The Denver Nuggets may have just won a title, but they’re trying to get even better this summer in hopes of repeating.
The Nuggets are over the salary cap, in the luxury tax, and severely limited in ways they can add to their roster. Still, there are a few things Denver could do come June 30 when free agency opens to make their team better.
In Denver Sports’ full off-season breakdown, we covered what the Nuggets need, a backup guard, bigs and some bench scoring. Denver has already added some bench scoring and backcourt depth as well as some on the wings with their three draft picks last week. The big question surrounding the Nuggets core of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — all of whom return — is will sixth man Bruce Brown return? Brown played backup point guard and was a 3-and-d wing with good cutting skills. But Brown would have to take a discount to run it back with the Nuggets. The Nuggets may be replacing Brown and need to retool some of their bench. Even if Brown does come back, and even if he proved he can run points in spurts, Denver might want a true backup point guard for the regular season. With or without Brown, this is the roster the Nuggets should consider, keeping in mind they’ll only have one mid-level taxpayer (worth $5 million) and minimum contracts.
Here are five NBA free agents the Denver Nuggets should target:
SG, 6-6, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Minnesota
One of Murray’s Team Canada backcourt mates and a longtime friend of Blue Arrow, NAW was one of the players tasked with cooling Murray in the playoffs. Alexander-Walker, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s cousin, was the 17th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft but has struggled to catch it, being traded four times already in his four-year NBA career. Over his 217 games, he is shooting 34% from deep, scoring 8.4 points and dishing out 2.1 assists per game.
In this year’s playoffs, Murray shot just 36% from the field in the series when he was guarded by Alexander-Walker, according to matchup data on NBA.com. In the play-in game that pitted the Wolves against the Nuggets, his cousin and Thunder All-NBA player SGA was held to 2-for-14 shooting in their matchups. NAW has a 6-9 wingspan and seems to have finally found a role that suits him in the NBA. He’s a restricted free agent, but the Twin Cities could have a lot of movement on their roster with how expensive it is despite great success. If NAW leaves, could he take a pay cut from around $7 million to follow Brown’s path to $5 million and look good next to Jokic?
SG, 6-5, Shake Milton, Philadelphia
Milton has spent all five of his NBA seasons with the 76ers as a solid backcourt option. Milton’s distribution numbers are solid, showing that he is an underrated passer. He is also a career 36.5% three-point shooter, three times to earn more than 50 from deep in a season. He’s also played in 43 postseason games, mostly falling out of Philly’s postseason rotation this past season, but the 26-year-old has been solid in the playoffs. Milton seems like a guy who has many different talents but needs a change of scenery to flourish. Milton is an unrestricted free agent and can make as much with the Nuggets this season ($5 million) as he has in his career.
SG, 6-5, Ayo Dosunmu, Chicago
Dosunmu is also a restricted free agent and could slip through the cracks for a Bulls team in flux. A high second-round pick in 2021, the Chicago native headed to Illinois would be a perfect nugget. He hustles, plays defense, plays off his teammates and has flashed a nice shot at times. With the serious injury to Lonzo Ball, he has more or less been the Bulls’ starting point guard for two seasons, although he plays a lot off-ball with DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine providing much of the production. The injury to Ball also explains some of why Dosunmu’s three-point shooting went from 38% in his rookie season to 31% last year. All but one of his 129 career three-pointers have come off an assist, and taking away Chicago’s best playmaker would certainly have hurt a young player. The bulls issued a qualifying offer of $5 million to Dosunmu, which is about what the Nuggets could offer. The Bulls could match what Denver offered, but they also have their other three guards, plus Colby White and Alex Caruso to worry about.
G, 6-3, Dennis Schroeder, Lakers
A veteran with some up-and-down years, heck does it his whole career. A bulldog point guard and shooting guard who penetrates the defense and has some scoring ability that Schroder used last season with the Lakers. Primarily a starter, he went for seven points, three rebounds and three helpers a game in Los Angeles’ four-game loss to the Nuggets. he was a big part of a Hawks team nearly a decade ago where he scored 25 points per game. game in a playoff series, but for the most part he averages about 13 points per game. game on 34% shooting from deep while adding nearly five artists per match. While his offensive game has lagged a bit as he has switched roles with age, his defense is still top notch.
Wing, 6-5, Josh Richardson, New Orleans
Richardson has played for six teams, and the former second-rounder has a lot of skills but just hasn’t found the right home or position on the floor. Could the underdog Nuggets pull off a flyer on Richardson and his career 37% three-point shooting, familiar defense and some playmaking skills?
Other names to watch: Patrick Beverley, Joe Ingles, Donte DiVincenzo, Gabe Vincent, Jevon Carter, Kyle Lowry, Mason Plumlee
One more note: The Nuggets have a $9 million trade exception that expires a few days into July, created from trading Monte Morris last summer. These players would suit the Nuggets and fit into that slot with money. Jae’Sean Tate, Delon Wright, KJ Martin, Alex Caruso, Saddiq Bey, Cole Anthony