Brown and Caldwell-Pope quietly push the Nuggets to contender status

Lurking in the shadows of a raucous offseason, the Denver Nuggets are on the cusp of championship contention. By this point, back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic is synonymous with the franchise, but this team has a much stronger foundation than just one player. Head coach Michael Malone has been through countless battles, the team’s rotation is deep, management is methodical and all together, the team is poised for one of its best seasons yet.

Two key contributors, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., are expected to return to the rotation at the start of the season after losing their 2021-22 season to injury. Explosive athletes with elite shooting range and shot creation, Murray and Porter Jr. are both extremely difficult to guard. While it might take some time to get reacclimated to game pace, the duration of the regular season can be spent reaching that place.

However, recent championship successes proved that top-end talent isn’t enough to secure a trip to the Finals. By signing Bruce Brown Jr. and trading for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the Nuggets ensured that when healthy, they have the components required to contend for a ring.

Brown and KCP are elite role players who will help the Nuggets in the Playoffs

In today’s game, winning at the highest level is nearly impossible without elite defense and spacing. The Nuggets ensured they’ll have both by adding Brown and Caldwell-Pope, two players with postseason experience and skillsets that align with Denver’s greatest needs.

Caldwell-Pope, who won a championship with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2020, is a versatile offensive player hiding under the guise of a 3-and-D specialist. He thrives playing off the ball, whether it be from cuts to the basket or catch-and-shoot 3s, of which he made 42% in an inconistent Wizards offense last season.

KCP makes a ton of sense playing with Jokic, who can facilitate dribble-handoffs or thread the ball into his palms through unique angles. The Basketball Index gave the 29-year-old wing a grade of A for perimeter shooting last season and ranked him in the 91st percentile of 3-point shot makers. Defensively, he’ll chase shooters off the perimeter and pester them by poking and prodding at the ball. He has active hands and quick rotations, which supplement his lean frame. He’s not an elite defender by any means, but he’s also not someone who can be exploited easily.

On the flip side, Brown is a complete and utter menace on the defensive end. Though he’s only 6-foot-4, Brown has the capacity to defend positions one through four because of his long reach, quickness, timing, verticality, palpable on-court presence and resolute energy. That makes him a tough opponent who navigates screens like an expert and mirrors his matchup when defending on-ball. Uniquely, Brown is also very effective at deterring shots near the rim despite his size.

He’s not going to blow anyone away with his scoring talent but tends to make the game easier for his teammates through unselfish passing, 40% 3-point shooting on non-self-created triples and a knack for generating second-chance opportunities on the offensive glass. As exemplified by his run with the Brooklyn Nets, Brown is the perfect player to put in the lineup with stars who dominate on-ball reps.

Unless All-Rookie Second Team selection Bones Hyland jumps into the starting lineup for his second NBA season, the expectation is that Caldwell-Pope starts at the two-guard and Brown comes off the bench. However, with new and returning players to craft a rotation around, Malone will likely tinker with his rotation throughout the year.

Either way, these two impactful wings round out a rotation with tremendous defensive potential and deadly scoring upside. Generally, true contenders finish the regular season in the top 10 for both offensive and defensive rating — the mark of a team that can punish its opponents on both sides of the floor. These additions put the Nuggets over the edge so that if they remain healthy come Playoff time, they can go toe-to-toe with any team in the league.

KCP and Bruce Brown aren’t league-winners on their own, but within the context of this team, they have what it takes to push the Nuggets over the hump into NBA Finals contention.