Denver Nuggets coach Mike Malone started off his press conference at the Nuggets’ annual media day Monday by sharing a number: 165. It wasn’t a 3-point shooting statistic, nor a figure he’d gleamed from poring over mounds and mounds of information about his team.
One hundred and sixty five, Malone explained, is the number of days since the Nuggets’ last game of the 2015-16 season.
“And the reason I bring that up,” he said, “is the goal in the NBA is to have short summers.”
The Nuggets fell to the Portland Trail Blazers 107-99 in their final game of 2015-16. They finished 33-49 — 10th in the Western Conference and out of the playoffs. Now with Denver’s Oct. 26 season opener a month away, Malone sounded like a man who is ready for his team to make the leap and grab one of those postseason spots.
If Denver is to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2013, it will need two things above all else: Health and production from its young players.
Seven players on this Nuggets roster are 22 years old or younger: Gary Harris, Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic, Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez.
At least three of them will start opening night. Harris has the starting shooting guard spot locked down. Mudiay will play point guard. Jokic, who’s fresh off a third-place finish in Rookie of the Year voting and a strong Olympic Games, will start somewhere in the frontcourt.
There’s youth everywhere. And if you add in veterans like Danilo Gallinari, who missed 29 games with an ankle injury, and Wilson Chandler, who was out all 82 with a torn labrum in his hip, many players believe the ingredients for a playoff run are there.
“If we stay healthy, we should make the playoffs,” Gallinari said.
“I think if you look at what we were doing toward the end of last year, we were trending up,” said sharp-shooting veteran Mike Miller, who’s going into his 17th NBA season. “We didn’t have Wilson Chandler the whole year. We missed Gallinari for a chunk of it. The young kids we had last year have gotten a lot better.”
There’s room improvement everywhere with this team. Malone made that clear. So it goes with a group that only won 33 games, ranked 20th in offensive efficiency and 24th in defensive efficiency.
Malone cited doing a better job of defending 3-pointers as a specific area where the Nuggets could improve; last season, opposing teams shot 37 percent against Denver from 3-point land, a bottom-five mark in the league.
How the Nuggets do that is one of the dozens of questions Malone and his team will start to address when training camp begins in Nebraska on Tuesday.
“I’m excited to get going,” Malone said. “ … As I mentioned before, 165 days is long for me. It was even longer for my wife.”