An Nguyen (@The_NGUYENNER), Joel Rush (@NuggetsDenJoel), Johnny Domenico (@JohnnyD_BSN), Kalen Deremo (@PrincePickaxe), and (@BSN_McBride) came together to finish off the Nuggets 2016-17 season by handing out the end of the season awards. This is part one of a two-part awards series.
Who was the Nuggets' Sixth Man of the Year? Why?
An: My Sixth Man is Jamal Murray. While Wilson Chandler feasted regularly on bench units who couldn’t handle his combination of size, strength, and speed, it was Murray who was electric every time he touched the ball. Willing to move the ball while always being a threat to score, the Blue Arrow had eyes glued on him each time he stepped on the court.
Will Barton had a great season statistically, but he still plays a bit too…. forceful for me. He’s a great player to have when your bench unit is weak and needs someone to “take over” on offense, but on a team like the Nuggets whose depth is presumably a strength, players who can play within a structured offense are preferable….and Barton is anything but structured.
Joel: Although he started 33 games, and the Nuggets did not truly have a 6th man in the traditional Jamal Crawford mold, Chandler gets my vote here, as more often than not he was coming off the bench in more or less that capacity.
One of Denver’s most productive players, "Ill Will" was third on the Nuggets in both points (15.7) and rebounds (6.5) per game and was 5th in win shares. Chandler also gets bonus points (in contrast to Jusuf Nurkic) for being a consummate professional and continuing to play his heart out despite apparent dissatisfaction, improving his net rating from -3.2 before the All-Star break to +1.8 afterward.
Johnny: Too many players could take this trophy home, so instead, I’m going to give a 12th Man of the Year award to Malik Beasley. Beasley’s sideline celebrations made their way into gifs and memes early in the year and his enthusiasm despite the logjam at his position did not go unnoticed. He spent a number of stints tearing up the D-League and, much like Mudiay, made the most of his extended minutes in the last few games of the season where he showcased his potential both offensively and defensively going forward.
Kalen: It’s difficult to answer this one given how amorphous the Nuggets’ lineup was all year long. Chandler had the best season of his career but he started nearly as many games (33) as he came off the bench (38). Same goes for Kenneth Faried (34 as a starter, 27 off the bench) and Jameer Nelson (40 as a starter, 35 off the bench). Even though Barton started a quarter of the season you kinda have to hand him this award by default.
T.J.: Chandler is not only the Nuggets Sixth Man of the Year but is arguably the most versatile player on the roster, which is why he takes the award home for me. Chandler played every position outside of point guard for Denver this season and never looked out of place. He may have been unhappy with the inconsistency of his role but it was that adaptability that allowed Denver to prosper in so many areas.
Not only was Chandler one of the many reasons for the offensive success in Denver but he also put together one of his best statistical seasons of his career. This season, Chandler had career-best numbers in points per game (15.7), rebounds per game (6.5), and tied his career-best in effective field goal percentage (51.9) while also taking up the responsibility of guarding the opponents best player night after night.
Who was the Nuggets' Rookie of the Year? Why?
An: I’ve said it all along and I’ll say it now: Jamal Murray is going to be a star. The kid oozed confidence all season long, especially impressive after starting the season 0-17 before and even enduring a painful sports hernia that required surgery in the offseason.
Murray put on many memorable scoring performances (I’ll personally never forget the night he went supernova in a lost game against the Trailblazers… Tracy McGrady-esque in just his 10th game in the league), displayed his underrated playmaking ability, uncanny ability to adjust to the defense, endless hustle, and then put concerns about his athleticism at ease. Not bad for a rookie season.
Joel: This can only go to the Blue Arrow. Although with an effective field goal percentage of .483, Murray’s shot has not fallen at the clip we might have hoped based on the potential he has shown in scoring outbursts like his coming out party in the Rising Stars Challenge, Murray had a highly productive rookie season, scoring more total points in fewer minutes, for example, than Nelson. He has already shown he is capable of being the alpha dog who can take control of games at times and appears to be Denver’s most likely answer to the long-running question of which Nuggets player will emerge as the guy to take – and make – big shots in clutch time.
Johnny: The "Blue Arrow" showed flashes of a potential star in the making this year, and even did so in surprising ways. Murray came into the league expected to be a non-athletic shooter but spent most of the season showcasing an intuitive ability to score in the paint and tenacious effort on defense. In the games when his shooting was there too, he often looked like the best player on the court.
Kalen: As illuminated above, Murray made the greatest improvement from start to finish, but to be fair, he also had the most opportunities to contribute. Had either Juancho Hernangomez or Malik Beasley had as many minutes as Murray I suspect they’d be the favorite here as well. All three showed great promise but Murray logged the most minutes and therefore had the best showing.
T.J.: It has to be Murray and there is really no way around this answer. Murray showed off his scoring potential that everyone knew he had in a few different circumstances but what really solidified him as a potential star was that he showed improvement in the areas that he was expected to struggle.
Murray was never going to be a plus-defender in his rookie season but the amount of competitive energy Murray has shown on the defensive end of the ball is huge. If Murray can continue to improve defensively it could take his game to heights that were previously not thought possible. Same with Murray's ability to handle the ball. Most rookies struggle badly when dealing with pressure from NBA-caliber guards but Murray showed that he not only can handle the pressure but also navigates pick and rolls with the poise of a veteran. Murray still has a way to go on defense and with developing his point guard skills but he has shown all of the tools to be a star-caliber player for Denver.
Who was the Nuggets' Most Improved Player? Why?
An: While Jokic played well, I attribute much of his success to rising opportunity -- same with Harris and Murray. My most improved player is someone who has always had a chance, but instead of pushing on doing the same thing he’s always done, he evolved his game for the better of the team: Danilo Gallinari.
Gallinari could always get his shot off whenever he wanted, almost to a fault sometimes as he grew trigger-happy with isolation possessions. This, however, changed this season as Gallinari learned to trust his young teammates and play within the flow of the offense. There are still traces hero-ball in his game, but tip-toeing the fine line between bailing out a stalling offense and just plain chucking is a tough task. His efficiency is up across the board: his 53.1 effective field goal percentage is the highest of his career outside of his rookie year where he only took 4.5 shots per game, and he’s bailed the team out numerous times with his foul-drawing shenanigans. While others may have improved their stats, Gallinari stepped up his game. He’s my Most Improved Player on the Nuggets.
Joel: With all due respect to Jokic, Gary Harris, and Murray, for the sake of balance and variety, I award Most Improved Player to Hernangomez, who made significant progress through the course of his rookie season. His biggest steps came after the All-Star break, as he improved his net rating from -4.4 in January and February to -0.4 in March and April when his 64 true shooting percentage was the team’s fourth-highest. Additionally, perhaps rivaled perhaps only by Murray, he was one of Denver’s most consistently effortful defensive players, most notably raising eyebrows when he essentially locked down Kevin Durant.
Johnny: Jokic made the leap, but suffered a few lulls throughout the year, most notably following the All-Star break. Harris continues to improve his shooting and was the beneficiary of a number of highlight reel assists from the Joker with his cutting ability and is certainly the second most valuable player on the roster, but I’m going a different direction with this award.
Emmanuel Mudiay reached the lowest point of his young NBA career, riding the pine for a long stretch of the season. In the final weeks of the season, Mudiay showed exactly the type of court vision and ball control that the Nuggets hoped for when they drafted him with the 7th pick in 2015. That was the biggest turnaround of the season in my eyes.
Kalen: Jokic will likely contend for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, though fans shouldn’t gloss over how much Murray improved as well. Starting in December, Murray improved his scoring average every month until he was averaging 15 points per game at the end of the year in April. If not for Jokic’s historic season Murray likely takes this award with ease.
T.J.: The development Jokic has shown in his game is not only worth multiple NBA Most Improved Player votes but is almost completely beyond comprehension.
If anyone told me at this point last year that Jokic, since December 15th, would average 23.3 points, 13.3 rebounds, and seven assists per 36 minutes as the starting center I would have likely laughed at you. If you would have said that he played primarily point guard for the Nuggets in the second half of the season I would have disregarded it completely. Jokic's emergence as a star player was as swift as it was miraculous and his season is without a doubt worthy of Denver's Most Improved Player of the 2016-17 season.
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