FG%
57 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
SG GARY HARRIS
14.9 PPG; 2.9 APG; 50.2 FG%; 42.0 3FG%
84 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
SF WILSON CHANDLER
15.7 PPG; 6.5 RPG; 46.1 FG%; 33.7 3FG%
27 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
PF PAUL MILLSAP [NEW ACQUISITION]
18.1 PPG; 7.7 RPG; 3.7 APG; 44.2 FG%
25 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
C NIKOLA JOKIC
16.7 PPG; 9.8 RPG; 4.9 APG; 57.8 FG%
SG WILL BARTON
13.7 PPG; 3.4 APG; 44.3 FG%; 37.0 3FG%
PG EMMANUEL MUDIAY
11.0 PPG; 3.9 APG; 37.7 FG%; 31.5 3FG%
C MASON PLUMLEE
10.4 PPG; 7.5 RPG; 3.5 APG; 53.6 FG%
• THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP DENVER
MICHAEL MALONE is on the hot seat. They have expectations this year after they spent the money on PAUL MILLSAP. The front office hasn't done Malone that many favors with the roster composition. It always seems like they're stockpiling power forwards.... That said, their best five-man lineup is really intriguing and well-balanced: Millsap, JAMAL MURRAY, GARY HARRIS, WILSON CHANDLER and NIKOLA JOKIC.... I like Chandler better as a power forward than a small forward, so they're still a wing or two away. I like him as an isolation scorer, but I don't think he's the best spacing option at the small forward.... Jokic is so, so skilled with his passing and scoring efficiency. He impacts his team's attitude like a point guard. I question his ceiling as a star because I don't think he'll ever be able to be an impact defender with his size and trouble covering ground.... Signing Millsap was the biggest move they've made in years. He should play really well off Jokic offensively because he's unselfish, he can score, he moves well and he's smart.... Harris is a hidden gem. Great cutter, great shooter, can guard both backcourt spots.... It's time to take the training wheels off Murray. I actually think he has more long-term All-Star potential than Jokic because he fits how the point guard spot is being played, with his shooting range and off-the-dribble threes. He will be a really tough cover once he grows up.... It's easy to forget EMMANUEL MUDIAY exists, he had such a bad season. He's probably best as a third guard where he can just focus on his own scoring.
TELLING 30 STATISTIC
Jokic makes every game worth watching, but they need to prove more before we put them in the playoffs.