For the second consecutive year, the Denver Nuggets fell short of their postseason expectations. After reaching the conference finals during a historic run in the 2020 bubble, Denver’s past two seasons have been plagued by injury. Cornerstone point guard Jamal Murray tore his ACL a few games before the 2021 playoffs resulting in a missed 2021-2022 campaign. Michael Porter Jr., a vital lottery selection in 2018, also missed 73 games with a back injury that required surgery.
Calvin Booth Deserves More Respect for Denver’s Run
While Murray and Porter Jr. were out with injuries, Nikola Jokic shined, winning back-to-back MVP awards and keeping the Nugget’s playoff aspirations afloat. However, Denver’s roster glared of holes for a team with championship aspirations, even with Murray and Porter Jr progressing to come back to their expected form. Entering the 2022 offseason, general manager Calvin Booth had pressure to construct a roster to make serious postseason noise for years to come.
The 2023 NBA Draft
Booth started the offseason by drafting defensive-minded guard Christian Braun, fresh off winning a national championship for the Kansas Jayhawks (I advocated profusely for Auburn center Walker Kessler then). Though Braun has been in and out of Denver’s rotation this season, Braun has made a firm impression on defensive-minded coach Michael Malone. Additionally, Booth also selected a potential defensive star in Peyton Watson with the 30th pick and French big man Ismael Kamagate with the 46th pick. Though Watson and Kamagate will provide little this season, they are key pieces to the Nuggets roster coming forward.
Although Booth performed well in the draft, his most notable moves came during the free agency period. Right off the bat, Denver signed versatile guard Bruce Brown to a 2-year/$13 million deal. Coming off two solid stints with Brooklyn, Brown was the perfect signing for Denver. Not only does Brown fill the Nugget’s most glaring weakness from past seasons with having the ability to guard all positions, but also serves as the perfect weapon for Jokic. Brown frequently finds easy cuts to the rim, whether in the pick and roll or off-ball situations. Shooting 39.4% from three-point range, Brown also spaces the floor to allow for more action inside the paint.
A few days into free agency, Calvin Booth completed a trade with the Washington Wizards to bring elite 3&D wing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope into the starting lineup. Caldwell-Pope started alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis for the Los Angeles Lakers championship-winning team in 2020. Booth exchanged two starters (for the 2021-2022) season in Monte Morris and Will Barton for KCP as a risky but necessary move to build around Jokic. So far, KCP has been a significant part of Denver’s success this season. Caldwell-Pope is currently second in the NBA for three-point shooting percentage, shooting 47% from behind the line on 4.5 attempts. In addition to KCP’s knockdown shooting, he ranks third in plus-minus rating while averaging 1.2 steals a game.
With Morris traded to Washington, this opened the door for the electric Bones Hyland to receive significant minutes off the bench as Denver’s backup point guard. Though Bones has gone through his struggles this season taking care of the ball, facilitating the offense, and having, at times, questionable shot selection – Bones is the spark-plug scorer Denver needs when Jokic is resting. Despite his occasional struggles, Bones was asked to fill a role most veterans occupy. Now and again, Bones seems to struggle to keep his head above the water, which is a vital part of development for any young player. However, we have also seen moments where Bones swims past opponents in an Olympic-sized pool full of expectations.
The Last Word on Calvin Booth
Calvin Booth didn’t throttle your Twitter timeline with any moves this past year, but his small transactions have been crucial to Denver’s success. Sure, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. have stayed healthy (for the most part), but this Denver team clearly looks like a championship contender. Booth has made Denver’s roster stronger without sacrificing vital future assets. If anything, Booth pumped more young talent on this Nuggets roster by drafting Braun, Watson, and Kamagate while also resigning Vlatko Cancar.
In conjunction with Brad Stevens and Kobi Altman, Calvin Booth deserves credit for being one of the best executives in the NBA. The Denver Nuggets are a legitimate threat to lift the Larry O’Brien trophy in June.