The Denver Nuggets 2016-17 season came to an unfortunate end on April 12 when they won their final game of the year to finish the season with 40 wins.
The Nuggets just barely failed to qualify for the playoffs for the fourth straight season. This season is the closest they’ve come to the playoffs since the last time they made the postseason in the 2012-13 season.
While missing the playoffs may cause disappointment for some fans, there are many reasons to look back and consider this a successful season.
The Nuggets improved their win total by seven over the previous season. Head coach Michael Malone is in his second year, and this young team seems to actually believe that they can win, an attitude the teams under Brian Shaw never gained. If Malone continues his trend of improvement, the Nuggets will definitely be in the playoffs next year.
Another reason that Nuggets fans should look back and be proud is the emergence of young potential superstars. The argument against the Nuggets since forward Carmelo Anthony was traded has been that they don’t have any superstars to take them to the next level. This season, we saw the maturation of young center Nikola Jokic, and we saw rookie guard Jamal Murray explode onto the scene with his great three-point shooting and relentless motor on the court. He just may be the Nuggets’ quickest and most athletic player.
If one breaks down Jokic’s numbers, undoubtedly, they will be impressed. However, Jokic’s regular season stats are misleading. It’s the stats from the second half of the season that should be analyzed, because Jokic was without a doubt one of the best players in the NBA in the second half of the season.
Post all-star break, Jokic averaged 17.7 points per game on top of 6.1 assists, 11.6 rebounds and one steal, just four assists shy of averaging a triple-double like that MVP candidate one state over. He had six triple-doubles on the season and all came in March or later. If Jokic played the whole season like he played in March and April, he would be in the conversation for MVP.
Murray had a standout year in his own right. He was sixth among rookies in scoring with 9.9 points per game, but like Jokic, didn’t really break out until later in the season. After the all-star break, Murray took off and averaged 12.1 points per game, nearly doubled his assist rate and shot more than 42 percent from the field. He was an efficient monster on the floor. Murray scored his career high in points on April 7 against the Pelicans when he scored 30 for the first time in his career. Murray could prove to be one of the best shooting guards in the NBA.
Shooting guard Gary Harris had the best season of his short career. He had his highest scoring average of his three-year career at 14.9, his best three- point shooting year at 42 percent and had more assists than he’s ever had in one season at 164. Harris turned the ball over at the lowest rate of his career, was consistent every night for the Nuggets and could blow up and score 30 on any particular night.
Now that we’ve recounted the good things about the season, let’s look at some of the negatives. Emmanuel Mudiay, who just a year ago was considered the future of the franchise, did not develop how the front office had hoped he would.
After starting about the first quarter of the season, Mudiay was benched in favor of Jameer Nelson after the Nuggets remained in playoff contention. Nelson simply gave the team the best possible chance to win. During the stretch when he didn’t start, there were games when Mudiay was healthy and didn’t even play. This means that the front office will have to make a decision this offseason. There will still be some teams with some interest right now, but if they sit on Mudiay for another year, they may not be able to get anything in return for the first-round draft pick.
The Nuggets also sent Jusuf Nurkic to the Portland Trailblazers for Mason Plumlee. They are expected to re-sign Plumlee, but Nurkic is doing much more for the Trailblazers than Plumlee is doing for the Nuggets. Does this mean the Trailblazers won the trade? Sure, but Nurkic and Jokic could not play together, so at least GM Tim Connelly got something for Nurkic.
Now, we look forward to the 2017-18 season. It’s unlikely that Danilo Gallinari will be back for the Nuggets as he’s likely to opt out of his player option and pursue a max- contract with another team. The Nuggets have plenty of money to throw around in the offseason. The team has three of the best young players in the NBA and have a lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft.
If the Nuggets don’t start next season as slow as they have for the past two seasons, the Nuggets will, without a doubt, be in the playoffs.
The Nuggets have a 0.6 percent chance of landing the top overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. They are set at the center and shooting guard positions, so point guard and small forward will be the focus for the team. As things stand, the Nuggets will likely pick between the 12th and 14th.