The 2021-22 NBA season will be a tough one for the Denver Nuggets. Not only have opposing teams resurfaced from their ashes with their offseason races, the Nuggets will continue the season without star goaltender Jamal Murray.
With that in mind, here are five big questions for the team, part of which involves Murray and a few about other Nuggets players.
1. Who will fill the void left by Jamal Murray?
The bigger question will revolve around how the Nuggets will cope without Murray who suffered an ACL tear in April. Players who sustain this type of injury typically miss a full year to recover. In 48 games last season, Murray averaged 21.2 points with 47.7% shots from the field and 40.8% depth, 4.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists. These numbers don’t just paint a stellar picture of Murray. This new season, those contributions will be missed by the Nuggets.
Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, however, won’t fall without a fight. Michael Porter Jr. is also expected to step up. But will their efforts be sufficient? What about Nuggets guards like Facundo Campazzo, Monte Morris and PJ Dozier? Can they hold the fort without Murray?
2. How deep will their playoff run be without Murray?
The Nuggets’ last two campaigns in the NBA Playoffs have shown just how important Murray is to the team. In 2020, Murray was instrumental in their back-to-back 3-1 comebacks against the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers. Murray’s shooting, tenacity and leadership were fully on display during their momentous run. They couldn’t go all the way because they were blocked by the Los Angeles Lakers central. But what Murray did in the NBA Bubble was just fantastic.
Last season, the Nuggets beat the Portland Trail Blazers in six games in the first round. But against the Phoenix Suns, they were surprisingly swept aside. Obviously, there are tons of differences between the two campaigns. But at the same time, we can’t ignore how the Nuggets have struggled without Murray. There is no doubt that coach Mike Malone and his team will make it to the playoffs. The question is, what seed will they be and how far can they go. Forecasts so far have not been overly optimistic. Some believe the Nuggets will make the NBA playoffs as a seventh or eighth seed.
3. Will the Nuggets make a trade to fill Murray’s absence?
Midseason will be a good indicator whether the Nuggets can make a playoff run without Murray or not. While injuries are a part of the game, the Nuggets can’t afford to lose a season. They can if they are a rebuilding squad still searching for an identity. But the Nuggets have been one of the best teams in the league for a few years now. They can’t just sit back and wait for Murray to recover.
With that in mind, it’s possible the front office will make some key roster adjustments to make up for Murray’s absence. Some may call it unnecessary. Especially since the team has developed a strong chemistry over the years. But that may be the only way the Nuggets can survive this season.
4. Can Michael Porter Jr. Become an All-Star?
Aside from concerns surrounding Murray, all eyes will be on Porter as well. The young gun managed to make their way through the starting lineup with relative ease. This is a great achievement considering that MPJ has joined a team with an already solid base led by Jokic and Murray. Porter’s rise was a combination of his talent, hard work, and Malone’s patience to slowly integrate him into the system.
Arguably this has paid off as Porter signed a five-year contract extension worth $ 172 million. Reports reveal he could earn up to $ 207 million in that five-year period, depending on whether he’s on the All-Star, All-NBA or All-Defensive teams or if he wins the MVP. or Defensive Player of the Year. Money is obviously a form of motivation. But at the end of the day, fans want to see MPJ become a great player just because he wants to be great. An All-Star nod would be the first step in getting there.
5. Will Aaron Gordon’s first full season be better?
The trade that Gordon acquired was a welcome move that increased the team’s chances of securing more wins. Gordon did well. In 25 regular-season games for the Nuggets, he averaged 10.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 25.9 minutes. He posted similar playoff averages: 11.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 29.9 minutes. However, a closer look reveals that he was not a factor in the NBA playoffs, to the point of being a handicap.
There have been many games where he only recorded single-digit points – unacceptable production from someone who should become the focal point of the offense. We can forgive Gordon. Maybe he was just figuring out what his exact role was. But this coming season, we need answers from him. He needs to increase his production and become consistent.