This week is all about the Denver Nuggets season in review. From Monday to Friday, we will be releasing season evaluations by position, beginning with point guard and ending with center. Ryan will break down what expectations were at the beginning of the season, what actually happened, hand out a letter grade, and ask what’s next for each player involved.

Shooting Guard Rotation

  • Starter – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
  • Rotation – Justin Holiday
  • Reserve(s) – Julian Strawther

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Expectations entering 2023-24: “KCP is not a top 10 shooting guard, but he deserves at least a mention as a role player.” – Pickaxe and Roll

Reality: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s job in Denver is relatively straightforward and not ambiguous at all: defend the opposing team’s best guard and hit some threes. Throughout the regular season, KCP accomplished that goal, shooting 40.6% from three-point range on 4.1 attempts per game. He wasn’t a high volume three-point shooter. In fact, among the 11 Nuggets to play at least 500 minutes, KCP’s 6.4 three-point attempts per 100 possessions ranked just sixth. KCP’s job was to make the open shots and he did that well. He also nearly made an All-Defensive team this year, finishing 17th in total points awarded by voters.

In the playoffs, KCP’s effectiveness dropped slightly on both ends of the floor. His shooting decreased to 32.7% from three, though he did improve that number against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Denver’s elimination round. The big issue was Anthony Edwards. KCP struggled to guard him 1-on-1, and the Nuggets were consistently forced to send help in isolation situations which allowed other Timberwolves players to get going. It’s not entirely fair to expect Caldwell-Pope to shut down an opposing superstar, but the Nuggets were forced to compromise their defense, and that put a lot of pressure on other areas and forced breakdowns in crucial moments.

Season Grade: B+

What’s Next for Caldwell-Pope: KCP has a player option with the Nuggets for the 2024-25 season that he will almost certainly decline. At 32 years old, this may be his last major opportunity at a pay day in his career, and many teams could use the 3&D skill set and veteran savvy that Caldwell-Pope provides.

The Nuggets should look to re-sign Caldwell-Pope if they believe their current group is good enough to win a championship; however, if there are any doubts about Denver’s core, locking in a purely 3&D starter for $18 to $20 million per year could be dangerous. The Nuggets lacked secondary ball handling in their starting lineup, something that KCP doesn’t provide. If they value that skill set more than KCP’s glove-like fit as a 3&D role players, there’s an opportunity for both parties to go their separate ways. The Nuggets are up against the super tax apron, but they cannot let that control their decision of whether to retain a crucial piece to their 2023 championship run.

Justin Holiday

Expectations entering 2023-24: “I see Justin Holiday as a great low-risk option [in the rotation] that not a lot of people have discussed.” – Pickaxe and Roll

Reality: The Nuggets entered the 2023-24 season without Justin Holiday in their rotation. The veteran wing played just 36 total minutes in the first 15 games of the season. Then, when the Nuggets experienced some injuries, Holiday became their stopgap starter as a trusted option. He was basically KCP lite out there, spacing the floor, hitting threes, playing solid defense, and doing his job.

Michael Malone trusted Holiday, and it ultimately earned him a role in the playoffs as Denver’s seventh man. Christian Braun played the most minutes. Reggie Jackson had to fill in as a backup point guard. Holiday bridged the gap between the two and played pretty well. He finished with the highest plus-minus on the Nuggets roster, ahead of Nikola Jokic, and shot 37.9% from three. His defense was good, and it certainly wasn’t his fault that the Nuggets were eliminated.

Season Grade: A

What’s Next for Holiday: Holiday was the perfect stop-gap option for the Nuggets. he didn’t play too much, and the Nuggets established what the baseline for entering a playoff rotation was for young players like Peyton Watson, Julian Strawther, Jalen Pickett, and Hunter Tyson. With Holiday on a one-year deal and so many young wings on rookie contracts, it would be unwise to expect Holiday back; however, he was a valuable contributor while here. If he wants to return for the same contract, the Nuggets should be happy to give him an opportunity.

Julian Strawther

Expectations entering 2023-24: “Mid to late career Terrence Ross where he’s turned himself into a scorer as a 6’6 slender wing. Julian Strawther kinda reminds me of that. Now, it’s not always perfect to play a guy like that in the playoffs because he can be a defensive liability.” – Pickaxe and Roll

Reality: Julian Strawther, as the 29th overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, played the 28th most regular season minutes in his draft class. Strawther was initially the 10th or 11th man in the Nuggets 9 to 10 man rotation, but with some injuries to Murray and no need to play Holiday consistently, the Nuggets played Strawther in 33 of the team’s first 36 games. He struggled with his shooting efficiency as rookies often do, but there was a certain feel for how to move and operate within the Nuggets system that Michael Malone and the coaching staff noticed early on.

Unfortunately, Strawther sustained a sprained MCL in early January, and after an extended recovery period, he had very few opportunities for real playing time. The Nuggets were in winning mode trying to iron out their playoff rotation, and Strawther wasn’t a factor. He played in just garbage time in the playoffs and wasn’t quite ready to contribute regularly.

Season Grade: C

What’s Next for Strawther: The leap from Year 1 to Year 2 is important for all rookies, but with Strawther, it’s imperative that he takes strides forward. The Nuggets have a serious need for a spark plug off the bench, and Strawther’s scoring and spacing could open things up for a bench offense that was stuck in the mud for much of the year. Strawther will have to make shots, and he will have to read defenses better, but there’s a world where he’s a regular in the Nuggets rotation next season.

Will he grow to be a starter? Probably not, but the Nuggets must not forget about him in their quest for bench scoring, even if it means uncomfortable conversations for other young players in the rotation.

Final Thoughts

The shooting guard spot for the Nuggets isn’t often about flash and sizzle. It’s about dependability and substance. Caldwell-Pope and Holiday embodied that, and it could be a shock to the system if neither player is back with the Nuggets going forward. Christian Braun isn’t quite the shooter or connector, but he could fill in if need be, and there’s a world where Julian Strawther takes a step forward and carves out a real role for himself.

Perhaps this shooting guard platoon appears exactly the same next season. Perhaps not. The Nuggets could use a bit more explosiveness, but they don’t need it to win another championship.