The NBA season is so close you can almost taste it.
It probably doesn’t taste that good, though, now that I’m thinking about it. I should have used a better analogy. Nonetheless, it’s here! Well, after Friday’s finale against the Mavericks.
It’s tough to gauge the NBA preseason, especially when you don’t get to see a lot of the local team. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for television affiliates to air preseason games because of the money. You wouldn’t do something at work if you didn’t come out on top financially either. So, with the small sample size I have, between games, practices and talking to players and coaches, let’s go over a few things I expect to see from the Nuggets this season:
The Nuggets are young, so there will be some growing pains. As head coach Michael Malone has said a few different times throughout his tenure, he expects moments where the young guys look like they’re ahead of schedule, and he expects times where they look like the 21-year-old kids that they are.
The good news is that those ups will be glimpses into a brighter future; the better news is that most of the mistakes will be fixable through coaching and reps.
Young Talent Everywhere
There are a handful of young players to keep an eye on, with the most obvious to me being Nikola Jokic. Will he continue to impress the NBA world with the skill set that earned him a silver medal at this summer’s Olympics? Jokic has everything you’d want from a modern-day big man: He can score, play defense and he can pass the ball with the best of them out of the low post.
Emmanuel Mudiay and Gary Harris should also show Nuggets fans that they can take their game to another level. Gary is still dealing with that groin injury and might take some time to get back into the swing of things, but when he does, look for him to continue to be the team’s best perimeter defender and for his offensive game to improve even more than it did last season.
As far as Mudiay, there have been a few speed bumps along the way, but nothing he can’t correct in short order. If Mudiay can take better care of the basketball and make smart decisions on both sides of the court, he’ll be playing like that “Alpha” he claimed to be back on media day.
The Vets Will Need To Step Up
The vets, if you will, are going to have to be leaders on and off the court, specifically the trio of Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler. First and foremost Gallo and Chandler have to stay healthy for an entire season, which, in itself, will improve this team. Gallo led the team in scoring last season at 19.5 points per game; he missed 29 games to end the year, so look for him to continue to be the workhorse on offense.
At this point if Wilson Chandler plays an entire season, it will be a success. The beauty of it is his talent; if he can stay healthy, he has the skill to be a real contributor coming off the bench.
When I mentioned leadership, I was hesitant to mention Faried, but let’s give The Manimal the benefit of the doubt. It is a new year, and Faried looks to be a little faster and stronger (if possible) than ever. There may come a time when Faried has to get over the ego a little bit and come off the bench, which could come if the “twin tower” lineup has any kind of success.
The Wild Card
And last but certainly not least is the Wild Card, Jusuf Nurkic, the second half of that “twin tower” lineup. The other being Nikola Jokic. If Nurk has moved on from whatever hard feelings he had last season, he will be a force!
His preseason performances have been very impressive. He had a double-double in the first two-preseason games, where he played 31 and 27 minutes. He has yet to register another double-double, but he has not played more than 24 minutes in any of the other games. Nurk needs a big fella whisperer. And luckily, he has Michael Malone.
Are the Nuggets a playoff team? That is yet to be determined, but they will be a better team than they were last year. If they are a playoff team, it could be a tough first-round matchup considering the top dogs in the Western Conference. But the culture change has taken place, and now we get to see the next step.
As far as win predictions and bold thoughts on the team, I don’t want to give one, but I will say, if you’re in Vegas and can find that 34.5 wins bet, take it!