Denver is a strange team in a strange part of its development cycle.
They have a strange mix of exciting young talent and established veterans, but are they truly on the verge of breaking out?
The old guard, made up of names like Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, isn't good enough to make the team competitive, but the young guys -- headlined by Emmanuel Mudiay, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, among others -- probably aren't good enough to make the leap collectively either.
The roster the Nuggets open the season with, then, isn't likely to be the one they close it out with. This is a team primed to make some moves, and the good news is, the established veterans are all playing on pretty reasonable contracts in the new salary cap environment.
If the Nuggets want to move Faried, Chandler or Gallinari, they shouldn't have much trouble finding takers.
For now, they enter the season with a lot of rotation question marks for Fantasy owners to figure out. This team goes at least two deep with players who demand minutes at every position:
And that doesn't even get into some of the other intriguing young guys Denver could unleash as the season goes on.
There is a lot to like about this team from a Fantasy perspective, but there might be too many cooks in the kitchen -- at least at first.
Quite frankly, Jokic already broke out, though it might have been a bit hard to tell because he often played no more than 20-25 minutes per game. In the second half of last season, Jokic emerged as a viable starting Fantasy option, averaging 10.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, but the per-game numbers don't really accurately capture how terrific he was. Let's check out Jokic's per-36 numbers:
15.7 points, 13.1 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.1 blocks
Those numbers are even better than they sound, because Charles Barkley in 1986-87 is the only player to manage them for a full season while qualifying for the points-per-game leaderboard. Jokic only did it over a 28-game stretch, but it was still impressive to watch a 21-year-old to accomplish that in the NBA. Jokic is big and skilled, with range out to the 3-point line and strong passing skills, and sometimes looks like Marc Gasol on the offensive side of the ball. Mike Malone may still look to limit his minutes, especially with the talented Jusuf Nurkic still around, but Jokic should get close to 30 minutes per game, and has real star potential, even if nobody outside of Denver and Serbia has heard of him.
Unlike Jokic, Mudiay never had trouble finding playing time under Malone. He logged nearly 38 in his first career game and played 30-plus in 41 of his 68 appearances, en route to averaging 30.4 per game overall. However, Mudiay was even more raw than advertised after an injury-plagued season in China before being drafted. Mudiay did finish with 12.8 points and 5.5 assists per game, but was incredibly inefficient overall, turning the ball over 3.2 times per game and shooting just 36.4 percent from the field overall. His jumper is a mess, but the impressive physical tools are still there; Mudiay is big and strong for a point guard, and flashed an ability to get to the rim thanks to his athleticism. If you are betting on Mudiay this season, it isn't because of anything he did on the box score as a rookie; this is still all about potential.
Kenneth Faried quite literally burst on the scene as a rookie, forcing his way into the starting lineup on the strength of his tenacious rebounding, energy and athleticism. That gave him a pretty solid floor, as he averaged 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds in just 22.5 minutes per game as a rookie. Fast forward five years, however, and Faried looks like pretty much the same player. He plays a little bit more (25.3 minutes per game) and gets a bit more responsibility on offense, but really doesn't do all that much with it. He averaged 12.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game last season. Faried just hasn't moved forward since a promising start, and there is reason to believe he might be in line for even less production this season, given the Nuggets' depth. He will likely remain the starting power forward, but Nurkic and Jokic are going to get some minutes together. Joffrey Lauvergne is an interesting young prospect as a stretch-four and Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari are still going to demand minutes at the four in smaller lineups. Faried is a prime candidate for a trade, but if he stays on the Nuggets, his best days might be past him. I'll let someone else convince themselves the soon-to-be 27-year-old still has room to grow.