#Nuggets schedule projection: 21-15 (.583) by the end of 2017


Strictly in terms of their record thus far, the Denver Nuggets have gotten off to a solid start this season. With nine wins and six losses, they have a .600 winning percentage – on pace to win 49 games – and are in fifth place in the Western Conference standings. This puts them slightly ahead of the preseason Las Vegas over/under line, which had them at 45.5 wins (.555) and sixth in the West.

The Nuggets have a tough path ahead to maintain this trajectory, however, as in their 21 remaining games through the end of December, they have just 7 at home and 14 on the road, a 2:1 ratio.

This impending road-heavy stretch lies in stark contrast as the inverse of their schedule up to this point, in which Denver has played 9 games at home and 6 on the road. They’ve made big gains from their home court advantage, with the bulk of their wins coming at the Pepsi Center, where they have gone 7-2 (.778). Their 2-4 (.333) road record, on the other hand, paints a more concerning picture with such a big load of away games on the horizon.

Nevertheless, as shown in the above chart, I have projected the Nuggets going 12-9 in the remaining stretch of 2017 through their final December game on the 30th at home versus the Philadelphia 76ers. If my predictions prove correct  (at least in total wins and losses if not game for game), this would mean they drop from their current record of .600 to .583 (21-15) to close out the year.

While the details of my projections will almost certainly be off, I feel fairly confident about them winning around 11 or 12 of these 21 games. Although they will be playing away quite a lot, including the season’s second six-game road trip, they face many beatable opponents in those matchups. In addition, two of their four games played on the second night of back-to-backs during this window are what most would consider “schedule losses” at the Boston Celtics and the Golden State Warriors, somewhat mitigating more widespread damage from the SEGABABA effect.

Some other notes on the Nuggets’ remaining 2017 schedule:

  • Denver has six games against division rivals in this stretch: Utah and Minnesota twice each, and Oklahoma City and Portland once apiece.
  • 15 of these upcoming 21 games are against Western Conference teams.
  • 13 of Denver’s opponents in this stretch have .500 or better records, but this excludes the Thunder and Jazz, both of which project to end up as winning teams.

So the Nuggets have a very road-heavy and challenging schedule to close 2017, featuring a mix of very tough matchups and should-win games. The number of road games elevates the importance of finishing above .500 through this window in order to stay in the 5-7 seed range where they’ve been so far, and put themselves in strong playoff positioning going approaching the end of the season.

With their offense finally starting to come together, I believe the Nuggets can clear that mark, though likely by a slim margin of two to three games.









If the Denver Nuggets were Star Wars characters


The Denver Nuggets are on a hot streak, coming off a home stand in which they won five of six games, and heading to Portland to seek their revenge against the team that bumped them out of the playoffs last spring.

So where to begin in breaking down their recent success? With this hard-hitting analysis from a galaxy far, far away, that’s where.

Caveat number one: It’s likely that nearly everybody will disagree with most or all of these. But as Obi-Wan told Luke: “Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” So chime in if from your certain point of view things look different.

Caveat number two: “Relax, kid.” These are comps of the roles that the players and characters play, and the nature of their character, not of who did or didn’t wear a gold bikini. It’s not about that.

So now that we’re all clear, kids, let’s move along without further ado.


Jamal Murray – Luke Skywalker


Young, innocent, bright-eyed, and optimistic, Murray represents a new hope for the Nuggets’ future. He’s strong with the Force, and bursting with potential, although he just has yet to fully learn how to channel it. But if he had a T-16, you know he could bullseye womp rats all day.

Nikola Jokic – Rey


Jokic came from seemingly out of nowhere and made a huge impact surprisingly quickly, becoming powerful with the Force so fast as to seem almost unbelievable. His unpredictable nature combined with the fact that he still doesn’t know his own strength create uncertainty around whether he will fulfill his own potential for greatness as he continues along his hero’s journey.

Gary Harris – R2-D2


Although he seldom takes center stage, when the Nuggets are in a jam Harris is often the one who comes to their rescue and bails them out. He smart, reliable, and versatile, and a loyal team player who doesn’t need the spotlight to be heroic in his own way.

Paul Millsap – General Leia Organa


A natural-born leader by example and shrewd strategic thinker, Millsap is experienced and battle-tested, and his teammates look to him for the guidance and mettle that will lead them to victory. He may not be the type to give motivational speeches, but his presence is inspirational and he knows what it takes to win. And even though he’s comfortable delegating, if his team hesitates, he’ll be the first one to pick up and lead the charge into battle.

Wilson Chandler – Yoda


For my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we. Not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you. Here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere.

Will Barton – Han Solo


Nobody on the Nuggets has more swagger than Will the Thrill, and while his sometimes reckless, gunslinging ways might go against the grain and rub some the wrong way, he’s a pirate who does things his own way, and more often than not he gets results.

Mason Plumlee – Chewbacca


A fiercely loyal team player who’s always got his crew’s back, Plumlee isn’t afraid to do the dirty work the rest of the guys aren’t willing or able to do, and if the time comes to get physical, he’s ready and willing to mix it up.

Kenneth Faried – Lando Calrissian


An often misunderstood anti-hero, Faried (deserved or not) may have a tarnished reputation among some of putting himself first, but when push comes to shove he’s always there in the end to put himself on the line and give it all he’s got to deliver victory for his team.

Emmanuel Mudiay – Finn


Mudiay has had a troubled path, struggling to find his way through the galaxy, but his heart is pure, he’s always trying to do the right thing, and in the end he’ll always be coming out locked and loaded, ready to fight for the good guys.

Juancho Hernangomez – C3PO


He’s fully on the team, yet somehow Juancho doesn’t get many opportunities to help out very often, as he’s usually relegated to the sidelines. Even so, he still seems destined in the not-too-distant future to finally step into the heroic limelight and have his floating chair moment.

Richard Jefferson – Obi-Wan Kenobi


This aging Jedi may be too far past his prime to win many light saber duels, but he is still highly valuable to the Rebellion as he is strong in the Force, with much wisdom to impart to his young Padawans, and his wit makes his teachings a pleasure to listen to.

Michael Malone – Mace Windu


It may seem like Malone spends too much of his time just complaining about his guys and admonishing them for not living up to his lofty expectations and strict standards, but there’s still an essentially cool and knowledgeable dude under all that bravado who his team trusts and looks to for leadership.

Darrell Arthur – Nien Nunb


This veteran Rebel co-pilot isn’t seen in battle all that often, but he always seems to be around and ready to jump into action when duty calls.

Trey Lyles – Deck Officer


“Deck officer! Deck officer!”

Tyler Lydon – Willrow Hood


This has not been confirmed, but it has been rumored that Lydon was seen running through the Pepsi Center with a Sears ice cream maker in tow…


Dishonorable Mentions:

Jusuf Nurkic – Kylo Ren


It’s not the Nurkic is particularly strong with the Force, only that he turned to the Dark Side, and is a petulant, whiny, childish crybaby who throws temper tantrums when he doesn’t get his way.

Andre Iguodala – Garindan


The Mole.

#Raptors @ #Nuggets 11/1/2017 – Game Notes


My (belated) game notes from the Nuggets’ big win over the Raptors:


Val fouls on TOR’s opening possession. Could come into play later?

Murray starts with a great drive & reverse layup. He’s been good at getting going early, but worse at following through with wire-to-wire solid play. But hopefully this bodes well.

Millsap sidesteps into an open 3, hits it. Was playing near the perimeter to space the floor on that possession.

Jokic passes up the midrange j, gets it to Millsap at the arc. I cringed hard, but he nails his 2nd consecutive 3.

Millsap is on fire, hits from midrange, TOR timeout after Nuggets go up 10-2 to start. My next question is not if, but how they will screw this up.

Both of the Raps’ two baskets – first Powell, then Lowry – made by guards driving to the basket. Nuggets (Jokic) not providing any rim protection.

Millsap gets bailed out on what this time I’d call a very ill-advised 3-point attempt, as Ibaka bumps him.

Millsap again, j from the elbow. Dayum.

Oof. Jokic totally falls asleep in the paint, lets Val breeze by him to get a pass right at the rim for an easy dunk. Trbl.

There we go. Jokic to Harris DHO for the 3. I like how this is playing out. Going to Millsap early could open up easier opportunities for scoring when O goes through Jokic.

Raps get 4 quick points when Lowry scores off a steal after DeRozan made a 2, but Harris responds with a jumper from the top of the key. DEN up 10.

Jokic was driving in of the P&R but instead of taking his shot, sends it to the corner. Play gets busted up, Millsap miss on a drive w/ the clock winding down. Wanna see Joker shoot that one.

Murray takes a heroic dive to try to finish off a steal, rewarded only with a hard fall into the seats. Which there are a lot of empty ones, btw.

Murray with a two great drives, the second off a missed 3.

Plumlee makes a terrible choice, misses the j from the elbow which surprises nobody. Least of all TOR’s defense who gladly lets him take it.

Lowry gets Mudiay all mixed up on a nice move for the layup.

The movement in this Plumlee-Millsap lineup is just so damn stagnant. Millsap isos, then dishes out to Harris who misses a 3, but nothing’s in rhythm, nothing’s flowing.

Malone calls timeout after the Raps close it to 8. Nuggets offense stalling bigtime.

Oh, shit, Murray’s in the locker room? /scared/

Nuggets with a bad offensive possession out of the timeout, luck out as TOR knocks it out, Jokic ends up getting a nice entry pass to Plumlee at the rim for 2.

OG Anunoby in. I die a little inside.

Great sequence by Jokic with a block then a running floater in the lane. 30-16.

And again, my question is not if, but how they will screw this up.

After some shaky play, Mudiay hits an open corner 3. If Murray doesn’t come back, they’re gonna lean heavy on him, so that’s a good sign.

33-16 DEN, TOR calls timeout. I’m just waiting to see the Raps clamp down defensively, which seems likely, and to see how the Nuggets respond to that.

Nuggets finish the 1st up 34-19, can’t ask for a much better start, let’s see if they can build on it. Been unable to do so in most games so far.

Nuggets finally starting to play Nuggets offense again. Great unselfish ball movement Jokic > Mudiay > Faried inside.

Lowry hits a 3 after a DEN turnover, Mudiay responds w/ a great baseline drive. He’s looking solid now.

Jokic has multiple plays in this game with good rim protection now. And some where he went MIA. But still, seeing more from him than usual there.

Anunoby goes out having not played very well at all. So at least the dagger in my heart wasn’t twisted. Hopefully it won’t be.

Beasley misses the wide open 3, Val makes his second consecutive shot, Raps close to 14.

Mudiay finds Beas on the next possession, hits his 3 this time. That is a very astute point guard play by Emmanuel, giving Malik the chance to keep his confidence up, passing up a good shot for a better one. His head is in the game.

Valanciunas scores again off the offensive rebound. He’s pretty much having his way with Jokic now.

Barton with a fantastic oop to Faried on the ATO play. Great execution. And Murray back out there (whew).

Beas missed 3, DeRozan inside for 2, Barton airballs it, TOR cuts DEN lead to 11.

Great give & go by Harris & Millsap, then DEN forces a shot clock violation, Nuggets back up 15 with possession.

Another great ball movement possession: Chandler > Jokic > Harris > Millsap for 3, nails it and draws the foul on Ibaka.

Millsap hits the FT, Nuggets back up 19. Reallllly thought they were about to let this one slip, good sign of resilience that all too often hasn’t been there this season.

This time Millsap misses the heat check 3. Don’t want to see him lean too heavy on that, but hard to fault when he’s going at a pretty good clip in this one.

Ball don’t lie. Norm misses his first FT on the Harris “foul” at the arc w/ 1 sec on the shot clock.

Millsap shakin and bakin on the iso from the low post. Another 2 for him on the fadeaway.

Aw, man, Jokic gets WAY too cute, makes a dumb unnecessary behind the back pass on the break, play broken up, Nuggets turnover via foul. That was ugly.

Nuggets up 14 at the half, got discombobulated in those last couple minutes, probably good it went to halftime (I hope). But they hung 60 in the half on a very good defense, so a feather in the cap for that.

Nuggets open the half with a missed Jokic 3, made Ibaka 3, missed contested Chandler 2, made DeRozan driving layup. 14 point lead down to 9 in just one minute.

Murray passes up a wide open 3, gets it to Millsap in the low post who missed a contested j. Passing up good shots for bad ones won’t win this.

But another great response by Denver, Jokic to Harris for the made 3, then to Chandler on the break, back up 14 just like that.

Great defensive possession there, force a bad shot with the clock winding down, Murray takes it all the way up the other way for the layup, Nuggets up 69-51 on a 9-0 run.

Powell hits a 3, but so does Murray, who has Denver’s last 7 points.

Nuggets up 20 and WC will go to the stripe for his and-1 chance after the TO.

Can I breathe easy yet? Nope, this is the Nuggets.

Murray hits the 3, Nuggets now on a 19-5 run, go up 80-56. Okay, maybe I start breathing a bit easier now.

This is the Jamal Murray we’ve been waiting for.

Murray misses his first FT of the season.

Raps announcer: “I’ll say this, though. For a team that’s winning by 22, it’s quiet.” Welcome to the Pepsi Center.

Oh, shit. They just said there was a shooting north of there right before the game. Been on a news blackout to avoid spoiling the score. My late condolences to anyone who was affected.

Nuggets force the turnover, Barton hits the 3, Nuggets now up 84-58. That should pretty much seal the deal. But I’ll wait till the fat lady sings.

Another TOR TO, another DEN 3.

Another TOR TO, this time followed by a Murray drive. 89-58 Denver. Murray 21 points on 7-9 shooting.

Nuggets finish the 3rd quarter up 103-71. Bring on garbage time! About time this team stuck a fork in it early. Or maybe I shouldn’t speak too soon.

Garbage time, but OG gets a nice steal and hits a 3 at the other end.

Raps announcer: “I’m impressed tonight with Denver’s defense. When the game was in the balance, the Raptors had a ton of possessions where they had to go late in the shot clock. That’s the sign of a good defense.”

Mudiay runs the court for a layup, puts Nuggets up 112-78, basically just pouring salt in the wounds now.

With 7:41 remaining, Jokic goes to the bench with an 8/16/10 line. Coulda sworn he scored more than that, guess not, looks like he’ll sit out the rest two points shy of a triple double.

Lyles hits a 3. His form really does look smooth.

Big cheers for Richard Jefferson as he gets ready to check in.

Nuggets up 199-87, 4:46 left in deep garbage time, Faried bodies up and draws the charge. These dudes still playing.

I was just about to write that Mudiay is looking to create shots for his teammates, passing up his own to get it inside to Beasley, but then first thing he does on the inbound is jack up a bad, long 3. Always a mixed bag with him.

Under 3 minutes left, Nuggets fall asleep on defense and give up 5 easy points, Malone doesn’t like their quit, calls time out.

WHOA! Beasley throws down a slam dunk like I don’t think I’ve ever seen from him before.

Beasley gets another dunk, but wisely (in terms of good sportsmanship) doesn’t put any pizzazz on it.

Big applause for RJ as he hits his second FT, his first point as a Denver Nugget.

That’s it, Nuggets win 129-111.

Jamal Murray: 24/3/2 on 8-10 shooting (3-5 from 3), +35, his third consecutive game with 20 or more points.

My latest at BSN: How the Nuggets could improve offensive efficiency by reducing touch time before shots

How can the Nuggets improve an already elite offense? Last year, from December 15 when Nikola Jokic took the helm as starting center through the end of the season, the Nuggets had the league’s highest offensive efficiency. So what could they possibly do to improve if they’re already at the top?

In my latest article at BSN Denver, I take a deep dive into the relationship between the touch time taken before shots to offensive efficiency, and explore how reducing touch time could give the Nuggets offense a boost by creating higher percentage shots.

Head on over to BSN to read the story in its entirety, and if you don’t already you can follow me on Twitter @NuggetsDenJoel.


My latest at BSN: Plumlee’s insights shed light on why the Nuggets value him so highly

Why do the Denver Nuggets value Mason Plumlee highly enough that they gave him a contract many might consider to be an overpay? In my latest article at BSN Denver, I wrote about how some of his remarks on Nuggets media day which reveal some of how Plumlee analyzes and approaches basketball may shed some light on Denver’s strong appreciation of their newly re-signed backup center.

Click here to read the article in its entirety at BSN. I found Plumlee’s comments thoughtful and elucidating enough to make me want to write a story about them, and I think you’ll find them interesting as well.


Connelly scored big in landing Millsap. So why do I still harbor lingering doubts about the Nuggets front office?


On July 1st, the opening day of the NBA free agency period, Paul George was traded for comparatively little to one of the Denver Nuggets’ division rivals, the Oklahoma City Thunder. Just a week prior to that on draft night, The Chicago Bulls traded Jimmy Butler to another Northwest Division team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, in an arguably even more lopsided deal.

Building upon what many considered to be an extremely disappointing draft for Denver, the growing frustration among Nuggets fans on that first day of July was palpable, especially on Twitter, where grievances were reaching full throttle.


Nuggets fan blues at the dawn of free agency

I confess that I was not immune to that angst, as I played my part in being a pessimistic buzzkill regarding the Nuggets front office. Case in point, in my irksome mood I snarled out my impression that the year had not gone well to that point for Tim Connelly and his crew:

…that events for Denver’s front office leading up to the trade deadline and through the beginning of free agency had basically been flagged by a series of blunders:

…and that not getting better while at the same time other teams improved markedly would amount to getting worse:

Cooler heads, such as fellow Nuggets and Broncos fan Daniel Winston, urged patience (and some may argue that they have been vindicated, but we’ll get to that shortly):

But I remained stubbornly firm in not buying into that line of thinking, though I wished to ultimately be mistaken:


In which I eat some crow

So as promised, I write this in part to first eat a little crow, at least as much as I deserve, and to happily proclaim without reservation that the day in which Tim Connelly, Arturas Karnisovas, and the Nuggets front office successfully signed, sealed, and delivered Paul Millsap to Denver is, in fact, the day when they at least partially restored my trust in their competence, and confidence in their ability to make the moves necessary to build a better future for the Nuggets.

And before I get to why I must qualify that trust with “at least partially,” let me be explicitly clear:

Connelly & Co. deserve huge, heaping truckloads of unqualified praise for recruiting Millsap to the Denver Nuggets. It is arguably Denver’s most significant free agent signing in ten years (since Kenyon Martin), twenty years (since Antonio McDyess), or perhaps even longer. For a team which, based in a small-market “flyover” city lacking glitz, glamour, and a championship pedigree, has had notorious difficulty attracting top free agents, landing a player of Millsap’s caliber – with his on-court abilities and achievements, his defensive proficiency, the quality of his character and leadership, his stature in the league, and his fit with the current roster – is a veritable coup.

So while not everything I have to say here will be complimentary of every decision Connelly’s front office has made, let me be on the record as being unequivocal in my respect and appreciation for what they accomplished in bringing Millsap to Denver. It is probably the second-most important move (only to drafting Nikola Jokic) that the current regime has made, one of historical significance to the Nuggets franchise, and unlikely to be surpassed in the near future. On the final balance sheet, inking Millsap will have most likely transformed a 2017 Nuggets offseason which appeared to be headed for failure into an overall (if not unqualified) success.

But alas, one single great move does not a front office make.


In Connelly we trust?

While my doom-and-gloom tweet rant may have sold Connelly short in light of subsequently landing Millsap, beyond signing the four-time All-Star, many of the decisions the Nuggets front office has made over the past year currently appear likely to have bleak outcomes. And as such, while I happily admit to needing to slow my roll on the pessimism train, reasonable doubt stemming from a series of seemingly bad moves is not only warranted, but – if we are trying to be impartial – practically inescapable.

“In Connelly We Trust” has been the mantra of many a Nuggets fan, and at least where it came to the draft I know I have said it myself on more than one occasion.

Trust, however, must not only be earned, but also sustained. And despite the large deposit of trust Connelly banked through his draft prowess, from Denver’s last indisputably successful draft night on June 23, 2016 to the announcement of the news of the Millsap acquisition on July 2, 2017, the Nuggets front office did much more to undermine confidence in their decision making than to build it up and maintain it.

So while I readily concede that my initial take was excessively and prematurely grim, I have to stand my ground in contending that a strong dose of healthy skepticism is still warranted regarding Connelly and the Nuggets front office.

But first, in fairness, as Daniel quite sensibly pointed out above on Twitter, many of these situations are still unfolding, and so the possibility exists that at least some of them will turn out better than I am prognosticating (and again, hoping to be proven wrong about). So before evaluating the moves, or in some cases lack of moves made by Connelly’s front office in that intervening year, let’s first review the factual record of what did and did not happen during that time frame.


Nuggets front office actions (and inactions) from the 2016 draft to the Millsap signing

July 9, 2016: After Darrell Arthur had declined his $2.94 million option for 2016-17, the Nuggets re-signed him to a three-year, $23 million contract.

July 21, 2016: After Mike Miller had completed his first one-year contract with the Nuggets, they re-signed him to a two-year, $5 million deal.

August 30, 2016: Denver traded Joffrey Lauvergne to Oklahoma City for two 2017 second-round draft picks.

November 16, 2016: The Nuggets brought back former player Alonzo Gee on a non-guaranteed one-year, $1.15 million contract. They went on to waive him on January 6, 2017 to prevent his contract from becoming fully guaranteed. They subsequently re-signed him two days later to a 10-day contract, which they then allowed to expire without bringing him back.

February 13, 2017: Denver acquired Mason Plumlee and a 2018 second-round draft pick, trading Jusuf Nurkic and the 20th pick in the 2017 draft (which would be used to select Harry Giles) to the Portland Trail Blazers.

February 23, 2017: The Nuggets traded a protected second-round draft pick to Milwaukee for Roy Hibbert.

2016 off-season through 2017 trade deadline: The Nuggets did not trade Danilo Gallinari, foregoing the opportunity to prevent losing him without retrieving any assets in return.

June 22, 2017: With the 13th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, the Nuggets selected Donovan Mitchell and traded him to Utah for Trey Lyles and the 24th pick, which they used to draft Tyler Lydon. Denver also drafted Vlatko Cancar (49th) and .Monte Morris (51st) in the second round.

2016 off-season through the 2017 draft (and, so far, the free agency period): Denver has not made any moves to consolidate their roster, which is particularly crowded at the power forward and shooting guard positions, instead adding to the congestion by drafting two additional power forwards.


Cracks in the foundation of trust: A year of missteps and missed opportunities overshadowing the hits

In appraising the Nuggets front office over the last year, a general pattern emerges in which while not all the moves it made were bad – and some were genuinely good – the positives tend to be clustered among the least significant moves, while the more important and impacting unfortunately are also the more problematic. We can, however, at least begin with a few minor pluses before going down the more difficult road.

The Arthur and Miller re-signings: Bringing back Arthur and Miller on deals which were quite reasonable, especially in light of how far under the salary cap the Nuggets were at the time, was essentially a no-brainer solid move. While the sole downside of retaining D.A. was to keep the log jam firmly in place at power forward (more on that later), he brought a defensive skill set to the table which was unique on Denver’s roster. And while he was ultimately underutilized (partly due to coaching decisions, partly due to injury), his continued locker room presence – like that of Miller – as a veteran leader and team player was eminently welcome. He could also have been a useful trade piece, but as we now know, that would not come to pass.

The Joffrey trade: This was a solid, if fairly minor move, and the only one in the course of this year which genuinely worked toward roster consolidation. Let’s face it: Lauvergne just is not that good of a player, and if one of the two second-rounders the Nuggets got for him turns into a serviceable backup point guard in Monte Morris, that is about as good as Denver could have realistically hoped to get for the big man.

The Gee signing and waiver: No beef here, in this  relatively insignificant move which was merely a stopgap measure to temporarily patch the hole in the roster left by injuries to Gary Harris and Will Barton at minimal cost.

The Nurkic Nightmare: It is important to preface this section by first making it clear that the primary impetus behind the Nurkic situation becoming as problematic as it did was the fact that Nurkic himself behaved in a whiny, immature, unprofessional manner, going on to confirm this quality of character after the trade by continually trolling the team which rewarded the big crybaby for his bad behavior. But be that as it may, it remains the responsibility of an NBA team’s front office and coaching staff to manage difficult personalities and egos, including the custodianship of their value to the franchise as assets. True, Nurkic did a great deal of damage to his own trade value by utterly quitting on the team when things didn’t go his way. And this created the impression for some – admittedly, myself included – when the trade for Mason Plumlee came around that it may have been about as good as the Nuggets could have gotten for Nurkic.

Clearly, however, that turned out to be a massive mistake. On how many fronts did Connelly lose that trade? By not only swapping Nurkic for Plumlee, who may not be bad but is plainly not on the same level as the big Bosnian, but also exchanging their 2017 20th pick (more on this below) for a future second rounder, and also getting bested in the process by a division rival who Denver would, and foreseeably will be battling for playoff positioning, ultimately losing the race for the 8th seed in April, the Nuggets were at a minimum three-time losers in this deal.

The Hibbert trade: This was fine, if almost entirely insignificant. For the proverbial bag of peanuts, they got a great teammate and cheerleader off the bench, and a bit closer to the salary floor.

The decision to not trade Gallinari: If I should feel chastened for erroneously resigning myself at first to accepting the Nurkic trade as being as decent as Denver could have gotten, I will likewise allow myself to feel somewhat vindicated in calling for the Nuggets to trade Gallo for any assets at all rather than lose him for nothing:

As we now know, after Connelly and the gang opted not to trade the Rooster, he did indeed walk for nothing at all. Now, the pros and cons of this decision are not entirely agreed upon, and the two main arguments I have seen in support of the worthiness of keeping him around a few weeks longer are first that as a flight risk he wouldn’t have fetched much value anyhow, and second – and perhaps more importantly – that making that season-ending playoff push, fail or succeed, was in itself worth the learning experience for Denver’s young players, and in any event that the potential benefits of reaching the postseason made the risk acceptable.

The first point is difficult to speculate about since we don’t really know what teams were or were not offering for Gallo, but I for one have a hard time believing that there were not at least a few options available that could have retrieved some assets which would come in handy for Denver’s future. Perhaps in time more details will be leaked on this matter, but for now, especially given the interest shown in Gallinari by numerous teams around the league in free agency, I remain skeptical of the no value back hypothesis.

The second point is much more subjective, as it is impossible to empirically appraise the value of learning and experience. But it seems fair to say that gambling on making the playoffs entails the belief that there is a reasonable probability of actually making the playoffs. And if we can take that much as given, then the two moves taken together, with Denver at the same time choosing not to trade Gallinari for the purpose of making the playoffs, and trading Nurkic to Portland thus giving the Blazers the key to knock the Nuggets out of playoff contention, makes the whole package worse as a whole than either part would be on its own. What otherwise might be two separate stumbles becomes a full-on trip into a face plant. So if those of us who contend Gallinari should have been traded are being asked to consider the value of the playoff push in growth and education for the Nuggets youngsters, it is just as pertinent to ponder what lesson those players gleaned from the fact that the front office’s Nurkic misstep directly undermined their postseason prospects. At the very least, it seems unlikely to inspire much confidence.

The disastrous draft: Is it too harsh to call it a disaster? Go back and watch the Nuggets’ post-draft press conference. Connelly practically admitted as much himself, and the body language of all the Nuggets brass spoke volumes. And that was all before we saw Donovan Mitchell looking amazing and Tyler Lydon looking lost in Summer League, where everyone will tell you nothing matters, but it sure did not feel that way. And while in fairness it really is too early to tell how things will look retrospectively in two or three years on the Mitchell versus Lydon (and Lyles) front, what does seem very clear is that Connelly and Karnisovas had a plan, and that plan went all kinds of wrong. By most accounts they traded down to gamble on nabbing OG Anunoby with the 24th pick, but snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory by overextending their hand and allowing Masai Ujiri to slip in at 23 to steal him away for Toronto.

Once again, it is the combination of multiple blunders which compounds the damage, as had Denver waited out Nurkic and retained their 20th pick, Anunoby would have been theirs for the taking. So instead of landing either Donovan or OG, the two defensive-minded high-upside prospects within their grasp, they ended up with two who seem unlikely to amount to a whole lot, or at least not to provide what the Nuggets most need. And I will once again acknowledge that yes, it is too soon to know for sure how this all will shake out, and also repeat what now seems to be my mantra that I hope to be proven wrong and will happily eat more crow if so. But I am not holding my breath.

The never-ending avoidance of roster consolidation: As mentioned above, when the Nuggets had a chance to make moves to consolidate the roster on draft night, they instead doubled down on overloading what already was their most crowded position of power forward. (The Millsap signing added yet another four, but the good very much outweighs the bad on that front.) Here is a look at the Nuggets’ depth chart as things currently stand:

What Connelly and the Nuggets front office were thinking in drafting two additional power forwards – neither of whom met Denver’s primary need and expressly stated goal of adding capable defenders – is entirely incomprehensible to me. The much more sensible recent addition of Torrey Craig on a two-way contract does nothing to relieve the congestion, but at least he both brings a defensive acumen to the table and fits a position of need, and as such is a small step in the right direction. But nothing has been done to alleviate the roster cluster-f-bomb that fueled Nurkic’s ire and also appeared to feed into Wilson Chandler’s dissatisfaction.

If there is any silver lining here it is that there is plenty of offseason left to address this problem. But the larger dark cloud that continues to loom is that this has been going on literally for years without the front office doing much, if anything about it. And as genuinely fantastic as recruiting Millsap was, his addition does exacerbate the issue. If Juancho Hernangomez is to get any significant playing time, it will almost have to be at small forward, which is arguably out of position for him. And with Millsap presumably playing 30 or more minutes a game, Kenneth Faried will have to accept a dramatically reduced role, while Darrell Arthur will likely be squandered on the bench, if all of these players are still on the roster at the start of the season.

The recent news that Kyrie Irving wants out of Cleveland and that Denver is among his pursuers provides on prospective window as to how the Nuggets log jam might be cleared, as the contracts of Faried or Arthur would almost necessarily have to be included in a trade for the Cavaliers All-Star just to make salaries match. But if Connelly can’t get a deal worked out for Irving, or the Phoenix Suns’ Eric Bledsoe who the Nuggets had reportedly been working on a trade for, then the list of potential trade targets could start dwindling, and Denver could once again be stuck in nearly the exact same jam they were in at the beginning of the 2016-17 season. And if they are, we should expect to see more of the resulting complications that brought, such as convoluted rotations and discontent among the players who inevitably will get the short shrift or be stuck in unclear roles.


Getting back on track

“At least Connelly hasn’t made any terrible trades,” or “fortunately the Nuggets didn’t make any stupid free agent signings,” or other similar positions represent a defense of this front office which is not indefinitely sustainable. For one thing, there’s Nurkic, which pokes at least one 7-foot hole in that sort of contention. But even if the Nuggets had avoided making mistakes (though as I’ve argued here I don’t believe this to be the case), as true as it may be that sometimes the best move is no move, there are no highly successful teams in the NBA, let alone legitimate championship contenders, which are built upon merely not screwing up.

Signing Paul Millsap is a truly great move in just about every conceivable way, and one which Connelly desperately needed to make not only for how much it will help the franchise but also to put the brakes on what really had been a mostly rough year for Denver’s front office, which culminated in a highly discouraging draft night of lost opportunities. Hopefully this will represent the turning point that gets the Nuggets brain trust’s mojo back on track, and sets the stage for improved decision making and more effective execution of better conceived strategies in both the short- and long-term future.

This is truly a critical and pivotal juncture in Denver Nuggets history, and the Millsap acquisition only raises the stakes on how important it will be to get the next moves right. Connelly and the front office in their best moments have certainly demonstrated the ability to do some things exceptionally well, especially when it has come to scouting young talent. And despite some recent blunders, landing Millsap will hopefully be just the first of many steps they can take to demonstrate a similar competence in other aspects of team building.

And as ever, if and when they make their next great moves – as many Nuggets fans are currently hoping will happen by trading for Kyrie Irving without paying too high a price – I will be first in line to cheerfully revel in having my doubts put to rest, eat a big fat helping of humble pie, and say without reservation that once again, “In Connelly we trust.”