Denver, CO – In game 3 of their first round series against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Nuggets finally looked like the team who peaked at the end of the regular season. Denver, behind a raucous Pepsi Center crowd, played with great energy and determination in a 99-84 win. It was a season saver, for the time being anyway, as a 3-0 hole would have been too much for this or any team to climb out of. The Nuggets are technically back in this series and have now made sure it will at least head back to L.A. for a game 5. This victory gave Denver fans hope, and it was fun to see Kobe Bryant not get all of the calls he is accustomed to at home. Are the Nuggets capable of stunning the NBA world and winning this series? Stranger things have happened for sure, but the Lakers are just too battle tested and that guy wearing #24 in purple and gold won’t let them surrender this series. It’s just not quite Denver’s time, but Nuggets fans should be excited for the future. This young, hungry team has a lot of growing up to do, but the talent is here for many years to come.
The Denver Nuggets are one of the youngest teams in the NBA. When Nene was traded for JaVale McGee, it made them even younger. The only players on the team who are over 30 are Andre Miller, Chris Andersen, and Al Harrington. Miller has been the steady veteran who has been so important all year in keeping the team stable. “The Birdman” is a bench warmer at this point and not any part of the current rotation. Harrington has been a big contributor off the bench all season, but his body seems to be breaking down after a lot of wear on his tires during his career. Miller and Harrington may be back on the team next year, but it’s the young core of players Nuggets fans should get excited about when looking ahead to next season.
Does anyone miss Nene’s whining and complaining after nearly every call that didn’t go his way? I sure don’t. When Denver made the deal to get JaVale McGee from Washington in return for Nene and his four cases of diapers, I loved the move. Yes, McGee was thought to have been an immature knucklehead as a Wizard, but could it have been mainly because that organization is just a mess? McGee has been really, really good here. He is a seven footer who is extremely athletic, can block shots, and is only 24 years old. His offensive game is ultra raw, and you can tell he has gotten by in college and his early NBA career by just pure athleticism. He needs to spend this summer on his offensive skill set, and improve his repertiore. The key thing though, is that McGee is a restricted free agent this summer. This means any team can sign him to an offer sheet, and the Nuggets have the option to match that offer or let him go to another team. Signing JaVale to a long term deal is of utmost importance for GM Masai Ujiri. Keeping him is critical at this point for the team to continue to build with him in the fold. Trust me, he is about to get quite a bit richer. I would not doubt that a few teams will approach him with a lot more money than he is currently making this year, which is $2.4 million. Ujiri may have to move a couple veterans and their contracts to free up space to keep McGee, but it has to be done. This guy has the tools to be freakishly great.
Along with McGee, Denver has a very nice core group that includes Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Arron Afflalo, and Kenneth Faried. Lawson shows glimpses of being a star, and should only get better. Gallinari has seemed reluctant at times since coming back from injury, but he is a 6’10″ wing man who can drive and shoot the three. Afflalo’s offensive game has made huge strides, and his defense has been outstanding against other guards this year. The X factor is Kenneth Faried, who has had a fantastic rookie year. His energy and tenacity is fabulous, and he seems to have the determination to develop his game in the coming years. Two guys who should be back next year are Wilson Chandler and Rudy Fernandez, who are both out with injuries. Chandler should be a key cog in the Nuggets rotation next year, and Fernandez has shown he can add some energy off the bench. Not everyone on this team will be here next year, however. Who goes? My hunch tells me Al Harrington, Chris Andersen, and possibly Corey Brewer could be shipped out for salary cap reasons. The two young centers, Mozgov and Koufos should stay, as they are important pieces and depth in the paint.
This Denver Nuggets team has a lot of versatility going forward. Because of the moves made by GM Masai Ujiri, this franchise is in pretty good shape. The young guys are very exciting and as their games get better, this team should only get better. With the Lakers, San Antonio, and Dallas getting old, Denver could jump into being one of the upper echelon teams in the next few years. Temper your expectations in this current series against L.A., Nuggets fans, but big time success may not be that far away.
Denver Sports by J Simp