AP

Three questions the Denver Nuggets must answer this season

Leave a comment

The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season:
40-42, missed the playoffs.

I know what you did last summer: Denver snatched up Paul Millsap on a 3-year, $90 million deal. They also re-signed Mason Plumlee to a 3-year deal worth $41 million. In June they swapped out Donovan Mitchell for Trey Lyles. Drafted Tyler Lydon, Monte Morris, and Vlatko Cancar.

THREE QUESTIONS THE NUGGETS MUST ANSWER:

1) Who is going to pass, and when, and how much? After adding Paul Millsap and re-signing Mason Plumlee, the Nuggets have a plethora of passing big men to choose from. We all know that Nikola Jokic is the future of the center position in Denver, so that gives you at least three big men to choose from in the offense. However, as we’ve seen on teams with great passing players before, it’s possible to get into the habit of over sharing the ball at the detriment of simply putting it in the hoop.

Plumlee is probably going to be in a major backup role on this team if everyone stays healthy, so that could simplify things a bit. Still, you have the potential here of things getting a little overworked when it gets into the hands of the big men, so making sure they understand when to stick to the sheet and when to play jazz will be important. We’re all excited to see Millsap and Jokic play together but it might take a few weeks against live competition to sort out the passing lanes.

2) Will there be any semblance of defense? Denver finished just 29th last season in defensive efficiency rating. Kenneth Faried is still somewhat of an issue on that end, and despite what some statistics suggest, Plumlee is not a good defender. Jokic and Millsap should help that out a little bit, but much of this team remains the same from last year.

The question will be in the continued development of the young players, particularly Jamal Murray, Emmanuel Mudiay, and whatever you can squeeze out of Will Barton on the defensive end of the floor. For as “sneaky” as this team is going to be when it comes to the playoff race this season, I still believe that defense will be an issue. Think of the Portland Trail Blazers teams of the last few years and how much they have had to be a stellar offense of team if only because their defense has been abysmal. The Nuggets might slot right into that archetype this season if they aren’t careful.

3) What are they doing with Kenneth Faried? There has been a lot of chatter around the league wondering if very Faried is ever going to get traded. The question, of course, is whether he has any value with his cap hit and whether that is still a smart thing for the Nuggets to do.

Faried had a statistical down season last year, if only slightly, but in his move to a bench role he was effective as an offensive weapon. Certainly, if he remains in that role next season he will be a wrecking ball against some of the backup lineups that get trotted out in the NBA. However, he does have the third-highest salary on the team and it is a question whether he will ever fully develop into a more complete player as he heads into his seventh season.

The question of what to do with Faried isn’t just about the trade market. It’s also about, if he stays, what kind of role he has and what work he has to do on a team that needs to strengthen its defense if it wants to be in the playoff race.

Report: Nuggets re-signing Mason Plumlee to three-year, $41 million contract

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Nuggets dealt for Mason Plumlee just before the trade deadline with the intention of re-signing him this summer.

Plumlee didn’t exactly live up to expectations in Denver last season, though. While Jusuf Nurkic thrived in Portland, the Nuggets missed the playoffs. Plumlee and Nikola Jokic merely meandered as a tandem.

Free agency proved particularly harsh for restricted free agents and centers, and Plumlee was both. A $4,588,840 qualifying offer lingered.

But Denver stepped up with a big payday.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

That’s a lot of money for a backup center. Probably too much.

Plumlee is already 27, so while he might remain effective through this deal, he probably has untapped upside. What you see is what you get: A mobile finisher who passes willingly and defends with more effort than ability.

But where does he fit in Denver?

The Nuggets will start Paul Millsap and Jokic, and they’re overstuffed with backup power forwards – Darrell Arthur, Juan Hernangomez, Trey Lyles, Tyler Lydon and Kenneth Faried, who can also play center. There’s clearly a role reserved for Plumlee, given this deal.

But considering Denver’s leverage – with Plumlee being restricted, other teams not appearing interested and the Nuggets’ big man depth – this contract looks even worse.

Stephon Marbury wants to return, play one more NBA season at age 40

Associated Press
4 Comments

Stephon Marbury hasn’t played an NBA game since the end of the 2009 NBA season — the season Derrick Rose was Rookie of the Year.

Starting in 2010, he went to China and went on to become a pioneer for other American hoopsters heading to that country — and he became a legend in Beijing. He led the Beijing Ducks to two Chinese Basketball Association titles and had such an impact he has a statue in his honor and a musical about him and his impact on Chinese culture.

Now, at age 40 and with his career in China winding down, he wants one more shot in the NBA, and he posted about it on Instagram.

I'm making a #nba come back for the fans who want to see me play my last year as a pro. After hearing so many people say come back I finally prayed about it and gave it major thought. I thought the perfect ending would of been retiring with the Beijing Ducks but it's clear the GM had other thoughts which is fine. My love for the ducks will always be A1 from day 1. I still have a lot of go in me as a player and at 40 being able to play at a high level is a gift. Being able to stay mentally focused and physically fit takes a different type of discipline. I'm motivated to make this the best year of my career as I end a 21 year long journey in the game I love. It's been a blessing to play 13 years in the @nba and this year 9 years in the @cbachina China has groomed my game and my style of play. China made me sharp and consistent. We practice Monday-Wed from 9-11:45 and 3-5:45. Thursday one practice 9-11:45 and Friday-Sat same schedule as M-W. I thought I would die at first coming from the NBA where you can't practice that long before the season starts. Oh and we do that for over 40 days. This way of training can either break you or make you. I'd like to look at it as it made me. So I'm ready and prepared to take on a challenge I once faced but with chips under my belt along with all that has come with winning chips in China. Statues, museum, green card, Honorary citizen, ambassador for the environmental protection bureau, key to the city, only 30 people ever to receive the key to the city of Beijing and MY PEACE something no one can ever take. So with all of these things I feel complete and ready to turn towards the last page of my basketball dairy that I've been writing since 95 when I left Lincoln High. I thank all of the positive energy from all those who showed it throughout my time away from the NBA. Thank you for always keeping it 100. @stephonmarbury_3 @espn @marcjspears @nytimes @nypost @nydailynews @newsday @slamonline #starburymovement #starbuy #loveislove

A post shared by Starbury.com (@starburymarbury) on

Marbury is committed to play for the Beijing Fly Dragons during the upcoming Chinese season, but that will end if February or March (depending on their playoff run) and after that he hopes to hook up with an NBA team.

It would be a fun story, but I don’t see how it happens. Last season in China Marbury averaged 21.4 points and 5.5 assists per game, shooting 34.1 percent from three. Those numbers sound impressive until you consider that the Chinese league is known for an appalling lack of defense — I don’t mean major college bad, more like DIII bad (and that’s not fair to the DIII guys, who at least try). Maybe a better description is disinterested AAU team bad. Let me put it this way, last season the top three scorers in China were Jimmer Fredette at 37.6 points per game, Errick McCollum at 37.5, and MarShon Brooks 36.2 — and none of them got NBA contracts.

Marbury was struggling to stay on the court and play at an NBA level eight years ago, it’s hard to imagine him doing it now.

I loved Marbury’s game and would love to see him play again, but this may be more of a Big3 situation than the NBA. That said, a team or two may give him a look.

Report: Josh Childress going from Big3 to Nuggets

Michael Reaves/BIG3/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Big3 is becoming an entertaining home for former NBA players.

Maybe also a proving ground for those players to return to the top pro league.

Former Hawks wing Josh Childress, who famously left the NBA in his prime for a lucrative contract in Greece, is joining the Nuggets.

Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders:

The Denver Nuggets and Josh Childress have agreed to a one-year, non-guaranteed deal, a league source told Basketball Insiders.

The 34-year-old Childress hasn’t played in the NBA since 2013, and it’s been even longer since he was effective there.

Denver has 14 players on standard contracts, one shy of the regular-season limit, and they all have guaranteed salaries. Mason Plumlee also has an outstanding qualifying offer.

I’d be surprised if Childress sticks past the preseason, but this is at least an interesting flier.

Nuggets hooked a big fish in Paul Millsap

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
1 Comment

The Nuggets apparently didn’t see the exemplary move of their offseason coming.

They tried to trade Gary Harris and the No. 13 pick for Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love, but as Cleveland tells it, the Pacers backed out of the three-team trade. So, Denver traded down from No. 13 to No. 24, picking Tyler Lydon and acquiring Trey Lyles – two more power forwards to join a team that already had Juan Hernangomez, Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur.

Finally, the Nuggets signed Paul Millsap – an upgrade over every power forward already on the roster and a better fit than Love – without surrendering any assets beyond cap space. And it wasn’t as much cap space as feared. Despite talk of a max contract, Millsap settled for $90 million over three years with a team option of the final season.

That’s a quite reasonable price for a potential franchise-changer.

Millsap isn’t Denver’s franchise player. That’s Nikola Jokic. But Millsap immediately elevates the Nuggets into a likely playoff team, and they got the 32-year-old without committing long-term.

After making Jokic a full-time start in December, Denver had the NBA’s best offensive rating (113.3). Better than the Warriors. Better than the Rockets. Better than the Cavaliers. Better than everyone else.

In that span, Jokic averaged 19.2 points, 10.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game – marks hit over a full season by only Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Billy Cunningham and Kevin Garnett. That’s four Hall of Famers and a future Hall of Famer.

Still, the Nuggets finished just 40-42, a game out of playoff position. They had the NBA’s second-worst defense, and Jokic’s deficiencies were glaring. It’s just hard to hide a weak defensive center.

Millsap might do that, though. He’s one of the NBA’s best defensive forwards and even provides some rim protection. Importantly, he also spaces the floor on the other end, allowing Denver to still take full advantage of Jokic’s advanced offensive skills.

Typical development by a young core – which also includes Jamal Murray and Gary Harris – would have pushed the Nuggets forward. Millsap allows them to keep pace in a tough Western Conference that only loaded up this offseason.

Though well worth the complication, Millsap creates a crowd at power forward Denver has yet to address. At least there are plausible patches.

Faried can play center, though re-signing restricted free agent Mason Plumlee (whose $4,588,840 qualifying offer is outstanding) would reduce the playing time available there. Hernangomez can play small forward. Lydon might not be ready to play at all.

At some point, it’d be nice to get Hernangomez more minutes at his optimal position. He’s merely trying to tread water at small forward. As a stretch four who gets after rebounds, he could be a core piece.

For now, Millsap mans the power forward spot, and the Nuggets are better for it. Opening cap space for Millsap meant losing Danilo Gallinari in free agency, but Wilson Chandler and Will Barton are capable at small forward.

Denver’s sound drafting in recent years created a clean cap sheet, with several contributors locked into rookie-scale contracts – or, in Jokic’s case, an even smaller deal. The Nuggets could afford to splurge on a veteran who’d fast-track their ascension. Kudos to them for luring one – especially without a long-term guarantee.

Offseason grade: A