• Despite finishing in roughly the same spot in the Western Conference standings as they did the year before, last season gave Nuggets fans cause for hope.  With a promising new coach and a slew of young talent the team may finally be pointed in the right direction.  Hoop Ball’s Post-Mortem series takes a look at what happened in the Mile High City.

    OVERVIEW

    Rebuilding seasons can be difficult to assess.  On the one hand, the Nuggets finished 33-49 and missed the playoffs for the third straight season, and despite players genuinely committing to Malone’s defensive structures their defensive efficiency slipped to 106.5 (tied with the lowly 76ers).  Outside of a promising homestand in March the team never found consistency, as flashes of individual brilliance were lost amidst blown rotation and overmatched bench units.  To make matters worse, Danilo Gallinari – in the midst of finally putting it all together – saw another season cut short by injury after tearing two ligaments in his right ankle.

    On the other hand, the Nuggets gave significant minutes to their young guns (Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Nikola Jokic, and – eventually – Jusuf Nurkic), all of whom showed significant improvement as the year progressed.  Jokic flashed genuine brilliance as a facilitator from the high post, and (despite his shooting woes) Mudiay’s ability to command an offense exceeded expectations.  In fact, between their contributions and the emergence of Will Barton as a legitimate Sixth Man candidate, the Nuggets found themselves within striking distance of the playoffs much sooner than anyone expected.

    They will spend this off-season exploring paths to a potential superstar, whether through the draft or via a trade, but for now the Nuggets have built a solid foundation for contention down the road.  After living for years in the shadow left by the Carmelo Anthony trade, the Nuggets have finally opened a new chapter in their franchise history.

    COACHING

    After a putrid campaign in 2014-15, headlined by the ugly relationship between Brian Shaw and Ty Lawson, Nuggets’ GM Tim Connelly set out to overhaul the culture of the locker room.  Both Shaw and Lawson were sent packing, and former Kings’ coach Mike Malone was brought in to right the ship.  Malone fostered a culture of accountability and working “together” (a word he used to close each practice) that allowed the team to begin building around their young core in earnest.

    The results were palpable, and not just in the form of exuberant bench celebrations.  Yes, the Nuggets shooting limitations and continued defensive issues led to a finish in the bottom-third of the league, but players understood and embraced their respective roles.  Malone ultimately focused on putting players in a position to succeed.  He allowed Mudiay to run the offense from day one (with limited exceptions), moved Jokic into the starting line-up, and allowed Gary Harris to freelance on defense.  The end result might not have been pretty in terms of wins and loses, but the young Nuggets are primed to succeed under Malone moving forward.

    THE PLAYERS

    Danilo Gallinari

    ADP: 61, Total Value: 122/104 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 57/42 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 53

    Before being sidelined with a severe ankle sprain (The Rooster actually tore two ligaments in his right ankle) Gallinari was in the midst of a career season.  He became the featured player in Michael Malone’s spread system, and responded as the unquestioned leader of the Nuggets’ offensive attack.  Unfortunately, however, Gallinari saw his third season in the last four years cut short by injury, putting a significant damper on what could have been his ascension to fantasy stardom.

    Let’s start with the positive developments: Gallinari posted career highs in points (19.5) and rebounds (5.3), and became a dominant scorer from the charity stripe where he averaged 86.8% on 8.2 attempts per-game.  The Rooster hurt you in FG% (averaging just 41% from the floor), but contributed everywhere else.  Moreover, Il Gallo’s versatility allowed the Nuggets to play either big or small depending on the match-up, and he showed marked improvement in defending bigger players in the pick-and-roll and down low.  While that defensive growth didn’t show up in the box score, fantasy owners reaped the rewards of Gallinari feasting off of mismatches on the offensive end.

    If he had stayed healthy one could easily see Gallo justifying an early-round pick next fall, but that “if” looms large.  While Gallinari’s most recent ankle injury was not directly connected to the knee issues that plagued him for the last two seasons, and if the Nuggets had been in contention he might have returned this season, he will have to prove he can stay on the court before fantasy owners are comfortable with him again.  I couldn’t blame anyone for gambling on The Rooster’s upside next year, but I’m fine passing on him until he puts together a full season again.

    Nikola Jokic

    ADP: N/A, Total Value: 59/48 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 86/66 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 79

    The Nuggets spent most of last summer trumpeting Jokic’s unique brand of skills, but the fantasy community – myself included – remained skeptical of the Serbian rookie.  Jokic made all of us look foolish, as he ended up starting 54 games and helped fantasy teams lucky enough to grab him off the wire claim titles with his stellar play down the stretch.

    After the All-Star break Jokic truly emerged, averaging 10.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.3 threes, and almost a block and a steal per contest, and he did it all while shooting 48% from the floor and 84% from the line.  The raw totals in points and boards might not jump off the box-score, but Jokic’s unique ability to contribute everywhere in fantasy made him immensely valuable.  As the season went on, Malone began to trust Jokic more and more, running the offense through him in the high post.  It isn’t a stretch to say that Jokic is already one of the five best passing big men in the NBA, and the two-man game he developed with fellow rookie Emmanuel Mudiay (who we’ll get to shortly) became the cornerstone of the Nuggets offense after Gallinari got hurt.

    As the Nuggets enter the offseason with the assets to pivot in many different directions, Jokic has repeatedly been described as “untradable.”  Whether or not that’s literally true remains to be seen, but as long as Jokic remains in Michael Malone’s system his upside remains tantalizing.

    Will Barton

    ADP: N/A, Total Value: 55/57 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 85/82 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 81

    After being sent to the Nuggets as an afterthought at the 2015 trade deadline, Will Barton broke-out as a legitimate Sixth Man candidate this season.  Barton led the bench unit in both the half-court and out on the break, while also earning crunch-time minutes from Malone throughout the season.

    In both fantasy and reality Barton lacks any single elite skill, but in 2016 he showcased his ability to chip-in in a variety of ways.  Barton rebounded well for a shooting guard (5.9 rpg), while also contributing 14 ppg, 2.5 apg, one steal, and half a block.  Again, these aren’t stunning numbers, but these multi-category contributions were enough to solidify Barton’s role in Malone’s offense (where he averaged almost 30 minutes per game despite coming off the bench).  Barton did fade as the season went on, as he dropped out of the top-200 on the player rater over the season’s final two months, and it remains to be seen if Barton can reclaim the hot shooting that typified the start of his 2015-16 campaign.

    Gary Harris

    ADP: N/A, Total Value: 79/67 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 95/84 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 75

    Coming out of Michigan State Harris was billed as a tweener who lacked the playmaking ability to lead an offense, which paved the way for him to slide to the 19th pick in the draft.  After being buried by Brian Shaw as a rookie, Harris locked-up the starting two-guard spot for the Nuggets this season, and flashed some potential as a defender and shooter.

    Although Harris did flex some versatility in 2015-16 (averaging 12.2 ppg, 1.4 3pg, 2.9 rpg, 1.9 apg, and 1.3 spg) his primary fantasy value came from solid percentages (47.1% from the floor and 81.7% from the line) and his low turnover rate from the guard position.  Harris strikes me as the type of player who will always be more valuable in real life than fantasy, as his excellent perimeter defense and ability to move without the ball don’t do much for your squad statistically.  That said, Harris – who just finished his second season – improved as the season continued and has an excellent chance to build on his per-game totals next season.

    Kenneth Faried

    ADP: 56, Total Value: 107/106 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 99/92 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 66

    The (mild) hype surrounding Faried got away from the fantasy community last summer, as his ADP climbed safely inside the middle rounds after the Nuggets hired Michael Malone.  Instead of making a leap, however, Faried finished almost exactly where he had the previous three seasons on the player rater (where he’s never reached the top-80 on a per-game or total basis).

    The frustrating truth about Faried is that, from a statistical perspective, he has failed to build on a promising rookie campaign.  Perhaps even more damning for his fantasy value is that the categories in which Faried does contribute are easily replaced, as he doesn’t offer much in the way of threes, steals, or blocks.  Last season Faried averaged a pedestrian 12.5 ppg, 8.7 rpg, half a steal, and 0.9 bpg.  Before I pile on too much, it does bear noting that Faried’s defense improved dramatically under Malone, as he finally utilized his quickness to disrupt opposing power forwards on the perimeter and blow-up pick-and-rolls before they developed.  But Faried is still undersized for a power forward, and he doesn’t protect the rim or space the floor, making him a mediocre starting option in both fantasy and on the hardwood.

    Emmanuel Mudiay

    ADP: 91, Total Value: 173/268 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 165/308 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 67

    When Emmanuel Mudiay fell past the Sacramento Kings on draft night the Nuggets’ war room was reportedly ecstatic, and wasted little time in drafting the Congolese point guard.  In Mudiay Denver hopes to have landed their lead guard of the future, and given his impressive size, athleticism, and court vision they may well have.  However, after one year in the league the jury is still very much out on Mudiay, especially from a fantasy perspective.

    Of all the players who averaged double-digit field goal attempts this season, only Kobe Bryant (chucking against the relentless passage of time) shot worse from the floor than Mudiay.  At 36.1% he single-handedly killed many fantasy owners in that category.  Moreover, he was a turnover machine (averaging 3.2 per contest), as the above splits between 8 and 9-cat leagues indicate.  For the first half of the season Mudiay did more to help your team from the waiver wire than when he was deployed as a starting fantasy guard.  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though.  Mudiay actively improved as the season went along.  He finished with his best FG% and turnover rate during the final two months of the season, and his scoring improved steadily throughout the year.  Mudiay’s April line of 17 – 3.5 – 5 (with a steal, half a block, and 2.3 threes) provides reason for optimism going forward, as the Nuggets will continue to give him all the minutes he can handle.

    Jusuf Nurkic

    ADP: 121, Total Value: 318/327 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 213/250 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 31

    Nurkic spent the first half of the season rehabbing a torn left patellar tendon, and by the time he returned to the Nuggets’ rotation in January he had lost his starting spot to Nikola Jokic.  His injury woes continued, as he battled a sprained ankle, knee soreness, and illness en route to a 31 game campaign.  All told it was a disappointing year for the young center, but his season ended on the upswing as he was able to average 20 minutes per game over the final two months and even started alongside Jokic during the final week of 2016.  Nurkic’s per 36 numbers are impressive, as he averages nearly 18 points, 11 boards, 2.6 assists, one steal, and nearly three blocks.  Nurk’s upside is obvious, but he will have to get healthy and control his foul rate before he sniffs enough minutes to be a consistent contributor in standard leagues.

    Wilson Chandler

    ADP: N/A, Total Value: DNQ/DNQ (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: DNQ/DNQ (8/9 cat), Games Played: 0

    Chandler didn’t see any regular season action this season, as what was originally diagnosed as a mild hip strain was revealed to be a labral tear that ended his season before it began.  He should be ready start next season, but injuries will always be a concern for Chandler (he’s only played more than 65 games twice in his career), and he’s seemingly lost his role as sixth man to Will Barton.  Still, if Chandler can get back to his ’14-’15 averages of 14 points, 6 boards, and 1.4 threes, he could be back on the radar for owners in standard leagues next season.

    Darrell Arthur

    ADP: N/A, Total Value: 166/149 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 182/163 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 70

    Like Harris, Arthur is a better real-life player than fantasy asset.  As the Nuggets’ utility big man Arthur was able to contribute mildly across the board, averaging 7.5 points, 4.2 boards, 0.6 treys, and 1.4 assists, while also serving as the team’s best all-around defensive player (he chipped in 0.7 steals and 0.8 blocks per game as well).  The Nuggets’ hope to retain Arthur this offseason, but between their depth and his pedestrian contributions there’s really no upside here.

    Joffrey Lauvergne

    ADP: 142, Total Value: 231/221 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 230/208 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 59

    The Nuggets are high on King Joffrey’s offensive potential, and he flashed some ability as a playmaking big this season, but he still couldn’t make his way on to the standard league radar.  Lauvergne averaged 17.6 minutes, 7.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 0.2 threes, and an assist per game, giving owners a glimpse of his multifaceted game, but he’s currently buried behind Jokic, Faried, Arthur, and Nurkic in the Nuggets’ rotation.

    D.J. Augustin

    ADP: N/A, Total Value: 226/238 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 224/254 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 61

    After being traded to the Nuggets at the deadline Augustin ran the bench unit and saw significant time playing next to Emmanuel Mudiay.  In 27 games in Denver Augustin put up solid numbers: 11.9 ppg, 4.8 apg, and 1.9 rpg to go along with 1.6 threes and a steal per game, good enough for top 160 value over the season’s final three months.  Augustin wasn’t sexy, but he was ownable in most leagues and should make a solid late-round selection next year if he remains in Denver.

    JaKarr Sampson

    ADP: N/A, Total Value: 290/314 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 351/371 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 72

    Sampson flashed his potential for the Nuggets after they signed him in late February.  He averaged just 16 minutes, 5 points, 2.6 boards, 0.3 steals, and 0.4 blocks over the course of the season, however, and wasn’t worth a bench spot in standard leagues.  Sampson will obviously have to earn more playing time to be worth owning in anything but the deepest of leagues, but his per 36 numbers hint at a player who could be a solid defensive contributor if that were to happen.

    DOCTOR’S ORDERS

    With a rising young coach and a core of intriguing young players the Nuggets might finally be headed in the right direction.  There may not be a potential superstar on the current roster, but they have just about everything else a rebuilding franchise could hope for.  Given the number of attractive picks and players in their war-chest rumors are already rumbling that the Nuggets could make a splash this summer if the right player becomes available, but they can afford to be patient.  Regardless of which route they choose, the Nuggets have positioned themselves to have a legitimate shot at returning to the playoffs next season.

Fantasy News

  • Andre Iguodala
    SF, Miami Heat

    Andre Iguodala returned to South Florida after living in California since the NBA season was suspended.

    Iguodala returning to the market where his team is could mean that he believes team workouts will begin soon. However, there is no official timetable on when team workouts will begin and Jimmy Butler has yet to return to Miami.

    Source: Ira Winderman on Twitter

  • Zach LaVine
    SG, Chicago Bulls

    K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reported that the Bulls were cleared by the Governor of Illinois and are in talks with city officials to open practice facilities on Friday for voluntary workouts that would follow the NBA guidelines.

    The NBA's guidelines currently state that a maximum of four players are allowed in the facility at any given time and there can only be one player per hoop. The Bulls are currently eight games behind the Orlando Magic for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls may not play again this season given how far behind they are in the standings and the recent reports of proposals to not continue the regular season.

    Source: K.C. Johnson on Twitter

  • Luka Doncic
    PG-SF, Dallas Mavericks

    Marc Stein of the New York Times has reported that the Mavs plan to open their practice facility on Thursday.

    This news would make the Mavs the 23rd team to have their facilities open for "voluntary and socially distanced player workouts". Continue to monitor the wire as we should learn more about the potential of the league resuming in early June.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter

  • Kawhi Leonard
    SF, Los Angeles Clippers

    On Tuesday afternoon, AmicoHoops reported (via Twitter) that an unidentified NBA GM told them the league has seriously discussed resuming the current NBA season on Wednesday, July 22.

    Nothing has been officially announced, by any means, and this is the first we've heard of specific target date(s) from anyone. It's looking like the continuation of the season will occur in Orlando at Walt Disney World at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, which has accommodations for at least some of what the NBA has planned for a resuming activity. As we have relayed numerous times recently, the next week or two seem to be a likely window for some decisions from Adam Silver and Co. at the NBA league office to start to come down. Stay tuned, hoops fans.

    Source: AmicoHoops on Twitter

  • Damian Lillard
    PG, Portland Trail Blazers

    Damian Lillard announced on Tuesday evening that, in the event of a continuation of the NBA season, he would not be participating if the Blazers are scheduled to play 'meaningless games' with no shot at making the playoffs.

    "If we come back and they're just like, 'We're adding a few games to finish the regular season,' and they're throwing us out there for meaningless games and we don't have a true opportunity to get into the playoffs, I'm going to be with my team because I'm a part of the team. But I'm not going to be participating," Lillard told Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday morning. It's hard to blame him, as it is quite easy to see the potential situation from his point of view. There have been countless scenarios tossed around by the league office during the pandemic period, but nothing is set in stone so far. Lillard, for his part, is only interested in returning to action if there exists a legitimate shot for his Blazers to reach the NBA Finals. Fair enough.

    Source: Yahoo! Sports

  • Joel Embiid
    C, Philadelphia Sixers

    The Sixers, who have their practice facility located in nearby Camden, NJ, will allow voluntary player workouts at the facility beginning on Wednesday, raising the number of NBA teams who have been able to do so to 22.

    The Celtics, Knicks, Bulls, Pistons, Wizards, Mavericks, Spurs and Warriors are the final teams remaining who are unable to return to their practice facilities. The NBA seems to be inching ever so close to, at the very least, announcing a plan for a continuation of the current season. This next week or two should be very eventful on that front.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter

  • Clint Capela
    C, Atlanta Hawks

    Hawks GM Travis Schlenk indicated on Tuesday that Clint Capela (right heel, plantar fasciitis) could very well play in the event of an NBA restart.

    "Clint [Capela] says he's feeling better, and there's a possibility that we can get him back on the court," Schlenk said in a phone interview with ESPN. "Practicing and playing five games would be valuable to us." Capela has yet to see the floor for the Hawks since he was acquired at the deadline from the Rockets, and one would have to surmise that he would be under a heavy minutes restriction if the league resumes and if the Hawks deem him healthy enough to give it a go. Still two big "ifs," but this is obviously positive news for the Hawks and potentially for fantasy owners who have managed to stash Capela in an injury slot this long.

    Source: ESPN.com

  • Mohamed Bamba
    C, Orlando Magic

    Magic center Mo Bamba said on Tuesday that he's spent the quarantine period bulking up, self-proclaiming that he's put on close to 30 pounds of muscle.

    Bamba said of his time off, ""I’ve worked my tail off during this quarantine. This is going to sound weird, but I put on probably about 28 pounds since quarantine (started)." He laughed and added that only about 2.5 percent of the weight he's put on is body fat. Bamba, along with many other NBA players, "can’t wait to get back out there and work" which is a great sign for the Magic and their fans. Jonathan Isaac is becoming more and more of a potential option for the team when/if the season is resumed as the days pass, so his presence would limit Bamba's chances on the offensive end of the floor. The team has yet to decide whether or not they want to play Isaac at all the rest of the season, regardless of the rumblings about a restart from the league office. However, this bulk-up on Bamba's part is nonetheless pretty impressive and is certainly noteworthy.

    Source: NBA.com

  • Terry Rozier
    PG, Charlotte Hornets

    The Hornets are the latest team to re-open their facilities, with the Novant Health Training Center set to open up on Tuesday.

    With this, there are only eight teams left to open their practice courts back up, though nobody has been able to engage in any sort of team work yet. Individual workouts are better than no workouts, however, and the league appears to be getting its ducks in a row in terms of returning to play. There's still no firm timelines but things do appear to be heading in the right direction.

    Source: Charlotte Hornets

  • Jon Leuer
    PF, Milwaukee Bucks

    Jon Leuer has announced his retirement from basketball.

    Injuries completely destroyed Leuer's career, as he played in a combined 49 games over the previous two seasons with zero appearances in the 2019-20 campaign. Leuer's high point came with the Suns, where he averaged 8.5 points to go with 5.6 rebounds, 0.6 steals, 0.4 blocks and a 38.2 mark from deep. His eight-year career comes to an end, with Leuer saying that his body simply won't let him play at a high level anymore.

    Source: Jon Leuer on Instagram