• After much discussion of their bright future with little concrete evidence to back the optimism up, the Nuggets finally arrived this season, winning 54 games on the way to a second-place finish in the Western Conference. They ultimately fell short of making the Western Conference Finals for only the third time since 1985, but the season left plenty of room for hope of a brighter future in Denver. Hoop-Ball’s Post-Mortem series travels to the Mile High City to break down the Nuggets’ 2018-2019 season.

    Overview

    After missing the playoffs by one game in the 2017-18 season, the Nuggets entered the season with a palpable sense of nervous optimism surrounding them. The potential of their core was apparent, but yet another failure to channel that potential into a playoff appearance would likely cost head coach Mike Malone his job, and cause a stalwart and patient front office to reconsider their approach.

    As the team burst out of the gate to win nine of their first 10 games, nervous optimism morphed into genuine excitement as it became apparent that the Nuggets were a serious contender in the crowded Western Conference. It appeared that opting for continuity and staying with course with Malone paid off. Not only were they winning games, they put doubts over defensive inadequacy to bed, posting the 5th best defensive rating in the NBA (103.3) over the first two months of the season.

    Despite the hot start, the Nuggets faced adversity early on in the season in the form of extended injuries to key rotation players in Will Barton, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap and Torrey Craig. The team remained resilient through the mounting pile of bumps and bruises, getting an unforeseeable but much needed lift from reserves like Monte Morris, Malik Beasley, Juan Hernangomez and 37 glorious minutes of Swaggy P.

    By the time the trade deadline had arrived, the Nuggets were comfortably seated near the top of the Western conference after going 37-18 with two months left in the regular season. While the rest of the league was turning inside out at the deadline, the Nuggets kept their heads down and again chose the path of patient continuity as the deadline passed without any moves from Denver.

    With the end of the season fast approaching, the question for the Nuggets was finally not *if* a playoff berth was in the cards, it was *how far* newly-minted All-Star Nikola Jokic and an inexperienced supporting cast could go in the post season as play slows down, defense tightens up, and a bright spotlight shines on every mistake.

    That question would be answered soon enough as some late-season… gamesmanship… on Mike Malone’s parts slotted the Nuggets in to the 2nd seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

    Remember that nervous optimism? Well the nervous part of that came back in a big way as the Nuggets were set to face off against the Spurs in the first round.

    The Spurs have historically been kryptonite for the Nuggets. Prior to this series, the last time that Denver won a game in San Antonio was in 2012, and the Spurs had bounced them in the first round of the playoffs the last four times they met there dating back to 1990. Add that to the fact that Denver has a solid track record of first-round failure, and this certainly felt like the set up for yet another disappointing early playoff exit.

    The Nuggets went down early in the series, dropping Game 1 at home as Jamal Murray went 8-of-23 from the floor, Jokic took only nine shots and Derrick White looked like a future MVP. Just like that, this series had the vibe of “here we go again” from the jump. The Nuggets didn’t stay down for long though, and rallied to even things up before heading to San Antonio. They eventually split Games 3 and 4 (not insignificant when you consider the streak mentioned above) and dominated the Spurs at home in Game 5 to go up 3-2 in the series.

    Refusing to make things easy on themselves, the Nuggets were dismantled on the road in Game 6, bringing this series to a pivotal Game 7 at home in Denver. Prior to the season, if you had asked most fans and pundits, simply making the playoffs would largely have been considered a positive season for the Nuggets. However, after vastly outperforming expectations and locking in the two-seed thanks in large part to a borderline MVP season from Nikola Jokic, somehow this Game 7 had taken on the feeling of do-or-die for the Franchise. Time to prove that they were the real deal, or prove all the doubters calling them frauds right – those were the stakes.

    After a relatively ugly game in many respects (The team combined to go 2-of-20 from deep and only scored 18 fourth-quarter points), the Nuggets ground out a gutsy win and earned the chance to die another day in a second-round matchup with the Blazers.

    The Blazers were, on paper, exactly who the Nuggets wanted to face this round, and with the weight of another first round exit finally off their shoulders, it seemed that the team (and the fan base) could breathe a collective sigh of relief.

    That relief would not last long though, as the Nuggets saw a familiar scenario play out in splitting their first two games at home and splitting the next two in Portland (barely dropping a soul crushing 4-overtime game in Portland). Here we go again, this one suddenly had the feel of a seven game series written all over it again.

    The Nuggets ultimately ran out of gas down the stretch, as they appeared largely exhausted in Games 6 and 7, again failing to find any consistency shooting the ball from the deep and ultimately allowing CJ McCollum to get loose for 37 points in Game 7 despite a solid defensive effort.

    So here they were, bounced in the second-round of the playoffs as the two seed, a position that they were never supposed to be in to rewinding back to expectations to start the year. As they racked up wins in dominant fashion throughout the regular season, the discussion became about the Nuggets as a legitimate contender. As they barely beat a Kawhi-less Spurs squad, and allowed a Nurkic-less Blazers squad to take them to seven games, they were declared a pretender. So where is the truth? Was this Nuggets team a contender or pretender?

    As with most things in life, that question can be answered with “it depends on your perspective.” It may not make for a great sound bite on TV or the radio, but the pretender vs. contender narrative for the Nuggets is a false dichotomy. This was the first playoff appearance for most players on this team; they had constantly dealt with adversity and injury throughout the season to arrive there in the first place; and yet falling in the second round somehow felt like failure. The good news for the Nuggets is that this debate won’t be going away anytime soon, as they appear poised to be in the same position for many seasons to come.

    Coaching

    After failing to make the playoffs last season, there was not an insignificant amount of chatter that Mike Malone’s third season with the Nuggets may be his last. However, to their credit, the front office kept faith in Malone and opted for continuity, keeping him on for at least another year in the 2018-19 season.

    There were some legitimate criticism of Malone to be made in 2017-18. His rotations could be questionable at times, continuously going back to player combinations that simply didn’t seem to work. The Nuggets were near the bottom of the league defensively, despite his reputation as a defensive-minded coach. The team lacked focus down the stretch, dropping some easy games to tanking teams and ultimately setting themselves up to miss out on the playoffs by one game to the Wolves.

    No coach is without their flaws, but Malone arguably addressed all of those critiques from last year and them some in the 2018-19 season. The Nuggets were near the top of the league in defensive rating, he adjusted rotations well to deal with injury and managed a surprisingly deep bench to get the most out of unknowns like Malik Beasley and Monte Morris. All of that amounted to a legitimate case to win Coach of the Year – it would seem the front office’s patience paid off.

    However, despite all of the success, Malone faces a new set of challenges next year. Will Paul Millsap, the silent anchor of the new-look defense, even be around with his hefty $30.5M price tag? How does he manage a rotation that could arguably be at least 10 players deep, and may only stand to get deeper with Michael Porter Jr. and Jarred Vanderbilt fully healthy?

    It is not the worst problem in the world to have, but Malone could find trouble if he is not able to manage all of the talent on this young team. However, the Nuggets have to feel good knowing that their coaching situation appears to be one of the more stable in the league as the team begins to enter their collective prime.

    The Players

    Nikola Jokic

    ADP: 10/9 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 7/9 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 12/13 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 80

    2018-19 averages: 80 G | 31.3 MP | 20.1 PTS | 1.0 3PM | 10.8 REB | 7.3 AST | 1.4 STL | 0.7 BLK | 3.1 TOV | .511 FG% | .821 FT%

    If Nikola Jokic hadn’t already made a clear enough case for his value as a first-round fantasy asset last season, this year certainly cemented his position as one of fantasy basketball’s chosen few elite options. Better yet, at only 23 years old his position near the top of the pecking order isn’t likely change anytime soon.

    In a season where the Nuggets very clearly became his team, Jokic earned his first playoff and All-Star appearance, posted career-high point, rebound, assist and steal numbers, received a First Team All-NBA award and is considered a Top-5 candidate for MVP (whew that was a mouthful), the only question now is how much better can he get?

    Given his meteoric trajectory over the past two seasons, it is hard to hazard a guess at his absolute ceiling, but when looking to the immediate future he needs to improve a few in his game to rise from a top-12 fantasy player to a top-5 one.

    While he may never be an elite rim-protector, working to improve his conditioning may help him further advance his defensive prowess. The only other real hole in his stat set is 3-point shooting. He only managed to knock in one per game this season despite attempting 3.4 per game. If he shoots closer to 40 percent from deep (which he did last season) he likely climbs a few extra spots in the per-game rankings.

    Looking to next season, if he is available toward the back of the first round, Jokic is about as safe of a pick as there is. He has proven to be relatively durable, and despite another slow start this season, was about as consistent as could be. We’ll have to see where he is slotted in early mock drafts, but there could still be some hidden value in the Joker if his ADP is around the back of the first round or early second.

    Jamal Murray

    ADP: 68/43 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 57/61 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 66/75 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 75

    2018-19 averages: 75 G | 32.6 MP | 18.2 PTS | 2.0 3PM | 4.2 REB | 4.8 AST | 0.9 STL | 0.4 BLK | 2.1 TOV | .437 FG% | .848 FT%

    After entering the 2018 season with lofty expectations, Murray failed to deliver on the promise of a breakout for the second consecutive year. He did manage to improve several facets of his game (from both a fantasy and on-the-court perspective), but those improvements came with equal and opposite regression that left fantasy managers spending a top-50 pick on Murray feeling burned.

    On one hand, Murray averaged a career-high 18.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists – all significant improvements over last season in roughly the same amount of playing time per game. However, his efficiency stats took a dive as his efficiency from the floor regressed by roughly 1.5 percent on 2.5 more shots per game while his free throw percentage fell by 5.7 percent on a similar number of attempts.

    The statistical progression/regression being what it is, perhaps the most maddening thing about Murray this year was his inconsistency. Look at his game log and you will see numerous examples of a 30-point night on 50 or 60 percent shooting followed immediately by a complete clunker on horrendous efficiency.

    Murray has flashed the potential to become an early-to-mid round fantasy player, but the key to unlocking that potential is rooted in consistency, a return to elite efficiency numbers at the line, and continued progression as a facilitator and steals generator. Luckily, an impressive playoff run provides hope that he can become that player that fantasy managers have desperately wanted him to be for the past two seasons.

    At only 22 years old the hope of a breakout is still alive and well, but fantasy managers banking on it the last two seasons may finally have soured on Murray. We will need to see how the hype machine treats Murray this offseason, but if his draft stock slips to the 60-70 range in line with his ranking this last season, there is some serious room for upside at that draft position.

    Gary Harris

    ADP: 98/48 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 192/187 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 170/163 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 57

    2018-19 averages: 57 G | 28.8 MP | 12.9 PTS | 1.4 3PM | 2.8 REB | 2.2 AST | 1.0 STL | 0.3 BLK | 1.2 TOV | .425 FG% | .799 FT%

    To say it was a down year for Harris would be putting it gently. With an ADP that gradually crept up inside the top-50 in Yahoo Leagues, his performance this year was nothing short of disastrous. His per-game production was way down compared to last season (his steal rate dropping from 1.9 per 36 to 1.1 this year and efficiency falling by five percent), but it is hard to think about his production in a vacuum given the string of lower body injuries he suffered throughout the year.

    He is due for a bounce-back next season (though the injury issues are becoming alarmingly consistent year-to-year), but Harris may struggle to climb back into the discussion as a top-40 fantasy player with Denver’s sudden glut of talent in the backcourt. The Nuggets need his defensive versatility on the wing, so the minutes should be there, but the trend of Murray increasing his usage isn’t likely to reverse and Barton, Beasley and Morris may further take away touches.

    If his ADP falls back closer to the 100 range, fantasy managers would be wise to load up on all of the Gary Harris shares that they can get their hands on in the hope of a bounce-back campaign in 2019, however, at an early-to-mid round price the risk vastly outweighs the reward.

    Paul Millsap

    ADP: 69/63 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 97/94 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 97/85 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 70

    2018-19 averages: 70 G | 27.1 MP | 12.6 PTS | 0.8 3PM | 7.2 REB | 2.0 AST | 1.2 STL | 0.8 BLK | 1.4 TOV | .483 FG% | .727 FT%

    For Millsap, besting last season where he only played 38 games and barely cracked the top-80 on a per game basis when healthy seemed eminently realistic. While he did not manage to improve on the per-game ranking, and was not exactly the picture of durability after missing 12 games, it is still hard to argue that he wasn’t a better player to roster this season compared to 2017.

    However, at 34 years old the decline for Millsap is now glaringly obvious. Compared to his last season as a top-50 fantasy player in Atlanta, his per-minute numbers are down almost uniformly. His game has never been predicated on overwhelming athleticism, so he should continue to be standard-league player as long as he is able to get 26-30 minutes, but the days of Millsap being a locked in top-50 fantasy player are likely over.

    The Nuggets have a $30.5 million team option for Millsap next season, setting up a tough decision for the front office. He isn’t the player he once was, but his impact on winning games goes beyond the box score and was on display for all to see this year in the playoffs. If the Nuggets decline his option and don’t offer an extension at a lower price tag, Millsap could theoretically play a featured role on a team with less talent, but even in that role may not warrant a mid-round draft selection. If the Nuggets keep Millsap on, it is likely that he ends the season ranked in the 80-100 range. Given his pedigree and name value, his draft price next season may exceed what we can reasonably expect in return.

    Will Barton

    ADP: 73/58 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 265/274 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 190/211 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 43

    2018-19 averages: 43 G | 27.7 MP | 11.5 PTS | 1.6 3PM | 4.6 REB | 2.9 AST | 0.4 STL | 0.5 BLK | 1.5 TOV | .402 FG% | .770 FT%

    Barton posted exceptional numbers in the 2017-18 campaign that may have been due for some regression as he found shots harder to find moving from the bench to the starting lineup, but no one could have predicted the drop-off that we saw this season. However, it is hard to come down too hard on Barton as he suffered a hip injury only two games into the season that kept him out for about three months and seemed to limit him even upon return.

    There were flashes of brilliance, including a 21-point night against the Jazz in February with one triple, 13 rebounds, three assists, one steal and two blocks. However those are far outweighed by the disastrous nights including his two-point outing on 16 percent shooting against the Rockets a month later. However, it doesn’t seem entirely fair to grade Barton’s season in the context of a fully healthy player.

    The question now is where he goes from here. Does he follow the trajectory of his teammate Isaiah Thomas, or does he bounce-back from a down injury-riddled season like many others have done before him? An entire offseason of rest and rehab will do Barton well, so if I had to guess I’d say we see some version of Barton next season that splits the difference between his 116 ranking in 2016 and the top-50 campaign he posted in 2017.

    The good news for fantasy managers is that following a disastrous season this year, his draft stock will likely be considerably depressed, making him a great late-round flier candidate with the proven pedigree to outperform his ADP.

    Monte Morris

    ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 115/97 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 166/138 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 82

    2018-19 averages: 82 G | 24.0 MP | 10.4 PTS | 1.1 3PM | 2.4 REB | 3.6 AST | 0.9 STL | 0.0 BLK | 0.6 TOV | .493 FG% | .802 FT%

    Morris played under 30 minutes in total last season for the Nuggets after being selected in the second-round of the 2017 NBA draft, but clearly cemented his role in the rotation after what has to be considered a breakout year from the 24-year-old sophomore point guard.

    His per-game averages fail to show just how good he was for stretches of the season. In his six games as a starter, Morris averaged 15 points on 55 percent shooting with 1.7 threes, 4.2 boards, 5.5 assists and 1.2 steals.

    While Morris flashed some serious potential as a fantasy asset, his role in the foreseeable future will limit his ability to contribute in standard leagues moving forward. As long as Jamal Murray is in the picture, it is unlikely that Morris plays a larger role than that of a sixth man. He is one of the more intriguing dynasty stash options out there, but until an opportunity for more minutes arises, he is probably best deployed in standard leagues as an assist streamer — with a boost in 9-cat leagues because of his minimal turnovers out of the point guard spot.

    Malik Beasley

    ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 132/116 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 187/161 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 81

    2018-19 averages: 81 G | 23.2 MP | 11.3 PTS | 2.0 3PM | 2.5 REB | 1.2 AST | 0.7 STL | 0.1 BLK | 0.7 TOV | .473 FG% | .848 FT%

    Beasley joins Morris as yet another example of found money for the Nuggets in their reserve corps. After failing to find footing in the rotation throughout his first two years in the league, extensive injury trouble on the wing created an opportunity for Beasley to play a larger role. To his credit, he largely delivered by averaging 15.9 points on 55 percent shooting with three triples, 2.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 0.7 steals in his 18 games as a starter this season.

    However, as is the case with other Nuggets’ reserves, it is hard to find enough minutes for Beasley to make an impact in standard leagues beyond 3-point streaming when Harris, Barton, Murray and Craig are all healthy. Despite the crowded rotation, the Nuggets’ playoff run clearly demonstrated the team’s need for consistent shooting, and there are few better spacing options on the team than Beasley as long as you can live with the defensive lapses.

    It is hard to imagine that Beasley gets enough run next year on a Nuggets team that will likely look essentially the same to be relevant in standard leagues beyond threes streaming, but he clearly demonstrated this season that he warrants a spot in an NBA rotation. He may warrant a late-round flier, but given his stat set limitations, fantasy managers may be wise to look at players with more statistical upside.

    Mason Plumlee

    ADP: NA/Na (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 116/125 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 164/175 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 62

    2018-19 averages: 82 G | 21.1 MP | 7.8 PTS | 0.0 3PM | 6.4 REB | 3.0 AST | 0.8 STL | 0.9 BLK | 1.5 TOV | .593 FG% | .561 FT%

    As long as Plumlee plays a roughly 20 minute per night reserve role, we know what to expect from the 29 year-old big man – great efficiency from the floor, terrible efficiency from the line, solid rebound and block numbers, and a few out of position assists and steals. Not a bad player to roster in a punt scenario, but not someone that many standard league managers will be clamoring to roster.

    Plumlee is signed with the Nuggets through the end of next season, and barring a significant roster shakeup in free agency, we can likely expect the same level of production from him next season. With that in mind, Plumlee can probably left on the wire outside of deep-league drafts, but still should be kept in mind as a situational block and rebound streamer in standard leagues.

    Trey Lyles

    ADP: NA/142 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 266/278 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 296/314 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 63

    2018-19 averages: 63 G | 17.8 MP | 8.7 PTS | 0.8 3PM | 3.9 REB | 1.4 AST | 0.5 STL | 0.4 BLK | 1.1 TOV | .418 FG% | .698 FT%

    Lyles had a solid top-200 season last year, filling a hole in the Nuggets’ rotation as Millsap suffered an extended injury that kept him out for a majority of the year. However, that success did not carry over into this season as Lyles struggled to consistently hit the three ball (pretty much the main reason he was on the floor), dealt with a few injuries of his own, and eventually found himself out of the rotation by the end of February.

    Lyles enters the offseason a restricted free agent, and given the Nuggets’ cap situation, it seems relatively safe to assume that they will not extend him a qualifying offer. He hasn’t shown that he warrants big money to start, but youth is still on his side, and if Lyles lands elsewhere and gets consistent minutes off the bench he can be a valuable top-200ish fantasy player.

    Torrey Craig

    ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 210/197 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 277/260 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 75

    2018-19 averages: 75 G | 20.0 MP | 5.7 PTS | 0.8 3PM | 3.5 REB | 1.0 AST | 0.5 STL | 0.6 BLK | 0.6 TOV | .442 FG% | .700 FT%

    After proving to be a wise signing out of the G-League last season, Craig’s defensive prowess and high-energy style of play provided an easy to overlook, yet very tangible, lift for the Nuggets this season as they battled injuries on the wing throughout the year.

    Craig served as Mike Malone’s safety blanket throughout the year, often assigning Craig to the opposing team’s best offensive player and leaving him on the floor with a pretty long leash in crunch time (sometimes against the behest of Nuggets fans).

    While Craig’s fingerprints are all over the Nuggets’ undoubtedly successful 54-win season, his impact as a fantasy producer is notably absent. As a per-minute stat producer, Craig just doesn’t quite cut it and realistically will not see the type of minutes he would need to register a blip on the standard-league radar. Unless something drastic changes with his role next season, he is fine to leave on the wire outside of 20-team leagues and deeper.

    Juan Hernangomez

    ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 244/228 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 294/274 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 70

    2018-19 averages: 70 G | 19.4 MP | 5.8 PTS | 0.9 3PM | 3.8 REB | 0.8 AST | 0.4 STL | 0.4 BLK | 0.5 TOV | .441 FG% | .767 FT%

    It was a story of two seasons for Hernangomez, and the line of demarcation happens to align neatly with the turning over of the calendar on January 1, 2019. In 2018, Hernangomez was a top-125 player averaging 10.2 points on 48.5 percent shooting with 5.8 rebounds, 1.7 triples, 0.5 steals and 0.5 blocks. As we move into 2019, Hernangomez’s production falls off a cliff on as he barely ranks inside the top-450 on averages not even worth mentioning.

    So, what happened, and what version of him can we expect moving forward? The news that Hernangomez underwent surgery in May to repair a core muscle injury suggests that injury may be largely to blame for his sudden steep decline in production. It is yet another unfortunate blow for Hernangomez, whose career to this point has been defined largely by injury and illness limiting his play.

    He showed enough early in the year to hold value as a dynasty stash player (assuming there are no lasting impacts from the surgically-repaired injury), and is probably worth a late-round flier in deep-league drafts next season, particularly if the Nuggets do not opt to pick up Paul Millsap’s $30.5 million team option for next year.

    Jarred Vanderbilt

    ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 455/462 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 476/483 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 16

    2018-19 averages: 16 G | 4.3 MP | 1.5 PTS | 0.0 3PM | 1.4 REB | 0.2 AST | 0.4 STL | 0.1 BLK | 0.5 TOV | .474 FG% | .600 FT%

    The Nuggets took a flier on Vanderbilt in the second round of the 2018 draft after he missed most of his only year at Kentucky with an ankle injury. Vanderbilt may not have built out much of a resume of high level, but there are some intriguing indicators that he could find a spot in the NBA as an Ed Davis-style rebound specialist with some upside beyond that.

    In his 16 games with the Kentucky Wildcats, Vanderbilt posted an insane 18.5 rebounds per 40 minutes, and through four games of G-League play this season, he managed to match that rebound rate by grabbing 17.2 boards per 36 minutes. We know he can rebound, but the rest of his fantasy profile is still a bit of mystery.

    It is fair to guess the following: his offensive game likely still doesn’t consist of much outside of rim-running; he has solid court-vision and passing ability; and if his college stats are an indication, Vanderbilt can be a decent defensive stat collector (1.0 steals and 1.8 blocks per-40). Given how little high-level ball he has played and the Nuggets’ depth at the three and four, he may not make much of an impact next season, but he is worth stashing in deeper dynasty formats on the possibility of an eventual top-125 ceiling.

    Isaiah Thomas

    ADP: 125/129 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 456/506 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 453/501 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 12

    2018-19 averages: 12 G | 15.1 MP | 8.1 PTS | 1.0 3PM | 1.1 REB | 1.9 AST | 0.5 STL | 0.1 BLK | 1.5 TOV | .343 FG% | .630 FT%

    Thomas spent most of the season on the bench continuing rehab for a hip injury for which he underwent surgery in the 2018 offseason. While he did finally enter the rotation around the All-Star break, he was a shell of his former self, never finding his rhythm and consistently forcing bad shots that disrupted the flow of the offense. Thomas did get a legitimate chance to contribute, but Malone kept him on a short leash, and essentially removed him from the rotation after only nine games.

    Thomas will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and given the emergence of Monte Morris and Malik Beasley, it is unlikely that the Nuggets bring him back for another shot as a reserve guard. Regardless of where Thomas lands next season, he is 30 years old and quickly running out of chances to prove that he can still contribute in the NBA. Feel free to take a flier on Thomas with your last pick in fantasy drafts next season, but odds are good that there are higher upside options available at the end of the draft.

    Doctor’s Orders

    Continuity and patience has done the Nuggets well to this point, and staying the course will be the best medicine moving forward as their young core continues to develop. In the era of the NBA super team, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. or another unsuspecting reserve player may have to step up and develop into a legitimate second star for the Nuggets to sniff the finals, but stranger things have happened. Managing depth as Jokic and Harris have already been paid, Murray is up next, and Monte Morris and Malik Beasley will likely demand decently lucrative contracts is a challenge on the horizon, but all things considered it is not a bad problem to have. 

Fantasy News

  • Damian Lillard
    PG, Portland Trail Blazers

    Damian Lillard put forth a valiant effort with 29 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and two threes in Friday's 113-136 loss to the Lakers.

    Even as the Blazers continue to scuffle, Lillard is locked in as an elite fantasy talent. It's looking increasingly unlikely that the Blazers make the postseason this year but, A: Never count out Lillard and B: He doesn't seem like the kind to accept a shutdown. We're a long way off from that point, thankfully, and you can continue to enjoy first-round value in the meantime.

  • Hassan Whiteside
    C, Portland Trail Blazers

    Hassan Whiteside had another productive game with 17 points (8-for-12 shooting), 13 rebounds, three steals and a block in 32 minutes on Friday night.

    Whiteside is rolling along in fantasy land even as his on-court lapses continue to harm the Blazers. We wouldn't expect him to finish at his current top-35 standing so there's a bit of a sell-high window, though the numbers he's bringing back in blocks and rebounds might change the calculus since you probably won't be able to replace them in a trade.

  • Kent Bazemore
    SG, Portland Trail Blazers

    Kent Bazemore logged 25 minutes in Friday's loss to the Lakers, notching 10 points, two rebounds and a 3-pointer.

    Bazemore is staring at a much heavier workload with Rodney Hood now out for the season and Portland completely devoid of other viable wing options. He's been a top-100 guy in starter's minutes in the past, so he's a pickup in all competitive leagues.

  • Anthony Davis
    PF-C, Los Angeles Lakers

    Anthony Davis and LeBron James both torched the Blazers in Friday's road win.

    Davis put up 39 points (12-for-21 FG, 13-of-15 FT), nine rebounds, two steals, three blocks and a pair of 3-pointers while James had 31 points (11-of-23 FG, 5-for-7 FT), seven rebounds, eight assists, a block and four threes. They're alright at this.

  • Alex Caruso
    SG, Los Angeles Lakers

    Alex Caruso played 24 minutes on Friday night, posting eight points, three assists, a steal and a three.

    Caruso got some extra run with Rajon Rondo departing early because of hamstring tightness, and given the likelihood that he misses some time you can consider Caruso a potential pickup in deep leagues.

  • JaVale McGee
    C, Los Angeles Lakers

    JaVale McGee finished Friday's win with 13 points (6-of-7 shooting) and two blocks in 15 minutes.

    McGee isn't nearly as fun to rock with as he was last season but he's still blocking shots and boosting your field goal percentage enough to return late-round value in 12-teamers. Dwight Howard is doing the same thing with more boards and slightly fewer blocks, as he had five points, 10 rebounds and two steals tonight. Neither is a must-own in 12-team leagues.

  • Danny Green
    SG, Los Angeles Lakers

    Danny Green had a lackluster showing, to be polite about it, on Friday with a 3-pointer, five rebounds, a steal and a block in 21 minutes.

    Green is just a late-round guy and doesn't have a ton of upside given that he's only getting 25.5 mpg on the year. He's worth holding onto in general, but a drop won't hurt you that much. The same goes for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had five points, five assists, a steal and a 3-pointer in 27 minutes.

  • Kevin Love
    PF, Cleveland Cavaliers

    Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the Cavs are prepared to listen to trade talks involving Kevin Love.

    The Cavs simply have no use for Love, who can be a series-shifting player as a second or third option on a good team. Cleveland is predictably seeking young players and future draft picks, but it remains to be seen if they'll get much considering Love is still owed $90 million over the next three seasons. That's not inconsequential, and most teams in position to get pushed over the top by adding Love to the mix also don't have the ability to add such a big financial commitment to their books easily. While Love would be bumped down the pecking order on a better team, he might also end up playing more games. We won't go too much deeper than that until Love starts getting connected to specific suitors.

    Source: ESPN

  • DeMar DeRozan
    SG, San Antonio Spurs

    DeMar DeRozan's 3-point binge continued in Friday's 105-104 OT win over the Kings, as he hit three more triples on his way to 15 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and two steals.

    DeRozan has now hit five threes in his last four games after hitting zero in over a full year. That obviously won't keep up but DeRozan is back in the top-50 area after scuffling early in the year. He's about as reliable as they come.

  • Jakob Poeltl
    C, San Antonio Spurs

    Jakob Poeltl returned to the bench on Friday with LaMarcus Aldridge back but still delivered three blocks in 18 minutes.

    Poeltl also tallied 13 points on a perfect 5-of-5 from the field and a less-perfect 3-of-5 from the line. He's now climbed up to top-170 value on the year and should be on any rosters where fantasy GMs are short on blocks. In the past two weeks he's been a top-60 player.