The Denver Nuggets 2023 Free Agency Preview

It’s nearly that glorious time of the year on the NBA calendar, free agency, when the rumor mill goes into a frenzy and hundreds of players join new teams and begin new journeys. Teams can begin talking with free agents on June 30 at 4 p.m. MT.

Nuggets: Free agency targets after 2023 NBA Draft

The Denver Nuggets are in an interesting position entering free agency, fresh off bringing home their first NBA championship in franchise history. The entirety of their starting lineup—Jamal Murray, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Jokić—is inked to long-term contracts, which certainly eases some of the burden on general manager Calvin Booth and the front office.

Promising sophomores, Christian Braun and Peyton Watson, are also under contract with the organization on rookie-scale deals until 2026. Vlatko Čančar and Zeke Nnaji round things out as the final two players signed through 2025 and 2024, respectively.

THE DENVER NUGGETS 2023 FREE AGENCY PREVIEW | NBA.com

Still, there are other questions to be answered as Booth looks to round out the defending champion’s roster. This free agency preview will be split up into four parts, highlighting Denver’s outgoing free agents, its spending power, its potential roster needs, and some possible free agent options.

Denver’s Outgoing Free Agents

  • Bruce Brown
  • Ish Smith
  • Jeff Green
  • DeAndre Jordan
  • Reggie Jackson
  • Thomas Bryant
  • Collin Gillespie (Two-Way)
  • Jack White (Two-Way)

We’ll start with the biggest fish of Denver’s 2023 free agent class, Bruce Brown, who declined his $6.8 million player option with the Nuggets to test the market. It’s been reported by many that Brown is set to have a sizable market as one of the best jacks-of-all-trades players available. The Nuggets can offer Brown a maximum of $7.7 million next season, and his status is Denver’s biggest question mark heading into free agency. Will he sign elsewhere for more money annually? Or will he return to Denver’s championship core and run it back? Only time will tell.

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Ish Smith, Jeff Green, and DeAndre Jordan all fall into the same general bucket; that trio served as Denver’s locker room leadership crew that was instrumental in securing the Larry O’Brien trophy. It wouldn’t be entirely shocking to see Booth bring one or multiple of these veterans back to drive Denver’s culture.

If Brown does end up exiting Denver, Reggie Jackson is a candidate to replace his ball-handling skillset off the bench. Heck, even if Brown does end up staying, there’s certainly a world where the Nuggets covet Jackson’s ability to run an offense as a fourth or fifth guard.

Thomas Bryant did not play a great deal after being acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers in February, but he brings a floor-spacing skillset that could certainly accentuate Denver’s playoff-best offense.

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Booth indicated there’s a good chance that Collin Gillespie returns during the 2023 draft picks’ introductory pressers. He missed the entirety of the 2023 regular season with a lower leg fracture. Jack White had some nice moments down the stretch last season, but there will assuredly be competition for the second of Denver’s two-way slots.

Spending power

Denver, like many other teams in the NBA, is fairly limited with its spending power in free agency. It can dole out veteran’s minimum contracts in the ballpark of $1-2 million annually. For example, Jordan was inked to a veteran minimum-level deal last season worth $2.9 million for a single season.

Denver is operating above the cap as a tax team, meaning that it only has access to the $5 million tax-paying mid-level exception.

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Otherwise, the Nuggets have three trade exceptions at their disposal to strike deals with other teams. A $9.2 million trade exception from the Monte Morris trade with the Washington Wizards (for Caldwell-Pope). A $2.2 million trade exception via the LA Clippers from the Bones Hyland trade. And a $1.9 million trade exception from the Davon Reed trade with Los Angeles.

Keep in mind, trade exceptions cannot be combined with one another to form a larger trade exception. They also cannot be combined with a player and his salary.

Free agency needs

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Operating under the hypothetical situation that Brown does leave the Mile High City in free agency, Booth will have his hands full attempting to replace his vast skillset.

Brown functioned as Denver’s primary ball-handler in the reserve unit. He thrived in transition all season long and improved considerably as a pick-and-roll orchestrator. Free agents that offer that sort of skillset could fill a need for the Nuggets.

Perimeter defense could be another covetable skill. Brown was one of Denver’s best point-of-attack defenders and a terrific screen navigator. Surrounding Jokić with a cadre of stout perimeter defenders is never a bad idea when trying to replicate championship magic.

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Three-point shooting has become a premium in today’s NBA. That’s another area of interest.

And then finally, it might be wise to search for a backup center. Denver’s small-ball bench units with Gordon at center thrived in the postseason and outscored opponents by 10.5 points per 100 possessions. Still, versatility and the ability to match up with a variety of opponents is wise. A traditional big man could beef up Denver against teams with larger frontcourts.

Potential free agent options

We’ll be going by position for this section.

POINT GUARDS:

  • Dennis Schröder — Nuggets fans may recognize Schröder from the Western Conference Finals. Much like Brown, he’s a terrific defender and is excellent at getting around screens. Though his shooting efficiency leaves a bit to be desired, he’ll shore up Denver’s perimeter defense almost immediately.
  • Jevon Carter — Carter is another defensive-minded point guard that started 39 games for the #1 seed Milwaukee Bucks. He’s also an excellent shooter at 42.1 percent in 2023 who showed strong improvement as a pick-and-roll creator. He could very well be the best 3-and-D option at the point guard position in this free-agency class.
  • Dennis Smith Jr. — ‘DSJ’ is an excellent candidate to potentially replicate Brown’s athleticism and defensive intensity. He was a fringe All-Defense caliber player who improved the Charlotte Hornets’ defense by 10.7 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. Though his outside shooting is still a work in progress, he finished well at the rim at 64 percent thanks to his top-end speed and athleticism.
  • Ayo Dosunmu — Prying away a restricted free agent like Dosunmu won’t be easy; Chicago has the ability to match any offers thrown his way. But if the Bulls decide to go a different direction, Dosunmu might be the best one-for-one replacement for Brown. Dosunmu was tasked with defending opposing stars at the guard position in Chicago, and he’s an excellent cutter and off-ball threat. Players that remain active away from the action almost always thrive next to Jokić’s creativity as a passer and floor-mapper.
  • Patrick Beverley — Beverley is probably the most well-known lead guard on this list. There might not be a more physical player at the guard position in the NBA, and Beverley’s turned himself into a reliable three-point shooter throughout his 11-year career. That’s without mentioning the toughness and leadership he could bring to Denver’s locker room.
  • Shake Milton — Milton absolutely thrived when given starter’s minutes, averaging 18 points, 5 assists, and 2 rebounds last season as a 76er. Philadelphia’s crowded guard room limited his opportunities, and though Milton would come off the bench behind Murray and Caldwell-Pope, he’d have the opportunity to orchestrate the entirety of Denver’s backup offense for around 25 minutes a game—similar to Brown last season.

SHOOTING GUARDS:

  • Josh Richardson — Richardson is a good-not-great three-point shooter that’s been particularly reliable from the midrange throughout the course of his career. His calling card coming into the league with the Miami HEAT was his defense.
  • Nickeil Alexander-Walker — The Minnesota Timberwolves elected to not extend Alexander-Walker the qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent. ‘NAW’ made a name for himself in the postseason by forcing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander into a rough 2-of-14 shooting night in the play-in game. He also hounded Murray with a full-court press throughout most of Denver’s first-round series against Minnesota. The offense comes and goes, but he’s a legitimate defensive hound at the guard position.

SMALL FORWARDS:

  • Jae Crowder — Crowder is a 33-year-old veteran with ample playoff experience. While his shooting wavers from time to time, he’s always been a rugged and physical defender that’s capable of guarding up a position. He’s been a plus-rebounder at his position in his last four seasons and is an absolute magnet for ripping away steals.
  • Joe Ingles — Ingles is a career 40.8 percent three-point shooter and is more than capable of running the pick-and-roll in a pinch thanks to his unselfish nature. There’s a good case to be made that he’s the best pull-up shooter in the entire 2023 free-agent class after splashing home 46.9 percent of his off-the-dribble three-pointers as a Milwaukee Buck last season.
  • Torrey Craig — Craig played in Denver in his first three NBA seasons and started 69 total games thanks to his defense and rebounding, particularly on the offensive glass. He has since then turned himself into an excellent outside shooter and made 39.5 percent of his regular season three-pointers and a ridiculous 44 percent of his playoff threes.
  • Yuta Watanabe — Watanabe was an early-season surprise for the Brooklyn Nets who affected the game with his non-stop hustle and dramatic rise in three-point shooting. A crowded wing rotation ultimately hurt Watanabe’s playing time, but he’s a 3-and-D wing with excellent size at 6’9 that shot 46 percent from deep. There’s a chance he’s one of the biggest free agency steals.

POWER FORWARDS:

  • Taurean Prince — The Minnesota Timberwolves recently declined Prince’s $7.4 million option, making him a free agent. Prince is yet another 3-and-D forward that made 37.8 percent of his three-pointers in his two seasons as a Timberwolf. He’s also improved his off-the-dribble game in Minnesota by developing a reliable floater with 47 percent accuracy.
  • Derrick Jones Jr. — Jones is a high-flyer that made 62 percent of his shots inside the restricted area. He’s a willing cutter, exactly the type of player that could thrive next to Jokić and fill gaps. His athleticism has allowed him to perennially rank atop his position in terms of block percentage, and he thrives as a secondary rim protector.
  • Keita Bates-Diop — Similar to Watanabe, Bates-Diop could end up being one of the biggest steals in free agency. He’s a willing cutter who developed a bit of a post-up game in San Antonio by ranking within the 90th percentile at his position last season. ‘KBD’ also made 39.4 percent of his three-pointers and is a highly attuned defender that knows his rotations and communicates effectively. Essentially, he’s the prototypical 3-and-D guy that can do a little extra with his off-ball movement and ability to back down smaller players.
  • Darius Bazley — Bazley recently became an unrestricted free agent when Phoenix withheld his qualifying offer. He’s a great athlete that shot 37.7 percent from three last season. At just 23 years old, he’s got serious 3-and-D potential with great size at 6’8 and a 7’0 wingspan.

CENTERS

The center market is fairly thin. However, there is one player that stands out…

  • Mason Plumlee — Yes, you’re reading that correctly. Jokić’s former backup for five seasons might very well be the best available option for Denver at the center position. Nuggets fans should be highly familiar with his game; he’s an excellent rebounder and a great screener. Like Jokić, he excels as a passer as a playmaking five. Plumlee also finished well around the rim at 76 percent, and he’d be an excellent backup option should he stay within the ballpark of what Denver is able to spend.

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