The offensive fire power for the Denver Nuggets is great, but how great will it be throughout the 2018-19 NBA season?
Seeing as the Nuggets were a top-six offense each of the last two seasons, is it something they can build on? Or will there for a drop off next season? The scribes at Mile High Sports take a look into one of the NBA’s most potent offenses and discuss if the Nuggets success can be sustained for the upcoming season.
How great can the Nuggets offense be? Why?
T.J. McBride: There is absolutely no reason the Nuggets offense should be anything lower than a top-seven offensive group next season. They have an offensive savant in Nikola Jokic who is operating as the conductor of the Denver offense that has a back court filled with some of the best off-ball scorers in the league in Jamal Murray and Gary Harris as well as hyper-versatile forwards Will Barton and Paul Millsap. That starting group will likely be un-guardable and, after the addition of Isaiah Thomas, the offensive onslaught does not slow down when the starters go to the bench.
Even the reserve lineup is offensively capable of blowing bench units out with their offensive firepower. Any mixture of Trey Lyles, Michael Porter Jr., Torrey Craig, Malik Beasley, or Juancho Hernangomez with Thomas at point guard and Plumlee at center has the ability to be a scary offensive group. The Nuggets roster is full of players who can pass, shoot, and facilitate. Because of that, they have a very real chance to be the best offense in basketball next year if everything goes right.
Dev Johnson: The Nuggets can honestly be a top three offense in the NBA. In the last three years, they have shown their progress. They were the 20th best offense in the 2015-16 season, fifth in the 2016-17 season, and finished off in sixth in the 2017-18 season. With Denver now running more and more of their offense through Nikola Jokic, they’ve seem to have found the answer to fielding a strong offensive unit. They are back to their fast-paced ways and have filled their offense with players that get it done of the offensive end of the floor. As soon as they get it going on the defensive end they can get back to having one of those special years.
Brandon Ewing: Like the question states, the Nuggets offense has the ability to not just be good, but great. After back-to-back seasons finishing in the top-six in offense, the Nuggets are looking to continue their upward trend in 2018-19. With a playoff birth firmly in sight, a lackluster season offensively would almost certainly push the Nuggets out of playoff contention. With as much as the Nuggets struggle defensively, the offensive firepower needs to be there on a nightly basis in order for this team to be successful.
With the continued rise of Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, and Jamal Murray, this offense has a chance to be one of the best in Nuggets history. There’s no doubt that the Nuggets can compete on the offensive end of the floor with the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets of the world, but where the team lacks that next level is on the defensive side of things. That’s why Denver’s offensive production is so important and it’s one of the reasons why the Nuggets went out and got Isaiah Thomas this offseason. Gone is the narrative of the Nuggets trying to stop the opposing team with defense, and in is the idea of just outscoring them on a nightly basis.
Just last season, the Nuggets averaged 110 points coming off a season where they averaged 111.7 points per game. If the Nuggets can continue to do that, then they have a chance to win on any night or against any opponent. With a fully healthy season of Paul Millsap and the insertion of Will Barton into the starting lineup, there’s just no telling how high this offense can fly next season.
Who will lead the Nuggets in scoring next year?
T.J. McBride: There are so many answers here that are completely justifiable, but the dark horse candidate — and my personal choice — is Gary Harris.
Yes, Murray is a lethal scorer with the guts to go with it. Yes, Jokic is the best player on the team. Yes, Barton can score from anywhere within half court in anyway that he feels. What those players don’t have is a nearly telepathic connection with Jokic. After a clunkier Nuggets offense last year, a lot of the easy looks started to disappear. This year, that is likely to change in a big way which means that Harris can get back to getting more wide open looks at the rim and from three. Considering that Harris averaged 17.5 points per game last year without as many easy look as he should be getting, he could easily jump over the 20+ points per game threshold and lead the Nuggets in scoring.
Dev Johnson: I want to say Jokic, but that seems to be the easy answer with him being the face of the franchise and one of the best players in the league. Instead, I am going with Jamal Murray. Murray displayed that he wants to get better and puts in the time to perfect his craft. Murray’s ability to space the floor as a shooter as well as the way he creates his own shot and finishes at the rim makes it difficult for teams to key in on Jokic and Gary Harris. He has shown that he’s willing to take the final shot, accepts the challenge of going after elite players, and is going into his third season with a chip on his shoulder. Murray could put his name out there as one of the best guards in a loaded Western Conference after this year.
Brandon Ewing: This is a tough question with how close the Nuggets finished in this category last season, but I’ll go with Jamal Murray. To me, Harris and Jokic will challenge Murray the most in this category, but the third-year guard just has to much upside to say otherwise. After averaging 16.7 points last season, Murray fully cemented himself as the Nuggets point guard of the future coming off a rookie season where he averaged just 9.9 points per game. With an increased role last season, Murray’s offensive numbers skyrocketed and it’s something he can build on throughout the 2018-19 season.
With increased productivity offensively, Murray’s three-point shooting has continued to be one of the greatest facets of his game. After hoisting up with 344 threes his rookie season, Murray shot 436 last season and made an impressive 37.8 percent of his attempts. That three-point percentage was up by three percent from the year before, and is a true indication of how hard Murray has worked to make his three-point jump shot one of the deadliest parts of his game.
Another aspect of Murray’s developed offensive game is his willingness to drive to the basket and get to the free-throw line. When Murray gets to the free-throw line, he doesn’t miss, as he’s a career 89.8 percent from the stripe and finished fifth in the NBA at 90.5 percent last season. Murray’s dynamic free-throw shooting and ability to score from anywhere on the court makes him a nightmare for opposing defenses to try and stop, which gives him the greatest upside to lead the Nuggets in scoring next season.
Which player could take an offensive leap this year?
T.J. McBride: Gary Harris. As the offense continues to become more and more focused around Jokic, Harris will likely be the biggest beneficiary. As I stated earlier, Harris’ nearly telepathic connection with Jokic always makes him the prime target when they share the floor, but now it is Harris’ own ability to create offense is growing which should allow the Nuggets to continue playing more of a two-man game between Harris and Jokic where Harris is the initiator. The third — and possibly most important — factor is that Barton, one of Harris’ closest friends, will be joining him in the starting lineup. Harris having one of his biggest supporters sharing the floor with him more often will only increase his confidence level and help boost his numbers.
Dev Johnson: Will Barton. He is already one of the Nuggets’ most lethal offensive weapons as he is the team’s most versatile player. He can create off the dribble, score from all three levels and shows no fear to take the final shot. He had a career year last year with averages of 15.7 points, 4.1 assists and a steal per game which had him in the running for sixth man of the year and earned him a new contract this offseason, but taking a look at Barton’s numbers as a starter is even more impressive and will be why he might make one of the biggest improvements on the team. I fully expect him to have another career year and be better in all facets of the game.
Brandon Ewing: I outlined this in a piece just a couple weeks ago, but I think Trey Lyles has a phenomenal opportunity to become a dynamic offensive force for the Nuggets bench unit. Coming off his first season in Denver, Lyles had a solid year averaging a career high in points (9.9) and rebounds (4.8) in 73 games for the Nuggets last season. The greatest step forward that Lyles can make is averaging at least 13 points and seven rebounds per game, while also improving upon his three-point percentage. Lyles shot 38 percent from three last season, which don’t get me wrong is strong, but if he’s able to get that number closer to 40 percent, it will make it tough for defenses to stop him.
The opportunity Lyles has with the Nuggets second unit is what makes him a prime candidate to take an offensive leap next season. Playing next to Isaiah Thomas will be huge for Lyles because it will allow him to be the secondary scorer off of the bench alongside a veteran point guard. Thomas’ scoring ability makes him the go to guy on the bench, but Lyles will also get plenty of open opportunities because of the attention Thomas demands. Lyles ability to knock down open jumpers and drive to the basket gives the Nuggets a back up power forward to fit right in when Paul Millsap goes to the bench. For a team in a playoff or bust season, Lyles could be the surprising force to help get the Nuggets back to the promised land.
What is your prediction for Nikola Jokic’s stat-line this upcoming season?
T.J. McBride: Nikola Jokic’s averages from last year were absurd. He put up 18.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 1.2 steals per game and did so efficiently. As he continues to become the engine that propels the Nuggets offense, his raw numbers should also increase, but there are other factors. Millsap coming back fully healthy will likely take away some rebounding responsibilities from Jokic. In addition to that, he may not score many more points per game because so many of his teammates are getting better and better as finishers.
The one stat that should rise is his assists, as astounding as that sounds. With Harris and Murray growing and finishers and shooters, the re-emergence of Millsap, and Barton’s shooting and slashing being inserted into the starting lineup, Jokic could average somewhere near 8.5 assists per game next year and I feel I am being conservative with that prediction.
Next year, I see Jokic averaging 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 8.5 assists per game and that feels like its underselling his capabilities. Jokic is just a monster.
Dev Johnson: Saying that Jokic will be better after finishing up the season with 18.5 points, 10.7 rebounds and 6.2 assists a game is just scary to think about. His impact on the game is what makes him one of the best players in the league and is also why Denver gave him his 5-year, $148M contract this offseason. His ability to do literally everything on offense and in such an efficient manner is what makes him elite. I expect him to be a bit more aggressive and involved as the offense should and will continue being centered around him and I expect him to have a monster year and finally average over 20.0 points a game. I think he will average 22.7 points, 11.0 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game while being more aggressive to start and finish the season. This is the year that I believes he gets some buzz as an MVP candidate with the team ending their drought and being a playoff team.
Brandon Ewing: In each of his first three seasons in the NBA, Jokic has improved upon his stat line in points, rebounds, and assists per game. After averaging a career-high in all three last season — 18.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, 6.1 assists — the question is will Jokic improve in all three next season? In all honesty, he likely will.
After earning a max contract this offseason, Jokic is now the focal point of the Nuggets organization for many years to come. With max contracts often comes a vast amount of pressure, but not for Jokic. The Nuggets star big man itsn’t worried about hearing his name on the radio or seeing his face on billboards. He’s worried about one thing and that is performing to the best of his ability when he is on the court. That mindset is unique in the NBA and especially for a league where guys thrive in the spotlight. Jokic cares about two things: his teammates and winning basketball games.
With the additions the Nuggets made this offseason, Jokic now has even more offensive weapons at his disposal with Michael Porter Jr. and Thomas. The Nuggets have bought into the idea of ‘let’s outscore everyone’ and that undoubtedly benefits their best offensive player. If Jokic continues to grow and dominate on the offensive end of the floor, there’s just no telling how far this Nuggets team could go next season.
If everything breaks right next season, Jokic will average 19.5 points, 12 rebounds, and 7.5 assists.