For the last couple of years, the Denver Nuggets have been one of the more intriguing teams in the National Basketball Association.
They possess Nikola Jokic, the reigning regular season MVP, who is one of the best and most unique players in the game, as well as ascendant point guard Jamal Murray and rising star Michael Porter Jr.
When Denver reached the Western Conference Finals in 2020, the future looked very bright.
But since then, due to a torn ACL Murray suffered last spring and a back injury to Porter, the Nuggets have been merely good and not great.
No one has really seen them at full strength, nor what they are capable of once whole.
It begs the question of whether the Nuggets will be legitimate championship contenders next season.
Jokic Is A Unicorn
Throughout NBA history, there have been many big men who could score as much and as efficiently as Jokic, as well as rebound like him.
But with the possible exception of Wilt Chamberlain, there has never been a center who could score, rebound, and pass as well as Jokic.
— Savant Hoops (@SavantHoops) March 27, 2022
Last season, he averaged 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 8.3 assists per game en route to the MVP award.
This year, he has a real shot at winning the honor again, as he is putting up 26.5 points, 13.6 boards, and 8 assists a game.
At 6-foot-11 and over 280 pounds, the Serbian native has the type of body that few big men in today’s game have, and one that hearkens back to the 1990s when the NBA was a slow-it-down, pound-and-ground game that was predicated on strength, physicality, and big-man play.
He is quite the big load for opposing teams, especially come playoff time, and other than possibly the Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, there is probably no one who can guard Jokic one-on-one.
Murray Has Emerged
During the 2019-20 season, Murray was regarded as merely a good player who could help support a great player such as Jokic.
But in the playoffs that year, he exploded and came of age.
In the Nuggets’ first-round win over the Utah Jazz, Murray scored at least 36 points four times in seven games, and he poured in at least 42 points in each of the last three contests as his team overcame a 3-1 series deficit.
He continued to excel for the remaining duration of Denver’s playoff run, scoring 40 points in Game 7 of the second round as it again came back from a 3-1 deficit, this time to knock out the favored Los Angeles Clippers.
Last season, the 6-foot-3 guard built on his terrific postseason by averaging 21.2 points and 4.8 assists per game until his ACL injury.
His ability to create his own shot, score, get others involved and push the pace makes him the Nuggets’ catalyst.
The Key Is Porter Jr.
Porter has been on the rise for a couple of years now.
Last season, he took a big step forward, increasing his scoring output from 9.3 points a game in 2020 to 19 per game.
He is an outstanding 3-point shooter, possesses ample athleticism and has the potential to become a great defender.
— Andrew Kauffman (@AndrewABC17) April 27, 2021
If he returns and shows no ill effects from his injury, he should become the third star Denver needs.
Combined with capable role players such as Aaron Gordon, Will Barton, Jeff Green and Monte Morris, the Nuggets, if healthy, should have at worst a puncher’s chance at winning the world championship next summer.