The Denver Nuggets staged a dramatic improvement in their form in the 2016-17 season, but it was not enough to earn a return to the playoffs.
Head coach Michael Malone continued his improvement of the club, taking them from 33 wins in his first term in charge to the 40-victory mark in his second campaign.
The Nuggets re-signed Darrell Arthur on a two-year deal, but the majority of their additions for the 2016-17 season came through the Draft
Denver had three picks in the first round, selecting Jamal Murray seventh overall along with Juan Hernangomez and Malik Beasley. Petr Cornelle and Daniel Hamilton were picked in the second round, offering the club an influx of talent for the future.
However, only Murray was to make an impact in his first term, with the rest of the rookies playing at most minimal roles in the fortunes of Malone’s men.
The Nuggets were fairly consistent throughout the campaign, but lacked the quality at crucial moments to break over the .500 mark and reach the post-season due to their struggles on defense.
Danilo Gallinari produced a fine season as he led the club’s charge, averaging 18.2 points per game, although the term would be his last in Denver as he was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers.
One of the Nuggets’ hopes for the future Nikola Jokic had a breakout season and much will pinned on him next term to build on his impressive campaign.
We’ll now look back at what could have been for the Nuggets in the 2016-17 season.
Off The Pace
Credit: USA TODAY Sports
The Nuggets began the season on the road against the New Orleans Pelicans and put in a strong performance to emerge victorious as Jusuf Nurkic drove his side to a 107-102 win.
Denver returned home for the second contest of the term, and although Jokic scored 23 points and notched 17 rebounds, he could not stop his side falling to an overtime loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Malone’s men were unable to get back to winning ways against the Toronto Raptors, but Wilson Chandler found his form to deliver a 19-point outing in a tight victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Emmanuel Mundiay lifted the Nuggets to a fine win over the Boston Celtics, scoring 30 points at the TD Garden, but their momentum was stymied in a four-match losing run.
The Nuggets ended their run of poor form with a win over the Phoenix Suns, with Chandler scoring 28 points. He was influential in another triumph over the Suns towards the end of November, although his side were still struggling for consistency, ending the month with a 7-11 record.
December began with back-to-back defeats to the Houston Rockets and the Utah Jazz, increasing the pressure on Denver.
Gallinari eased the strain with a strong outing against the Philadelphia 76ers, leading the way with 24 points Malone’s men began to hit the stride before Christmas reeling off three victories on the bounce in high-scoring games against the New York Knicks, Portland and the Dallas Mavericks.
Back-to-back losses halted the momentum, although successive wins over the Clippers and Timberwolves ensured that the club would end 2017 with a shot of reaching the playoffs.
The Nuggets began the new year in the worst possible fashion, losing four matches on the bounce, although three of the defeats came against quality opposition in the form of the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Jokic stopped the slide, putting together three outstanding performances to lift Malone’s men back on track, with wins over the Indiana Pacers, Orlando Magic and the Los Angeles Lakers. One of his best statistical outings came against the Spurs, notching 35 points, although that was not enough to stop his team from falling to a heavy defeat at the AT&T Center.
However, Denver won four of their remaining six matches to end January on a high note, with Jokic and Gallanari taking centre stage to keep their outfit in touch.
February proved to be a frustrating time for Malone’s side as they could never build a rhythm, but the Nuggets did put forward two extremely impressive performances. Jokic scored 40 points to lead them to victory on the road against the Knicks before suffering a defeat to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Their response to the defeat at the hands of the reigning champions was emphatic, putting 132 points on the Warriors in a resounding win at the Pepsi Center.
In March, the Nuggets had a sight of snatching a playoff place, with a four-match winning run giving them hope of a strong finish. The Celtics, the Lakers, the Clippers and the Sacramento Kings were brushed aside to take them within two games of .500.
Although Denver ended the season well, ending the campaign with back-to-back wins over the Mavericks and the Thunder – they fell just one win short of reaching the playoffs, losing out to the Trail Blazers in the eighth seed.
The Nuggets will have a void to fill following Gallinari’s depature, with the club receiving a second-round pick in compensation for his exit to the Clippers in a three-team trade with the Atlanta Hawks.
Denver acquired the services of Trey Lyles from the Utah Jazz in another trade deal, with the two teams swapping their picks in the first-round of the 2017 Draft. This has seen Tyler Lydon land with the Nuggets and he could make an impact in his first season.
Malone’s men will be hopeful that Lyles can hit the ground running as well, having played 71 matches for the Jazz last term, although his minutes will likely increase at the Pepsi Center.
However, the future success of the club lies in the hands of Jokic, who displayed his talent with a number of fine performances over the course of the campaign, especially against strong opposition.
If he can raise the level of his form in the 2017-18 season and take the rate of his scoring over the 20-point mark then there is a good chance that the Nuggets can end their four-year playoff drought.
More will be expected of Hernangomez and Murray in their second seasons in the NBA and should they become viable supporting options outside of Jokic then the Nuggets could well hope for more than a low seed in the Western Conference.
However, it would be stunning to see the club dislodge the Warriors as the Conference Champions with odds of 66/1 with SkyBet to achieve the feat.
Eric has been a sports journalist for over 20 years and has travelled the world covering top sporting events for a number of publications. He also has a passion for betting and uses his in-depth knowledge of the sports world to pinpoint outstanding odds and value betting opportunities.
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