Looking Back at the 2019-20 Denver Nuggets

November 13th, 2020

by Alan Lu

The Denver Nuggets’ current logo.
(Photo:
Denver Nuggets/Sports Logo History)

The 2020 Denver Nuggets had a magical season, in which they far exceeded expectations, especially in the playoffs.  They managed to go their furthest in the playoffs under head coach Mike Malone, and they were able to get to the Western Conference Finals to play against the Los Angeles Lakers.

They received terrific postseason performances from Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, as well as solid performances from Jerami Grant and Paul Millsap, and the Nuggets were able to pull off a stunning upset to get a series win over the favored Los Angeles Clippers in the second round.  The Nuggets have two franchise players in Jokic and Murray, and this team also boasted having promising rookies in Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol.  While they fell just short in the playoffs as they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in 5 games in the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets clearly look to be a franchise on the rise, and their positive momentum in the Orlando bubble suggests that they could be headed for a deep playoff run in 2021.

Denver Nuggets’ superstar center, Nikola Jokic (pictured wearing #15 on the left) had a terrific season as he led his team to a deep playoff run in 2020.
(Photo:
Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images, via The Athletic)

C Nikola Jokic – 2020 season grade: A

2020 (DEN): 73 GP, 19.9 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 7.0 APG, 53 FG%, 31 3PT%, 82 FT%, 32 MPG, 24.9 PER, 9.8 WS

Jokic had a terrific season with the Nuggets.  He is a very skilled big man that excelled as an all-around player for his team, and he is a terrific passer that can essentially operate as the point center.  There have been some questions about his ability to guard upper echelon players and his outside shot, but Jokic has consistently been a triple-double threat in games, and helped take his team to the Western Conference Finals in 2020.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Franchise player/starting center of the Denver Nuggets
Projected 2021 Rating: 4 stars

Denver Nuggets’ star guard, Jamal Murray had an incredible postseason run in 2020 that was punctuated by his team’s stunning second round series win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
(Photo:
Michael Reaves/Getty Images, via Fansided’s FSNBA)

G Jamal Murray – A

2020 (DEN): 59 GP, 18.5 PPG, 4.8 APG, 4 RPG, 46 FG%, 35 3PT%, 88 FT%, 32.3 MPG, 17.7 PER, 4.3 WS

2020 was a very good year for Jamal Murray.  He played very well in the regular season, and he dominated in the postseason with a string of terrific performances that he had in the Orlando bubble.  Murray is a gifted scorer that can knock down shots at will. 

In the postseason, he ended up averaging 26.5 points per game, while making over 50% of his field goals and 45% of his threes, while making nearly 90% of his free throws in the 2020 playoffs.  He made game winners and laid down multiple 40+ point games in the postseason.  On the downside, he will still need to improve his defense, and he has been a bit streaky with his jump shot during the regular season.  The vastly skilled combo guard is looking to be superstar on the rise, and he could end up making his first All-Star team in 2021.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Co-franchise player/starting point guard of the Denver Nuggets
Projected 2021 Rating: 3 stars (4 stars potential)

Jerami Grant played well for the Denver Nuggets, and getting him to opt-in to his contract will be one of the top priorities for the Denver Nuggets in the offseason.
(Photo:
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images, via Thunderous Intentions)

F Jerami Grant – B

2020 (DEN): 71 GP, 12 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 48 FG%, 39 3PT%, 75 FT%, 26.6 MPG, 14.4 PER, 4.4 WS

Jerami Grant had a good season with the Nuggets.  He excelled as a shooter and scorer for his team in 2020, and he at times defended well, though he will need to improve his rebounding and defense in the meantime.  His versatility and skills could allow him to be an integral player on his team for the upcoming season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Starting forward of the Denver Nuggets
Projected 2021 Rating: 2.5 stars

Side note: Grant has a player option at the end of the 2019-20 season.

Denver Nuggets’ veteran forward, Paul Millsap (pictured wearing #4, on the far right) had a tremendous third quarter after getting into a verbal altercation with Marcus Morris late in the second quarter to rally his team from down 16 to pull off a stunning Game 5 win in the 2nd round over the Los Angeles Clippers.
(Photo:
Mark J. Terrill/AP, via Vancouver Courier)

F Paul Millsap – B

2020 (DEN): 51 GP, 11.6 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.6 APG, 48 FG%, 44 3PT%, 82 FT%, 24.3 MPG, 16.9 PER, 3.5 WS

Paul Millsap had a solid season with the Nuggets this year.  He excelled as a shooter and rebounder for his team, and he made shots efficiently when he was on the floor.  He will need to be more assertive on offense and improve his defense, but his versatility and basketball IQ as a player could help him get plenty of minutes with the Nuggets or another team in the NBA in 2021.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Starting power forward of the Denver Nuggets or another team in the NBA
Projected 2021 Rating: 2.5 stars

Side note: Millsap will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season.

G Gary Harris – C

2020 (DEN): 56 GP, 10.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 2.1 APG, 48 FG%, 39 3PT%, 75 FT%, 31.8 MPG, 9.7 PER, 1.9 WS

Gary Harris is a skilled combo guard that can shoot and score the basketball.  He is a solid outside shooter and position defender, but he will need to be a more consistent scorer and facilitator in games, and he will also need to improve his rebounding.  Right now, he projects to be a regular rotation player for the Nuggets in 2021.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Rotation player
Projected 2021 Rating: 2 stars

Denver Nuggets’ rookie forward, Michael Porter Jr. had a terrific rookie season and as he looks to be a future superstar in the making, Porter could be one of the best players to come out of the 2018 draft class.
(Photo:
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images, via Denver Stiffs)

F Michael Porter Jr. – B+

2020 (DEN): 55 GP, 9.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 51 FG%, 42 3PT%, 83 FT%, 16.4 MPG, 19.8 PER, 2.9 WS

Porter had a terrific rookie season with the Nuggets, and he definitely surpassed expectations after missing all of last year due to recovering from a lingering back injury.

He is a tall, athletic combo forward that excelled as a shooter and scorer on the floor, and he is a versatile player that can really get buckets for his team.  Porter did a superb job of knocking down shots both in the regular season and playoffs, and he especially played well in the Orlando bubble.  He also excelled as a rebounder, and showed the capacity to excel as a facilitator and defender.  However, he will need to improve his defense and also look to get more assists in games.  Still, Porter is a tremendously talented player that really helped fuel the Nuggets’ playoff run this year, and he could be a solid core player for their team both next season and in the future.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Starter/solid bench player
Projected 2021 Rating: 2.5 stars (3.5 star potential)

G Will Barton – B

2020 (DEN): 58 GP, 15.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.7 APG, 45 FG%, 38 3PT%, 77 FT%, 33 MPG, 15.6 PER, 4.2 WS

Will Barton played well when he was on the floor, but he missed considerable time, as well as all of the 2020 playoffs due to injuries.  Barton excelled as a shooter, scorer, facilitator, and rebounder for his team, and he is an athletic swingman that can capably defend his opponents.  He shot his best three-point percentage in a regular season, but he will need to be a more consistent defender in games, and will need to stay healthy.  He is a solid all-around player that will likely be a key contributor to the Nuggets for the 2021 season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Rotation player
Projected 2021 Rating: 2.5 stars

G Monte Morris – B

2020 (DEN): 73 GP, 9 PPG, 3.5 APG, 46 FG%, 38 3PT%, 84 FT%, 22.4 MPG, 14.9 PER, 3.8 WS

Monte Morris is a solid backup point guard that has excelled in his role with the Nuggets for the past two seasons.  He is a very good shooter that makes shots efficiently, and he also is a smart, high basketball IQ playmaker that runs the team well at the point.  He’s a team-oriented player that can sometimes pass too much when he is on the floor.  He also is a capable defender, but will need to show that he can defend upper echelon opponents and also grab more rebounds in games.  Still, he is a solid player that will likely play key minutes on the Nuggets’ team in 2021.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Rotation player
Projected 2021 Rating: 2 stars (2.5 stars potential)

G-F Torrey Craig – C+

2020 (DEN): 58 GP, 5.4 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 46 FG%, 33 3PT%, 61 FT%, 18.5 MPG, 10.8 PER, 2.0 WS

At first glance, some may wonder why Torrey Craig gets regular playing time at all on the Denver Nuggets, as he doesn’t seem to fit the regular 3 and D mold on paper.  He’s not a great outside shooter or scorer, nor he has ever has been at the NBA level, he doesn’t get many assists in games, and doesn’t seem to stand out defensively from a statistical viewpoint.

On the other hand, Craig is a solid rebounder and shot blocker for his size, but most notably, he is the Nuggets’ best perimeter defender, and he is a tall wing player that routinely takes on the tough assignments on that side of the ball.  Defense is why Craig plays regularly on the Nuggets, and that is likely why he will get plenty of minutes for them in the upcoming season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Rotation player
Projected 2021 Rating: 2 stars

Side note: Will be a restricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season.

C Mason Plumlee – C+

2020 (DEN): 61 GP, 7.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.5 APG, 61 FG%, 17.3 MPG, 18.8 PER, 3.4 WS

Mason Plumlee did a good job of playing in the backup center role for the Denver Nuggets this past season.  He made shots efficiently around the basket, and he collected plenty of rebounds and assists per minute when he was on the floor.  Plumlee showed off solid interior skills for his team, but he is a situational use player, as he is behind Jokic on the depth chart, and he also struggled to score consistently in the playoffs.  Still, he has shown that he can provide his team with some solid minutes off the bench.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Rotation player
Projected 2021 Rating: 2 stars

Side note: Will be a unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season.

Denver Nuggets’ rookie center, Bol Bol showed flashes of his immense talent in the Orlando bubble, but playing time was sparse for him in the 2020 NBA playoffs. He technically will qualify to be a rookie again in 2021. Is Bol Bol a legitimate contender for the 2021 NBA Rookie of the Year award?
(Photo:
Elsa/Getty Images, via Nugg Love)

C Bol Bol (Two-Way Contract) – B-

2020 (DEN): 7 GP, 5.7 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 50 FG%, 44 3PT%, 80 FT%, 12.4 MPG, 14.4 PER, 0.1 WS

The 7-2 rookie big man played all of his games in the Orlando bubble, and he played fairly well in limited minutes for the Denver Nuggets.  Bol Bol excelled as a shooter and shot blocker for his team, and he also showed a lot of potential to excel as a player on both ends of the court. 

It is worth noting, that Bol Bol will still be a rookie for the 2020-21 season, and will technically be eligible to contend for the Rookie of the Year award then, as he had just started playing in NBA games in the Orlando bubble.  He will need to improve his rebounding and defense, but his ability to shoot the ball and make plays could make him an intriguing player to watch next season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Rotation-caliber player
Projected 2021 Rating: 1.5 stars (3 stars potential)

G-F P.J. Dozier – C+

2020 (DEN): 29 GP, 5.8 PPG, 2.2 APG, 1.9 RPG, 41 FG%, 35 3PT%, 72 FT%, 14.2 MPG, 11.6 PER, 0.4 WS

Dozier is an athletic, versatile point forward that was able to get some extended run both in the regular season and in the playoffs.  He showed that he can knock down shots in a variety of ways, and he also is a solid facilitator that can ably run the point.  He will need to be a more consistent player in games, but he showed enough potential in the playoffs to get regular playing time somewhere, hopefully with Denver next season.  It’ll be hard for him to get minutes on a very talented roster, but Dozier’s athleticism and versatility could enable him to potentially crack the rotation in 2021.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Rotation-caliber player
Projected 2021 Rating: 1.5 stars (2.5 stars potential)

G Troy Daniels – C- (C- with the Lakers, C with Denver)

2020 (TOT): 47 GP, 4.3 PPG, 39 FG%, 35 3PT%, 63 FT%, 11.3 MPG, 8.4 PER, 0.6 WS
2020 (LAL): 41 GP, 4.2 PPG, 39 FG%, 36 3PT%, 63 FT%, 11.1 MPG, 9 PER, 0.7 WS
2020 (DEN):  6 GP, 4.3 PPG, 36 FG%, 30 3PT%, 12.7 MPG, 5.3 PER, 0 WS

Daniels is a veteran sharpshooting, combo guard whose ability to knock down threes and space the floor has helped him get plenty of minutes across many NBA teams over the years.  The NBA journeyman struggled to shoot well during the regular season, but he excelled as a shooter in limited minutes in the playoffs.  Most likely, he will be a shooter off the bench for a team somewhere in the NBA next season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Fringe rotation player, backend roster player
Projected 2021 Rating: 1.5 stars

Side note: Will be a unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season.

F Keita Bates-Diop – C (C+ with Minnesota, D+ with Denver)

2020 (TOT): 44 GP, 6.5 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 43 FG%, 33 3PT%, 72 FT%, 16.9 MPG, 12.4 PER, 1.2 WS
2020 (MIN): 37 GP, 6.8 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 42 FG%, 33 3PT%, 71 FT%, 17.5 MPG, 12.5 PER, 1 WS
2020 (DEN): 7 GP, 5.3 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 46 FG%, 33 3PT%, 80 FT%, 14 MPG, 12.1 PER, 0.2 WS

He is an offensively skilled, combo forward that can shoot the basketball, and he played a 3 and D role off the bench for the Timberwolves prior to being dealt to the Denver Nuggets.  However, he’ll need to make more outside shots at a higher rate, and he will need to improve his defense.  He also had trouble cracking the Nuggets’ rotation, and he ended up not getting much run in the postseason.  Bates-Diop didn’t play nearly as much for Denver, but it seems clear that he would likely be more valuable to Minnesota than Denver at this point, as Bates-Diop might not get much playing time on Denver’s team in 2021.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Depth forward, backend roster player
Projected 2021 Rating: 1.5 stars (2 stars potential)

C Noah Vonleh – C (C with both teams)

2020 (TOT): 36 GP, 3.7 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 57 FG%, 20 3PT%, 78 FT%, 10.5 MPG, 15.5 PER, 1 WS
2020 (MIN): 29 GP, 4.1 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 55 FG%, 14 3PT%, 82 FT%, 12 MPG, 15.3 PER, 0.9 WS
2020 (DEN): 7 GP, 1.9 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 83 FG%, 100 3PT%, 50 FT%, 4.3 MPG, 17.6 PER, 0.1 WS

Noah Vonleh didn’t see much playing time this season, but he was effective as an interior player and rebounder for his team.  He will need to be more assertive on offense, and he will have to cut down on his turnovers and fouls committed in games, but he is an athletic big man that can fill out the end of an NBA roster.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Depth big man, fringe roster player
Projected 2021 Rating: 1.5 stars (2 stars potential)

Side note: Will be a unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2019-20 season.

F Vlatko Cancar – D

2020 (DEN): 14 GP, 1.2 PPG, 40 FG%, 17 3PT%, 100 FT%, 3.2 MPG, 11.4 PER, 0.1 WS
2020 (NBA G-League): 10 GP, 14.4 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.7 APG, 42 FG%, 39 3PT%, 79 FT%, 28.7 MPG, 13.4 PER, 0.2 WS

The 6-8, versatile combo forward from Slovenia didn’t play much this past season for Denver, but he is an agile, skilled shooter that can capably defend when he is on the floor.  That wasn’t really reflected in the statistics this year, as he barely played and didn’t shoot or defend well for the Nuggets in limited minutes.  He’ll need to find a place to play in the NBA, but it may be tough for him to get minutes in 2021.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Depth forward, backend roster player
Projected 2021 Rating: 1 star (2 stars potential)

C Tyler Cook (Two-Way Contract) – C+ (C+ with both teams)

2020 (TOT): 13 GP, 1.8 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 67 FG%, 4.2 MPG, 19.4 PER, 0.2 WS
2020 (CLE): 11 GP, 1.7 PPG, 0.9 RPG, 70 FG%, 3.2 MPG, 23.9 PER, 0.2 WS
2020 (DEN): 2 GP, 2.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 50 FG%, 9.5 MPG, 11.3 PER, 0 WS
2020 (NBA G-League): 29 GP, 12.9 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 58 FG%, 21.3 MPG, 17.6 PER, 0.7 WS

He is a big man that didn’t play much for Cleveland or Denver, but he showed some inside scoring and rebounding skills for both teams in limited minutes.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Depth big man, fringe roster player
Projected 2021 Rating: 1 star (2 stars potential)

Denver Nuggets’ head coach, Mike Malone (pictured in the bottom right) did a terrific job of coaching his team this season, and they were able to rally back down from 3-1 series deficit twice to win in the first and second rounds, including over the heavily favored Los Angeles Clippers. That he was able to get his team to face off against the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2020 Western Conference Finals was a tremendous achievement in itself, and big things are expected of them both in 2021 and in the future.
(Photo:
Mark J. Terrill/AP Photo, via ABC News)

Head Coach:
Mike Malone – A-
2020 (DEN): 46-27, 9-10 in the playoffs
Head Coaching Career: 258-249, 16-17 in his playoff career

Mike Malone had a tremendous season with Denver.  He led his team to a top 4 seed as they were the 3rd seed out in the West.  They managed to win two Game 7s, one in the first round against Utah, and then they pulled a stunning series upset over the favored Los Angeles Clippers.  His teams were resilient as they came back down 3-1 both times, and they were looking to engineer another comeback when they were down 3-1 against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.

Unfortunately, it was not to be, and LeBron and the Lakers quashed any thoughts of a Denver Nuggets’ series comeback in the Western Conference Finals.  Denver may have fallen a bit short, but they won the hearts of NBA fans across the globe, and they have two superstar players in Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray that they can count on next season.

Projected 2021 Role/Expectations: Head coach of the Denver Nuggets
Projected 2021 Rating: 3 stars

The 2020 Denver Nuggets’ season grade: A

The Denver Nuggets had a terrific postseason run, and their run was better than anyone could have imagined.  Their best feat was coming back down 3-1 in the second round series to defeat Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers in 7 games, as the Nuggets won that series 4-3.  They received a wide array of impressive performances from many of their players.  Denver may need to make a few tweaks to their roster in the offseason, but they have a deep and talented roster that could be poised for another deep playoff run in 2021.

The Denver Nuggets had a memorable game 7 win and rout of the Los Angeles Clippers, as this game was recapped and reviewed by The No Dunks podcast.
(Source: YouTube/NoDunks Inc)

The Denver Nuggets’ Projected 2020-21 NBA Rotation

Projected Starters:
C Nikola Jokic
F Paul Millsap* (UFA)
F Jerami Grant
G Gary Harris
G Jamal Murray

Key Reserves:
G Will Barton
G Monte Morris
F Michael Porter Jr.
F Torrey Craig
C Bol Bol (Two-Way Contract)

Others competing for a spot in the rotation next season:
G-F P.J. Dozier
The 22nd Overall Pick of the 2020 NBA Draft
F Keita Bates-Diop

Other players that are currently projected to be on their next season’s roster:
F Vlatko Cancar
C Tyler Cook (Two-Way Contract)

Players that will be Restricted Free Agents:
Torrey Craig

Prediction:
They will likely look to bring Craig back at a reasonable rate.  Craig was a key on-ball defender for them, and he had a lot of defensive responsibilities on their team in 2020.  But they would likely be prepared to let him walk if another team signs him to an offer sheet that they would deem out of their price range.

Players that will be Unrestricted Free Agents:
Paul Millsap
Mason Plumlee
Troy Daniels
Noah Vonleh

Prediction:  
The Denver Nuggets might try to re-sign Paul Millsap, as he had helped them make a deep playoff run, but they might let the other players go.  Bol Bol could be groomed to replace Mason Plumlee, and neither Daniels or Vonleh were key contributors in the playoffs in 2020.  They could also choose to bring all four of them back for depth purposes.

Players that have a player option:
Jerami Grant

Prediction:
I am predicting that he will opt-in, as his team did so well, and he stands to make a little over $9 million anyways.  The Denver Nuggets will be coming into the 2020-21 season as one of the contenders for a title, so I think Grant will want to come back.  If he turns it down, the Nuggets might be in a tricky spot because they don’t have much cap space to sign free agents.

Projected Players Cut from Next Season’s Roster:
None

2020 NBA Draft Picks:
#22

Projected Offseason Plan for the Nuggets:

They will probably try to hope Jerami Grant comes back and opts into his contract via player option.  They also may try to re-sign Paul Millsap, and Denver could always have a lot of talented players on their team.  They don’t have much cap space, but it may be a balancing act between contending and giving minutes to younger players.  Michael Porter Jr. had a solid rookie season, and he easily could be in line for an expanded role on his team, and he could be in line to replace either Millsap or Grant if either or both choose not to come back.

Bol Bol is an intriguing center prospect, and Denver may have to find a way to get him into their rotation, but doing so might mean having to let Mason Plumlee go, who also excelled for them as their backup center this past season.   The Denver Nuggets certainly will have decisions to make, and it won’t be easy on them.  In the draft, they could look to draft a skilled forward as insurance in case either Millsap or Grant leave via free agency.

Expected Regular-Season Record in 2021*: 45-27, 2nd seed in the Western Conference

In this scenario, the 2021 Denver Nuggets would play the winner of the play-in game between the 7th seeded Houston Rockets and the 10th seeded Memphis Grizzlies.

Expected 2021 Season Outcome:  They will likely be a top 4 seed in the Westerm Conference.  The 2021 Nuggets could be posed to win a lot of regular season games, and they could be a solid bet to advance far in the playoffs in 2021. (* – The asterisk denotes that the expected regular season win total is adjusted for the 72 game schedule that the NBA will play for the 2020-21 season.  The initial projection for the Nuggets was for them to get 51 wins in an 82-game season.  Also, the projected record does not take into account for the NBA draft or free agency, as those events have not happened yet.)

In case if you need the rubric for my player rating system of projecting NBA players for the 2020-21 season, here is the link. In addition, Basketball-Reference, RealGM, and Spotrac were vital information sites that I used to look at player and team statistics, as well as contract information.

Side note: Also, the letter grades attached to the player name was my grade for their 2019-20 season, as it is my judgment of their performance and whether or not they met or exceeded my expectations, and didn’t have much bearing on my projection of how they will perform for the 2020-21 NBA season.

Thank you for reading my grades and review of the 2019-20 Denver Nuggets’ team. There are two key important dates to know. The 2020 NBA Draft will take place on November 18th, and free agency will begin on November 20th. Thanks for reading.

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