Out of all the teams that improved their chances for post-season success, It is undoubtedly the Nuggets that took the biggest leap forward. The Nuggets went all the way up to the Western Conference Finals last season, and then proceeded to screw it all up in Free Agency.
They lost depth, size and toughness in Mason Plumlee and Torrey Craig, and then they chose to run it back with Paul Millsap, who is on hole 18 of a stellar NBA career. Bad Free Agency decisions compounded with the shortest off-season in NBA History, the Nuggets got off to a rough start. Despite their obvious shortcomings, Nikola Jokic has been playing as a Dark Horse MVP candidate all-season, and is now firmly top of the MVP Rankings after both Front-runners in LeBron and Embid went down with injuries that’ll cause them to miss a signifiant amount of games.
The first acquisition of deadline day was Javale McGee to the Nuggets for Isaiah Hartenstein and a couple of second rounders. McGee is a very obvious replacement for Maosn Plumlee with a ton of post-season experience. Another plus being that he’s actually having an above average season averaging 8.0 points, 5.2 boards and 1.2 blocks playing as a backup center for the Cavs. Most importantly he offers some much needed Rim Protections and he’s another body Mike Malone can throw at Gobert and Davis in the playoffs which protects Jokic from some foul trouble he often times found himself in during last season’s Western Finals, especially when matched up against Davis. Overall a solid transaction. For the Nuggets fans underwhelmed by this trade, it could be much worse. You could’ve had Daniel Theis.
Even with the additional defence and the 2 lobs he’ll catch from Jokic, McGee doesn’t bring enough firepower. It’s easy to forget but, Paul Milsap and Jermai Grant brought some key scoring to the Nuggets lineup, much of which has been admirably replaced by Michael Porter Jr. who is having a stellar season.
The acquisition of Aaron Gordon significantly raises the floor of this team defensively. Plugged in as a 4, Gordon is a capable wing-defender and is a much better matchup against LeBron and Kawhi in the Playoffs than Grant or Milsap. Gordon is a perfect glue defender that can be everywhere on the floor.
Gordon isn’t a good shooter, shooting 37.5% from beyond the arc, and 43.7% overall this season. But these numbers are bound to improve as 68.6% of Gordon’s shots this season have been jump shots, which highlights the obvious lack of a good shot-creation around him. In Denver playing with with an elite playmaker like Jokic, Gordon can excel in a more natural role as a cutter rather than always creating his own shot. Nuggets fans should expect some long full court passes from Jokic to Gordon, with Gordon’s flashy style and Jokic’s pin-point passing, these 2 are sure to create some big highlight worthy moments.
With the big injuries to the Lakers, lack of experience of the Jazz, the straight up inconsistencies of the Clippers, and Jokic’s MVP level performances, the Nuggets have massively boosted their chances to make the Finals with their deadline moves.
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