Talented young Nuggets are shooting for the playoffs this season

Stocked with a plethora of young talent, Nuggets players are ready to shock the NBA.

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Image Credit: Aniello Piro, Mile High Sports

DENVER — Not many people think all that much about the Denver Nuggets. For the last three seasons, they’ve been a punchline for national observers,  a punching-bag for opposing teams, and at best an afterthought to casual fans.

Since firing head coach George Karl after a 57 win season in 2012-13, the Nuggets have gone through one of the most tumultuous periods in the history of professional sports in Denver.

They’ve won just 99 games, missed out on the playoffs every year, gone through three head coaches (including interim head coach Melvin Hunt), and undergone massive roster transitions.

Now, after an offseason spent crystallizing the core of this team, adding young pieces who can contribute to wins, and getting key players healthy, these Nuggets think they’re ready to take the next step.

“Our team goal is to make the playoffs,” guard Gary Harris said. “The draft, the free agency, everybody’s healthy coming into the season. I think we definitely got better this summer.”

For the Nuggets to meet that goal, they’ll have to come away with considerably more than the 34.5 wins they’ve been projected to put together by the Vegas odds-makers.

Health will be one of the most important factors in deciding whether or not the Nuggets make that leap.

Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari, two of the biggest impact players on the Nuggets’ roster, haven’t been able to get through a season healthy since the Karl days. Those two finally feel ready to play.

“This was the first summer that I’ve been able to rest,” Gallinari said. “I had a lot of time to rest and work on my body. I’m well rested and ready to go. Summer was too quick.”

With Harris, Gallinari, and Chandler on the floor, along with second-year point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, veteran Kenneth Faried, and breakout big man Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets are set up to have potentially the best starting five they’ve had since those Karl playoff teams.

“I think we’re close,” Gallinari said. “The most important thing is that we need to stay healthy. If you think about it, we’ve never played together in the last three years. We’ve never played together. Not even one game, I think. Finally, we have all the guys back, everybody’s healthy and as long as we can stay healthy, I think it’s not going to be a problem to get back to the postseason.”

Even if, heaven forbid, these Nuggets were to lose Gallinari, Chandler or any of their other key contributors, these players believe they are more equipped to handle that this season than they have been in the recent past, thanks in large part to the three rookies the Nuggets added in the draft last June: guards Jamal Murray and Malik Beasley, and forward Juancho Hernangomez.

“We added a lot of young players through the draft that can play,” guard Will Barton said. “We have more depth now, so I feel like we’d be more equipped than we were last year.”

Murray, the Nuggets’ No. 7 draft pick out of Kentucky, will come into training camp this week with a mountain of expectations.

Denver is banking on him to provide valuable minutes off the bench at the start of the season and potentially replace Harris in the starting rotation by the end of the season.

Beasley, the No. 19 pick in the draft, will start the year as Murray’s polar opposite.

The Nuggets don’t expect much from the Florida State alum in terms of minutes, but Beasley said he is more than willing to wait his turn, develop his game, and take advantage of whatever opportunities he’s given.

“I’ll just learn from our vets,” Beasley said. “Just having fun Just learning the process, working hard. Me, Juancho, Jamal, we don’t worry about minutes, we worry about winning and what it takes to win.”

That’s a refreshing take, considering Beasley plays for a team that has had more than it’s share of locker room divisiveness over the last few seasons.

In fact, one of head coach Michael Malone’s first priorities when he got to Denver was to change the culture of the locker room and instill new values in his players.

“I think that the coaching staff has been doing a great job since they came on last year,” Gallinari said. “I think they’re teaching the right things and bringing the right tools. So, I think as far as culture, we are headed in the right direction.”

Right direction.

That seems to be the theme with these Denver Nuggets just one month away from their season opener.