Denver Nuggets

Offseason Outlook: What's next for the Denver Nuggets?

Denver's season has come to an end.

After defeating the Portland Trail Blazers in six games in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs, the Nuggets were swept by Chris Paul and Devin Booker's Phoenix Suns in the second round.

The Nuggets can now shift their attention to the offseason, where they will have some important decisions to make.

The 2021 NBA Draft

Picks: No. 26

Prospects to target: Jaden Springer (Tennessee), Josh Primo (Alabama), Jared Butler (Baylor), Chris Duarte (Oregon)

After finishing with a 47-25 record, the Nuggets own the No. 26 overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.

NBA.com's Kyle Irving tabbed Tennessee guard Jaden Springer as the 26th-best prospect on his big board, with Oregon wing Chris Duarte and Arizona State wing Marcus Bagley also ranked in that range.

Assuming Jamal Murray's ACL injury keeps him out for an entire calendar year, his mid-April surgery would mean that he misses the entirety of the 2021-22 season. With that in mind, Denver could look to bolster its backcourt with a player like Duarte, who earned the Jerry West award as the nation's best shooting guard during his senior season at Oregon.

At 24, Duarte should be ready to contribute immediately, an important element for a team like Denver, which can maximize its championship window with win-now moves. Should the Nuggets look for a younger piece, Springer fits the bill as he has yet to turn 19 and enters the league as a defensive-minded guard with a solid frame. He earned SEC All-Freshman honours with averages of 12.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists in his lone season at Tennessee.

Given the volatility of draft stock, Denver could focus more on fit than ranking, regardless of if it is a guard or the best player available. The Nuggets need to continue to make as many small improvements as possible to continue to compete in the West.

- Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21)

Upcoming free agents

The Nuggets could look very similar next season.

The only players on Denver's roster set to be unrestricted free agents at the season's end are Paul Millsap, JaVale McGee and Austin Rivers. Will Barton ($14.7 million) and JaMychal Green ($7.6 million) could join the three of them in unrestricted free agency, as they both have player options in their contracts for the 2021-22 season.

Barton played in 56 games with the Nuggets this season, 52 of which he started in. He averaged 12.7 points per game, the fourth-most on the team behind Nikola Jokic (26.4), Jamal Murray (21.2) and Michael Porter Jr. (19.0). Barton appeared in only three games in the playoffs due to a hamstring injury that he suffered near the end of the regular season.

Green averaged 8.1 points per game during the regular season and was one of Denver's most accurate 3-point shooters, converting 39.9 percent of his 3-point attempts.

In addition to Millsap, McGee, Rivers, Barton and Green, Shaquille Harrison will be a restricted free agent.

Nuggets set to be free agents (2021)
Unrestricted Free Agent(s) Restricted Free Agent(s) Player Option(s)
Paul Millsap Shaquille Harrison Will Barton
JaVale McGee JaMychal Green
Austin Rivers

According to RealGM's Keith Smith, the maximum amount of cap space the Nuggets could have in the offseason is $9.3 million.

Something to watch: Porter Jr. is extension eligible this offseason. If the Nuggets don't sign Porter Jr. to an extension this offseason, he'll be a restricted free agent following the 2021-22 season. The Nuggets could also look to sign Aaron Gordon, who they acquired from the Orlando Magic at this season's trade deadline, to an extension this offseason. According to ESPN's Bobby Marks, because of the way Gordon's current contract is structured, the maximum extension he can sign with the Nuggets is four years, $88.0 million.

- Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles)

Burning question

Can Porter be No. 2 for an entire season?

When Murray went down with a torn ACL, it was Porter who stepped up to average 23.5 points and 6.1 rebounds on .560/.489/.854 shooting splits in the final 17 games of the season, a big reason that Denver was able to finish out strong and maintain its spot among the top teams in the West.

The postseason is where the ups and downs came.

Porter, who will turn 23 this offseason, opened the first round with a 1-for-10 outing from beyond the arc and scored just three points (on 1-for-3 shooting) a week later before responding with back-to-back 26-point performances in a pivotal Game 5 and a closeout Game 6.

But while the first round had highs and lows, the Western Conference Semifinals were more lows than anything, made worse by a back issue that was said to be unrelated to the injury that caused Porter to "redshirt" as a rookie.

It could all be attributed to the growing process as a young player in this league, but Year 3 must be another step for Porter.

With Murray likely to miss most - or all - of the upcoming season, can Porter make the necessary improvements to his game to be that second option over the course of an 82-game season? Will his body get enough time to recover from a gruelling postseason run?

Porter is extremely talented and has plenty of room to grow, but his improvement and availability will have an impact on the potential extension he could sign this offseason.

- McGregor

One key stat

Through 43 career games, Jokic is averaging 25.9 points, 11.3 rebounds and 6.4 assists on .512/.406/.840 shooting splits in the playoffs. According to Stathead, the only other player in NBA history to post career averages of 20-10-5 in the postseason is Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird.

Jokic had a number of impressive performances in Denver's run this postseason, headlined by his 32-point, 20-rebound, 10-assist triple-double in its Game 3 loss to Phoenix.

- Rafferty

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