Denver Nuggets basketball is back. It’s been 196 days since the team took the court for a real game. They will tonight against the New Orleans Pelicans at 6 p.m.
There are some new faces this time around — including the team’s three first-round draft picks, Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez — but mostly, it’s the same cast of characters.
The Nuggets think they have enough talent to make a playoff appearance this season; the team has made that clear from jump street. Before they take the first step toward that goal tonight, here are five questions Denverite has about this year’s squad.
- Can Danilo Gallinari play 70-plus games?
Denver’s best player (for now) hasn’t played more than 59 games since the 2012-13 season. He’s dealt with knee and ankle injuries. The Nuggets need a healthy and productive Gallinari if they want to make a postseason run.
Gallinari is the team’s best scorer, and his best skill — outside shooting — is perhaps Denver’s biggest weakness team-wide. Gallinari openly praised Denver’s chemistry during the preseason, in which he scored an efficient 86 points on 34 shots. He’s still only 28. The pieces are there for him to have a big year; he’s just got to stay healthy.
2. What kind of leap can Nikola Jokic make?
Denver chose the Serbian big man with their second-round pick in 2014, and he came out of nowhere last year to finish third in Rookie of the Year voting. He didn’t play a ton as a rookie — only 21.7 minutes per game — but what he showed was impressive.
Compare his rookie per-36 minutes numbers with Karl-Anthony Towns’ and Kristaps Porzingis’, and you start to see why basketball nerds love his game so much:
Jokic will be asked to do much more this season. How much better can he be?
3. Was Emmanuel Mudiay’s improved 3-point stroke for real?
Fun with numbers time. Here are Mudiay’s pre- and post-All-Star break 3-point shooting splits last season:
- Pre-ASB: 31 of 114, 27.2 percent
- Post-ASB: 43 of 118, 36.4 percent
Mudiay showed major improvement from beyond the arc as the season wore on. Was it an aberration or a sign of something that’s here to stay? Being a respectable outside shooter is crucial for the second-year point guard. It will affect how defenses play him in the pick-and-roll, where he struggled last season.
4. Can the Nuggets do a better job defending the 3-point shot?
In a league where teams are taking and making more 3-pointers than ever, limiting your opponents’ effectiveness from deep has never been more important. The Nuggets were a bottom-five team defending the 3 last season. Opponents attempted 24.8 per game against Denver and nailed them at a 37.1 percent rate.
Nuggets coach Mike Malone is trying to correct this this go-around. He cited 3-point defense as one of the team’s biggest flaws at media day. And during the preseason, he’s talked about changing up Denver’s pick-and-roll coverage in order to promote less 3-pointers and more mid-range shots.
5. Will there be a major trade?
It would make sense, right? Denver begins the year starting its two young, promising big men — Jokic and Nurkic — together. Swapping Nurkic before the trade deadline would allow Jokic to return to what’s probably his best position.
Kenneth Faried and his team-friendly deal is another trade candidate for the umpteenth time. Denver also has a glut of guards who could be included in deals.
It feels like a big trade could be coming. We’ve been saying that for forever, though. In the meantime, let’s enjoy some basketball. Thank God the real games are here.
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