As the 2023 NBA offseason comes to a close, the Denver Nuggets are preparing to defend their championship belt.

Though some players remain scattered across the world, notably residing in Sombor, Serbia, the majority of the Nuggets are back in Denver. Some are returning to the scenes of the championship celebrations from June. Others are getting used to their new digs. By the end of the weekend, everyone will be back and ready to go for what’s expected to be another long, successful season.

But the groundwork for a championship doesn’t begin in April, or February, or December of the upcoming season. It begins on Monday, October 2nd. The Denver Nuggets will spend part of the day answering questions for local (and perhaps national) media. Then, they will board a flight to San Diego, California where they will spend the next week training at San Diego State University. The Nuggets traveled to San Diego last season as well (though they trained at a different college) so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

There’s a different level of pressure and expectation on the Nuggets this year, a team that features the undisputed best player in the world in Nikola Jokić. Can the Nuggets meet those expectations? What challenges will be presented along the way?

Let’s go through the burning questions facing the Nuggets this October:

How do the Nuggets replace Bruce Brown and Jeff Green?

Though the Nuggets won a championship and bring back their entire starting five, there are still questions about the rotation and depth.

Versatile guard/wing Bruce Brown played a large part in Denver’s championship rotation this last season, averaging a combined 28.1 minutes per game between the regular season and playoffs. His aggressiveness, mentality, defensive intensity, and offensive skill set helped propel the Nuggets to playoff wins, including Game 4 of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat when Brown posted 21 points and made clutch baskets down the stretch. His versatility allowed the Nuggets to ease Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. back into consistent roles last year. That luxury will be gone this time around, and there are questions as to which players on Denver’s bench can replace Brown’s all-around skill set.

Forward/small ball center Jeff Green played a role in all 20 playoff games for the Nuggets this past season. Though he only averaged 17.1 minutes, 4.1 points, and 1.6 rebounds per game in the playoffs, Green was a player the Nuggets could count on doing the little things, properly spacing the floor, and executing complex defensive schemes. He scored in double figures in just one playoff game, but the Nuggets didn’t need a player in his position to score. Can the Nuggets find a forward/big man with the right connective tissue that limits mistakes? Perhaps, but such an addition is never guaranteed.

Mar 31, 2023; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) dribbles against Denver Nuggets forward Peyton Watson (8) during the first half at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Are Christian Braun and Peyton Watson ready for expanded roles?

The natural replacements for Brown and Green are young contributors already on the roster.

Christian Braun played in 19 of Denver’s 20 playoff games last season and acquitted himself well. Rookies very rarely play in the playoffs, but Braun was ready for the moment and impacted several games in a positive way. He only averaged 15.0 minutes per game between the regular season and playoffs though, a far cry from Brown’s aforementioned 28.1 minutes per game. The Nuggets are expecting a minutes bump for Braun, but can he handle the additional responsibilities that come with that challenge? Braun will be tasked with additional ball handling, shooting, and defensive assignments, and how he handles the added pressure will determine whether the Nuggets have found their next sixth man.

Peyton Watson only played 23 regular season games during his rookie season (Braun played an astounding 76 games) and the questions surrounding Watson’s game are much more open ended. The Nuggets played Watson more consistently at the end of the regular season, and he flashed the physical tools and impact that a good prospect should showcase early on. Now, the question is whether that production/impact is sustainable or if Watson was a flash in the pan in games that didn’t matter. The Nuggets will figure that out shortly, but after a good summer league showing and a summer of workouts in Denver, Watson appears ready for the challenges ahead.

Are Reggie Jackson and Justin Holiday veteran voices or something more?

Jackson and Holiday each signed contracts with the Nuggets in July, Jackson to return to fill a backup point guard role and Holiday to be a veteran presence behind Denver’s young wing prospects. Are those roles cut and dry though?

Jackson is expected to earn the backup point guard spot out of training camp ahead of second round rookie Jalen Pickett and two-way contract Collin Gillespie. Jackson was bought out last season and signed in Denver around the trade deadline and had no time to develop chemistry. Perhaps an offseason will help him settle into Denver and provide positive value. Perhaps the Nuggets may need to look a different direction by the start of 2024.

Holiday is a couple seasons away from being a consistent contributor, but his 3&D skill set pairs well in theory with a contending team like the Nuggets. While Braun, Watson, and even Julian Strawther and Hunter Tyson are the more intriguing young talents, the steadiness of a veteran off the bench could prove useful in a variety of situations. Holiday may not expect to play immediately, but don’t write off the possibility.

Mar 19, 2023; Denver, CO, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Julian Strawther (0) celebrates scoring a three point shot against the TCU Horned Frogs in the second half at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Michael Ciaglo-USA TODAY Sports

Will a rookie contributor please stand up?

The aforementioned rookies (Jalen Pickett, Julian Strawther, and Hunter Tyson) each bring a different skill set to the table. Pickett is a versatile point guard with a unique back-to-the-basket style, elite court vision, and solid shooting touch. Strawther is a traditional floor spacing wing with deep range and a floater to match. Tyson is a stretch forward with some off-the-dribble juice on closeouts, sweet outside shooting, and a hustle factor on rebounds and defensive plays.

All three could be helpful in different situations, but none are guaranteed playing time out of the gate. In fact, it would be surprising if any of the three played minutes on opening night. Still, the Nuggets spent significant draft capital to maneuver their way to selecting all three amidst a championship contention window. The expectation will be that one or more of Pickett, Strawther, or Tyson will become a helpful rotation player sooner rather than later.

Predicting which of the three makes that leap is next to impossible, but Pickett’s basketball IQ and passing mentality should serve him well in the coming months.

What is the next level for Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.?

After averaging 26.1 points, 7.1 assists, and 5.7 rebounds in the 2023 NBA playoffs a few months ago, this may seem like a ludicrous question to ask about Jamal Murray. He is absolutely stamped when it comes to playoff contributions and what to expect when the going gets tough. That much will never be a question.

Still, in each of Murray’s six seasons, he has averaged 9.8, 14.0, 18.0, 16.9, 18.8, and 17.5 points per game across the first 25 games. Murray’s outside shooting efficiency to begin the season is often subpar, failing to clear 35% from three-point range in those 25-game spans in all but his rookie season.

How can Murray be better? Enter this season like a freight train rather than easing in slowly. If the choice was between starting strong or finishing strong, the Nuggets and their fans would of course choose the latter; however, Murray’s too good to start another season slowly. If his goal is to become an All-Star for the first time, this is the most straightforward way to do so.

As for Michael Porter Jr., his consistency throughout the regular season and into the playoffs was marvelous. He brought energy and effort whenever he played, made the hustle plays, and filled his role perfectly. He shot the ball well in every single month of the regular season outside of five games in December.

Perhaps most notably, Porter stayed healthy throughout the year, affording the Nuggets the opportunity to trust him with more and more responsibility. If he can continue to stay healthy, the Nuggets should help him expand his skill set to creating off the dribble for himself and others more consistently. Porter is primarily a floor spacer, and at 6’10”, he’s a darn good one. He has the talent to handle more though, and if he could up his levels as a scorer off the dribble and a playmaker for others, he’d elevate from a role player to a star in a heartbeat.

Will the Nikola Jokić led Nuggets ever have a reason to stay home for training camp?

Michael Malone and the Nuggets will be spending a pretty penny in traveling to San Diego. Many teams travel for training camp, but many others also stay home and go to work within a practice facility designed to handle such practices with ease.

The Nuggets don’t have such a luxury. They have a tiny practice court with walls just beyond the painted lines, few windows, and only six available hoops when the side hoops are lowered for shooting drills. For a team that just won a championship, it’s a shame that they don’t have the opportunity to experience a state-of-the-art facility.

Nikola Jokić is just beginning the first year of a five-year, supermax contract. It’s tied for the third largest cap hit in the NBA this season with LeBron James at $47.6 million, behind only Stephe Curry and Kevin Durant. That’s a large chunk of change, but it pales in comparison to the amount of money that Jokić just earned KSE for his work winning the Nuggets a championship this past season.

It would be a shame if the Nuggets didn’t reward Jokić, Murray, Porter, Gordon, and the other championship winning Nuggets with a practice facility. Unfortunately, such a venue is unlikely to surface while Jokić is a member of the Denver Nuggets.