• 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

  • Robert Covington
    SF, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Robert Covington (right knee bone bruise) will reportedly be "good to go" for the start of training camp in October.

    Well, this is good news that we didn't hope we would need. Covington played 35 games last year and couldn't get over the bone bruise injury that kept him out for a majority of the year. We expected him to be ready to go, and the fact that we're even discussing this is slightly less than ideal.

    Source: Dane Moore on Twitter

  • Kemba Walker
    PG, Boston Celtics

    Team USA has named Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart and Donovan Mitchell as captains for the FIBA World Cup.

    Congratulations to Mitchell, Walker and Smart on the tremendous honor of being named captains for the USA men's team. This won't have any impact on their upcoming fantasy seasons, but it is a major accomplishment nonetheless. Team USA has an exhibition rematch against Team Australia on Saturday.

    Source: Boston.com Celtics News on Twitter

  • Isaiah Canaan
    PG, International

    Isaiah Canaan has signed a contract with the Shangdong Heroes of the Chinese Basketball Association.

    The veteran journeyman played for the Suns, Wolves and Bucks last season, appearing in 30 games total. Canaan will be looking at a more prominent role and payday overseas as he attempts to build his value back up before trying to latch on to a team towards the end of the year. Canaan is off the fantasy radar.

    Source: Zhang Duo on Twitter

  • Patty Mills
    PG, San Antonio Spurs

    Patty Mills put up 19 points, three assists, two steals, a block and three 3-pointers in Thursday's international exhibition between Team Australia and Team USA.

    The Boomers figure to be one of the chief threats to the Americans in the World Cup and put forth a competitive effort in today's exhibition. Mills has typically been a steady, late-round fantasy option for deep-league play but that may change this season as the Spurs will need to mix in both Derrick White and Dejounte Murray in the backcourt. Chris Goulding tied for the team lead in points, also scoring 19 while hitting four 3-pointers in 22 minutes off the bench.

  • Myles Turner
    C, Indiana Pacers

    Myles Turner put up 15 points and 14 rebounds in Thursday's exhibition win over Team Australia, shooting 6-of-8 from the floor with a 3-pointer.

    Turner didn't get any blocks but we know that last year's league-leader can rack those up in a hurry, whether he's getting them in international competition or not. Look for another early-middle round season out of the talented big man. Kemba Walker led Team USA with 23 points in the 102-86 win.

  • Trevon Bluiett
    PF, Utah Jazz

    Trevon Bluiett and Juwan Morgan sign with the Jazz in the hopes of one day playing in an NBA game.

    Bluiett was on a two-way contract with the Pelicans last season while Juwan Morgan played for the Jazz in the 2019 Summer League. They will both compete for a roster spot in training camp but neither is a guarantee to make the final roster. They both have yet to see the court in an NBA game and can be ignored from a fantasy perspective until that day comes.

    Source: Tony Jones on Twitter

  • Zach Collins
    C, Portland Trail Blazers

    Zach Collins (ankle) began daily contact workouts on Monday and is on pace to head into training camp fully healthy.

    Collins is heading into what could be a breakout season as he is likely to start at the power forward position. In the 2019 playoffs, the Gonzaga product blocked a shot in 11 of the 16 games including three games in which he blocked three, four and five respectively. Collins has averaged around 33% from distance throughout his career which is exactly what he shot in the postseason (7-21). If he is able to improve from long range and plays starters minutes, Collins is a can't-miss player. It's far from a guarantee though as the 21-year-old has never finished with standard-league value. It does seem like Collins will be ready for training camp barring a major setback.

    Source: The Athletic

  • Cory Joseph
    PG, Sacramento Kings

    Nick Nurse said that reports of Cory Joseph missing the FIBA World Cup are “incorrect”.

    Nurse added that he spoke to Joseph on Wednesday and that the guard has his flights booked to China. Joseph was in Canada’s camp at home earlier this month, but did not make the trip to Australia and has missed the past four exhibition games. The situation has become a little bit murky but Canada Basketball keeps holding out hope that Joseph will rejoin the team before they depart for China, which doesn’t happen until Monday.

    Source: John Casey on Twitter

  • Tyronn Lue
    PG, Los Angeles Clippers

    Shams Charania of The Athletic is reporting former Cavs championship-winning coach Tyronn Lue has agreed to join the Clippers as their top assistant coach to Doc Rivers.

    The Lakers and Clippers rivalry continues to heat up. Lue was very close to a deal with the Lakers in May to become their head coach, but the sides couldn’t reach an agreement. Lue now joins Kawhi Leonard as another person to spurn the Lakers this offseason.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • PJ Tucker
    SF, Houston Rockets

    P.J. Tucker says he is optimistic about signing a contract extension soon.

    The 34-year-old 3-and-D wing hopes to extend his deal with the Rockets, but a potential extension wouldn't begin until his age-36 season. Houston has him under contract for two more seasons at this point, so they may not be motivated enough to get something done this offseason. However, a maximum Tucker extension would only have him in the $10 million per year range. Even as a 37-year-old, that could be a great deal if he can keep up his current production. Tucker remains a sneaky source of threes and steals late in fantasy drafts or off the wire.

    Source: Kurt Helin on Twitter