Welcome back friends to the third annual installment of my NBA League Pass Rankings. For those new to the process, forget power rankings. Forget Vegas Over-Unders and salary cap gymnastics. Here at Knicks at Night we dive into the teams one by one to answer one simple question. If you’re shelling out the money for a League Pass subscription, which of these teams are worth that top 5 night-in, night-out slot and which of these guys are absolute, unwatchable garbage people?
Helloooo NBA League Pass nerds!
With a good store of lottery picks over the last few years and the Denver front office consistently hitting on their evaluations of overseas players, this team is stocked to the brim with young talent. In fact, when you start to get excited about all the new guys like Emmanuel Mudiay and Nikola Jokic you almost have to remind yourself that this team still has a few vestiges of that 2013, 57 win Nuggets team that went a ridiculous 38-3 in their mile-high home.
There are so many players in fact, that the Nuggets should have some serious logjams this coming season. Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler are both listed at small forward, despite the fact that the team played best with Gallo at the 4 last season, pushing Kenneth Faried to the bench. Jamal Murray is listed as the third string point guard, despite being drafted 7th overall in this year’s draft and being a much better fit at shooting guard, challenging Gary Harris and Will Barton for minutes. Hell, the Nuggets are going to want to see more out of Jusuf Nurkic this year after he missed significant time with a knee injury, but he’s right there with competing for minutes with arguably the third best rookie in last year’s draft class, Nikola Jokic (excellent, one of his nicknames is listed as Big Honey).
Now I have a lot of faith in head coach Michael Malone who had a promising season last year after also performing quite admirably in Sacramento’s misshapen, tension-filled fallout zone. There isn’t a ton of pressure to win right away in Denver and Malone should have at least another season to develop the players and refine his rotations before making a push for the post-season in 2017-2018. This team could even surprise a little and overachieve if they stick to all-offense line-ups and get some big second year leaps out of Mudiay and Jokic. The bottom of the West isn’t insurmountable and this team won 33 games this year. It wouldn’t be a shock to see them chasing .500 and an 8th seed by the All-Star break.
More likely, though, is that Denver ends up being one of the most likely destinations for a blockbuster trade. This team was dangerously close to acquiring Blake Griffin after his dust-up with equipment manager Matias Testi last year, and could also be looking to unload any of Gallinari, Chandler, or Kenneth Faried if they feel like they can get a first rounder or two from a veteran team looking to get over the hump. With so many players on the roster, this team pretty much has to make some moves just to free up playing time and evaluate the youngbloods.
While it’ll be fun to keep an eye on Denver as a potential buyer or seller on the market, I also think they have the potential to be an explosive offense on the court. Mudiay has looked like he’s greatly improved on his finishing around the rim during summer league, and he and Murray showed off some genuinely awesome your-turn, my-turn alpha dog showboating. With Jokic’s outside shot and creative playmaking from the center spot and a host of wings who can knock down three pointers this could be a team that scores in bunches. If they take a note from that 2013 team and pick up the pace, this team could run opponents off the floor and turn the Pepsi Center back into a top-10 homecourt advantage.
All that being said, this is still a very young team that should feature one of the worst defenses in the league. I think it’s far more likely that the Nuggets underperform and end up selling one of their veterans for picks than chasing the playoffs and making a big buy on the trade market. And, while these guys have some of the greatest jerseys and court designs in the league, it’s also a little hard to tune in to a team that has so many players with no clearly defined roles. It should be awesome watching some of the young guys develop this year but until the front office consolidates this roster and develops a clear pecking order, this team might be just a little too jumbled and directionless to follow on a nightly basis.
Last year’s ranking: 24 (+4)