The Denver Nuggets have assembled a very strong squad over the last few years.
They boast two-time reigning regular season MVP Nikola Jokic, a throwback wide-bodied center who is a load to deal with in the paint but can also handle the ball and facilitate a bit like some other modern big men.
In the backcourt, they have Jamal Murray, who has become an All-Star caliber point guard and has shown some ability to go off in big games.
Denver also has Michael Porter Jr., a forward whom many feel has All-Star potential, plus strong supporting players such as Aaron Gordon, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Jeff Green.
Many expect the Nuggets to be one of the top teams in the Western Conference, assuming Murray and Porter, both of whom are coming off serious injuries, return to their pre-injury form.
But are the Nuggets legitimate championship contenders, or just a bit short of that category?
They can win it all, but there is a checklist of things that would need to happen.
Jokic Needs To Maintain His MVP Form
Jokic, the 27-year-old Serbian native, is one of the most unique players ever, as he doesn’t just score and rebound at a high level.
He is also one of the league’s best passers, despite being a 6-foot-11, 284-pound center who isn’t too mobile.
He averaged 7.9 assists per game last season, and the year before that he put up 8.3 dimes a game.
Outside of perhaps Wilt Chamberlain, who actually led the entire NBA in assists one year, and Bill Walton, Jokic is probably the best passing big man ever.
I hope Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown are watching all the Nikola Jokic film they can and getting ready to run out so he can feed them (cheeseburgers, as Paul Millsap would say) when he crashes that defensive glass. 😎#Nuggets @CaldwellPope @BruceBrown11 pic.twitter.com/bYrGRz42k2
— Joel Rush (@JoelRushNBA) August 8, 2022
One thing Jokic can and should improve on is his 3-point shooting, which has fluctuated throughout his seven-year career.
In the 2021-22 season, he made just 33.7 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc, but the year before, he shot a robust 38.8 percent from deep.
Murray Needs To Be His Best Self
In the 2019-20 season, his last fully healthy season, Murray put up fine regular season numbers of 18.5 points and 4.8 assists per game.
But during the playoffs, he went into volcano mode, averaging 26.5 points a contest on 50.5 percent overall shooting and 45.3 percent from 3-point range.
In that postseason, he had four 40-point-plus games, as well as two 50-point outings.
When Denver upset the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 7 of the second round and overcame a 3-1 series deficit, Murray led the way with 40 points on 15-of-26 shooting.
#TBT: Jamal Murray cooks the LA Clippers in Game 7 to complete a 3-1 comeback pic.twitter.com/3SmHEjcE4d
— DenverAA (@NuggetsAAccess) July 21, 2022
He improved to 21.2 points a game the following season while significantly boosting his 3-point shooting accuracy before an ACL injury ended his year late in the schedule.
For the Nuggets to win the world title, Murray has to continue where he left off in 2021 while putting up huge playoff games when they really need him to.
The Nuggets are not a particularly deep team, and so, they will need some unheralded men to step up.
The backcourt and wing rotations look solid, but they could use some better depth up front.
As of now, Jokic’s main backup will be DeAndre Jordan, who is 34 and coming off a season with the Los Angeles Lakers in which he looked washed.
If Jordan doesn’t cut it, Denver will be at a sizable disadvantage when Jokic is resting.
The team could also use one more serviceable forward with legitimate forward height.
As of now, Bruce Brown is slated to be its backup 3, and even though he’s a solid 3-and-D player, he is just 6-foot-4.NEXT: NBA Analyst Adds Important Context To A Nikola Jokic Stat