After making the playoffs during the past three seasons, including the Western Conference Finals in 2020, the Denver Nuggets enter the 2021 Preseason with high expectations.
Without a few of their stars, there are opportunities for some of the younger players who have more to prove. Here are five things this preseason that could make a huge difference for the Nuggets during this regular season and playoffs.
5 Nuggets Preseason Stories To Watch
1. Michael Porter Jr.’s Ball Handling
During the offseason, Michael Porter Jr. said he wanted to work on his ball-handling. Nikola Jokic won’t play in the preseason opener against the Los Angeles Clippers, and maybe more. Jamal Murray will be out for much of the season due to a torn ACL. So Porter Jr. will have ample opportunities to showcase an improved handle.
Without Jokic in the game to create for him or draw away defenders, I would like to see the young star forward create shots for himself. Fresh off a contract extension that could pay out over $200 million, there would be no better way to show he deserves it than by adding some stuff to his game.
Everyone knows he can shoot at an extremely high level. He had the most efficient season in NBA history for non-center scoring 19 points per game. With Murray out, it would seriously help Denver if he can take a little more of the load off of Jokic’s shoulders.
2. Bones Hyland Playing Defense
All reports out of Nuggets’ training camp have been giving rookie Bones Hyland a ton of credit. He showed off in Summer League with his abilities as an offensive player. During this preseason, I would like to see some signs that he could be a solid two-way player.
As a young player who doesn’t have the frame of a defensive impact player, the expectations shouldn’t be for him to enter the game and immediately be a stopper. But can he do some of the little things that show he could get there?
Added on to this, I want to see him make plays on offense as he showed in the Summer League. With their starting point guard out for most of the regular season, any injury could force Hyland into the rotation, or possibly higher up in the rotation, so seeing that he can succeed against NBA players could make that easier to handle.
3. Aaron Gordon‘s Jump Shot Improvement
When Denver traded for forwarding Aaron Gordon last season, they were making a deal for a defensive player who would fit in with their core. His offensive game worked at times but didn’t at others. Reports from the offseason have been that he is much more confident in his jump shot, which would be huge for the team.
During his 25 games played in the regular season with the Nuggets, Gordon only shot 26.6 percent. In the playoffs, that went up to 39.1 percent on 23 attempts. During his career with the Orlando Magic, he consistently improved his percentage from three-point range, so there is reason to hope he can do it again.
In six and a half seasons in Orlando, he shot 32 percent from behind the arc with three of his last four seasons with the team above 33 percent. If he can be more consistent in the corners, Jokic will find him and the offense will become much more dangerous.
4. Bol Bol‘s Mindset
One of the most recognizable players in the league is Bol Bol. With his height and length, he can do things few others can. Add in his handles, shooting, and shot-blocking ability, and Bol could be a nice player. But that hasn’t materialized yet.
There have been moments when Bol has flashed some seriously amazing abilities. But there has never been any consistency, and even he knows he has needed to fix his mindset. I don’t think anyone has ever doubted his abilities. But it seems like heading into his third season, he may be figuring out the mental part.
Even in Summer League, he was the “Jokic of the team” for that stretch. He showed he could be the focal point of an offense in that setting. What he has struggled to do is be a role player next to the core of the team.
When they have Jokic in the fold, I would love to see Bol get some minutes to see if he can do everything we know he can do.
5. Monte Morris As A Starting Point Guard
There are few players I trust more than Monte Morris. He has been as consistent a player as one could ask for, especially in the backup point guard role. But last season, after Murray went down with his injury, Morris was also injured for much of the remaining games during the regular season.
Morris started the two games following Murray’s injury before going out with an injury. He returned for three of the final four games of the regular season, coming off the bench for those. He also came off the bench in nine of the team’s 10 playoff games.
Though Jokic is the primary playmaker, it will be extremely important for Morris to play well as the starting point guard. Facundo Campazzo returns for his second season and should help a lot off the bench, but Morris is the guy who will start.
He has started 31 games in his career, averaging 12 points and 4.2 assists. In 174 games off the bench, 9.4 points and 3.3 assists.
The only player I trust more than Monte Morris is reigning MVP Nikola Jokic. But Morris is entering this season in a role he hasn’t been in during his first four seasons. Morris wants to show he is a real starting-caliber point guard in the NBA, and this Nuggets preseason will be an early stage to show that.
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