30 Teams in 30 Days

2021-22 Denver Nuggets season preview: Roster changes, depth chart, key storylines and games to watch

The 2021-22 NBA season is set to tip off on Oct. 19 (ET). In preparation for the upcoming season, we're dedicating one day between now and the start of the season to each team in the league.

Next up: the Denver Nuggets.

2020-21 season record

47-25, 3rd in Western Conference

Notable additions

Nah'Shon "Bones" Hyland, No. 26 pick in 2021 NBA Draft

Jeff Green, free agency

Notable departures

JaVale McGee, free agency

Paul Millsap, free agency

Depth chart

Denver Nuggets depth chart (2021-22)
Starters Second Third Fourth
PG Monte Morris Facundo Campazzo Nah'Shon Hyland Jamal Murray*
SG Will Barton Austin Rivers Markus Howard
SF Michael Porter Jr. PJ Dozier
PF Aaron Gordon JaMychal Green Zeke Nnaji Vlatko Cancar
C Nikola Jokic Jeff Green Bol Bol

* Murray is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in April and is out indefinitely.

3 key storylines

The MVP's encore

Jokic is coming off of a season in which he made history, becoming the first-ever second-round pick to win NBA MVP honours, doing so with career-best averages of 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists while appearing in all 72 games.

How will he follow that up?

This is your reminder that as great as Jokic has been up to this point in his career, he won't turn 27 until the 2022 All-Star Weekend. It's fair to assume he's still getting better. Not to mention he looks ready to take things to another level.

We have yet to see the best of Jokic, and while it may be hard to repeat as MVP, there are even bigger team goals that he can help propel the Nuggets towards. With an NBA title in their sights, Jokic now looks to become the next on a rare list of late picks to propel their team to a championship.

For what it's worth, the last second-round pick to win Finals MVP was Dennis Johnson in 1979. Since Jokic is in the business of making history, you never know…

Porter's leap

Three years ago, the Nuggets took a chance by selecting Porter 14th overall in the 2018 NBA Draft, and it's certainly paid off.

The 23-year-old is coming off of a season in which he averaged 19.0 points and 7.3 rebounds while shooting 54.2 percent from the field and 44.5 percent from the 3-point line.

The scary part? He still has plenty of room to get better.

A favourite to win Most Improved Player, Porter taking a leap into becoming a fringe All-Star or even an All-Star-level performer will be key for this Nuggets team to hold a place at the top of the Western Conference to open the season, and he's not too far off from it already.

Coming into the league, it was clear that Porter had top-pick level talent, it was only a matter of him staying healthy enough to show it. After a "redshirt" rookie campaign, Porter has continued to improve at a rapid rate and is now in line for a nice contract extension to ensure his place within this franchise's future.

All that will be left is a level of play that lives up to the figure.

Real contenders?

In conversation with NBA.com's Kyle Irving and Scott Rafferty, we determined that the Nuggets were good enough to enter the top tier of contenders in the Western Conference, contingent on the return of their star guard in Murray, who is working to return from a torn ACL suffered in April.

Denver has the pieces in place, from Jokic to Porter and Gordon, who recently signed a contract extension to ensure that he will be a part of the franchise's future for years to come.

Looking at the Western Conference landscape, many will consider the new-look Los Angeles Lakers to be a favourite to advance to the NBA Finals, while the Phoenix Suns are the defending conference champions, but this Nuggets team isn't too far off from either contender, if at all.

The details surrounding Murray's return are still murky, but given his work ethic and where he appears to be in his recovery, it could very well be with plenty of time to spare before the postseason. Denver essentially checks all boxes of a real contender and will be a scary team to deal with during the stretch run of the season and the 2022 NBA Playoffs.

They're for real.

5 games to watch

Oct. 20 at Phoenix Suns

The only thing better than a playoff rematch is a playoff rematch that falls on opening night. After failing to win a game in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Suns, the Nuggets will open their season at the Footprint Center with an opportunity to avenge last season's postseason loss, if only just a little bit.

Knowing for a fact that last year will still be on Denver's mind, this will be a good one.

Oct. 26 at Utah Jazz

Less than a week into the season, two of the league's best centers in Jokic and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert will go head-to-head.

Last season, The Joker saved some of his best work for Gobert and the Jazz, averaging 35.3 points, 11.7 rebounds and 9.0 assists over three games, including a 47-point performance in which 33 points came in the first half.

Nov. 14 at Portland Trail Blazers

Of course, another playoff rematch. This time against the team that the Nuggets eliminated in six games to open the postseason.

Many questions swirl around this year's Portland team but given the fact that it has met Denver in two of the last three playoffs, there's plenty of familiarity and a nice little rivalry between the divisional foes.

Nov. 18 vs. Philadelphia 76ers

Another one in which the centers take centre stage.

The ranking is a matter of personal preference, but there's no denying that Jokic and Joel Embiid are the best two centers in the game right now, and the two MVP finalists will go head-to-head for the first time less than a month into the season. Drama aside, Philly is a pretty good team, too, so this should be a good matchup all across the board.

Jan 15 vs. Los Angeles Lakers

This is a big one.

Three months into the season, the Nuggets finally get an opportunity to host the new-look Lakers for the first time on Jan. 15. The look won't even be so new by then. It's hard to predict how the Lakers roster and rotation will have taken shape by then, but it will be a heavyweight matchup between two teams with very real title aspirations.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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