This year’s free agency period is virtually done. There’s only a couple of fairly significant names left, and the considered ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ – at least on paper – have been labelled.
While it’s obviously way too early to tell, the Denver Nuggets are among the ones deemed to not have the greatest fate in the off-season thus far.
They lost two guys in their second unit: valuable sixth man Bruce Brown and resident elder statesman Jeff Green.
Brown established himself as a reliable bench guy for the Nuggets this past season, posting a career-best 11.5 points alongside 4.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. He also stepped up nicely in the championship run, which included a timely 21-point performance in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.
Some have called out the 26-year-old as he was notably quoted in saying “money isn’t everything” just two weeks before signing the 2-year, $45 million contract. Ultimately, though, it’s tough to genuinely blame him, since he’s a young player who’ll have his first payday – also, he clearly earned it.
Green, meanwhile, is a 15-year veteran whose contributions go beyond the stat sheet. He’s the main veteran presence in the group, one who helps pump guys up and also keep things together. It’s a lot when you add that he additionally puts up 7.8 PPG in just 19.5 minutes of action.
Free agency moves
Besides those losses, the FA additions were basically insignificant, which is what really made Denver’s off-season rather discouraging. After re-signing DeAndre Jordan and Reggie Jackson, who are 35 and 33 years old, respectively, the only “reinforcement” was journeyman Justin Holiday, who’s just as old as the other two at 34. He played for the Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks last season and averaged 4.5 PPG on 37.7% shooting.
Next man up
Nevertheless, ‘Next man up’ mode is now on for the defending champions. That means it’s time for the youngsters to step in and make a name for themselves.
Headlining that group is incoming second-year wing Christian Braun, who’s had an interesting career as he has collected championships in high school, college (Kansas), and the pros, with the last two coming in consecutively. He had his moments in the postseason, like in Game 3 of the NBA Finals where he chipped in 15 points on 7-for-8 shooting. It appears that he’ll take over Brown’s role.
Peyton Watson (20 G, 3.3 PPG, 8.1 MPG), also a second-year wing, could get a bump in minutes as well, but that’s if he doesn’t get beat by the latest newbies: 2023 draftees Julian Strawther, Jalen Pickett, and Hunter Tyson.
It’s a good class. Strawther played three years for the powerhouse Gonzaga University Bulldogs (15.2 PPG, 40.8% 3FG last season), while Pickett (17.7 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 6.6 APG last season) had a five-year college stint, which means they aren’t exactly raw talent that needs to be shelved heavily.
The main core
Here’s one more thing that erases the concerns about free agency: the humble big four is intact. Finals MVP Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Aaron Gordon, and Michael Porter Jr. are all there and they are champions now, so their confidence is quite high – heck, two-time champion and veteran Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is there too. Expect them to lead the slightly different second unit into the franchise’s title defense later this year.