As teams begin to square off in the postseason, there is a time of reflection going on for teams whose seasons have ended. Every team will toy around with trade possibilities, free agency, and the draft to improve their team. But a huge part of taking strides as a team is individual player improvement. These players won’t hit the hardwood full-swing for awhile longer. It’s never too early to start setting goals and expectations. For the Denver Nuggets their future relies heavily on the development of their youth. So let’s take a look at a few of these guys.
Clearly the most important piece for this team is Nikola Jokic. He made enormous strides this last season once being handed the reigns to the team. His biggest challenge next year will be handling his first full year as the number one focus of defenses. Teams will not only be trying to stop him from scoring but also from setting up his teammates. His minutes increase will also pose a challenge for him that most might not expect. When a player is getting a limited amount of minutes like Jokic was, it’s easier to go in and play hard knowing you only have a limited time to play hard. When he plays over 30 minutes every night, he will have to make sure his stats improve as his minutes increase.
If he puts up the same numbers this next season as he did last but in increased minutes, the season will not live up to the hype that it should. Fortunately this scenario seems unlikely, though.
The next player whose growth is key is Jamal Murray. His strong finish to the season needs to be carried into the next to avoid a sophomore slump. A big part of this will be translating his 3-point shot to the NBA the way it was expected to. While only shooting 33.4 percent from three, he still managed to score just about 10 points in 21 minutes per game. An off-season of work to get that shot of his up to speed with the NBA and he should be in for a much improved year. He also upped his assist production a lot by the end of the year by playing more point guard. A sophomore year of being a more confident ball handler and distributor should make for a much higher assist rate. Look out for Murray to come into his own next year.
Other Young Guys
Two other recently rookie Nuggets to keep an eye on next year are Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez. The 6’5” point guard, Beasley, closed the year out very strong in basically his only real opportunities. The last two games of the year he got big minutes and delivered with efficient 16 and 17 point performances. Juancho Hernangomez had his fair share of opportunities his rookie year and had many big performances. The gunslinging stretch four has all the tools to be an effective role player next season. We also can’t ignore the fact that he may have the best name in the league. While that probably doesn’t have any impact on his playing time, it sure sounds good being said by an announcer, so maybe it should.
If all of these players take care of business this offseason and come back as better players the Nuggets will certainly be a force to be reckon with. They could quickly go from knocking on the door to busting it down.