The Denver Nuggets are one of the few teams today that were mostly built through the draft and supposed average free agency signings, especially among the league’s top contenders. They went through the rebuilding grind in the mid-2010s, and were a consistently inconsistent squad.
While mediocrity was revolving throughout Mile High City basketball, though, the front office were also slowly building the high-potential team that we’re witnessing now. They drafted ‘3 and D’ guard Gary Harris, All-Star big man Nikola Jokic, and shifty, scoring PG Jamal Murray in three consecutive drafts, while also signing Portland’s seldom-used swingman Will Barton and “aging” stretch four Paul Millsap. Head coach Mike Malone was also hired in the middle of the rebuild.
After barely missing the playoffs in the 2017-18 season, where they got eliminated on the last day of the season, the team gambled on the then-injured Michael Porter Jr. in the ensuing draft. He missed all of 2018-19, but it has since paid off nicely.
The Nuggets core learned from their 2019 postseason appearance and became one of the big surprises in the 2020 playoffs. They erased a pair of 3-1 series leads on back-to-back occasions, one of which was against the Kawhi Leonard-led LA Clippers. Jokic and Murray simply came of age in postseason play, with both delivering amazing performances.
The good news is they now have everyone’s attention, and the bad news is… well, they have everyone’s attention. Like we’ve stated about the Miami Heat, it’s different when you’re the hunted instead of the hunter. It’s going to be interesting how the young and talented bunch can respond.
Here are three bold predictions for the Nuggets this season.
Jamal Murray will join Curry, Lillard, and Kyrie as the top PGs
Jamal Murray is now one of the handful of sweet-shooting, high-scoring point guards in the NBA, but what makes him more interesting than others is his ascension. He worked his way up the depth chart by increasing his scoring and well-deserved usage rate every single season since entering the league in 2016.
Despite getting slowed down by injuries in early 2020, which only allowed Murray to add 0.3 on his PPG from the previous season, he made up for it in the bubble. He particularly exploded in the playoffs and averaged 26.5 PPG in the three series, mostly highlighted by the opening round match-up against the Utah Jazz where he had two 50-point games and netted 31.6 PPG.
All that is positioning the 23-year-old Murray into joining the Currys, Lillard, and Irvings of the world this season as the top-ranked PGs. He has the confidence, skill, and team backing at a maximum.
Michael Porter Jr. will be the consistent third scorer
Since the Nuggets are now among the hunted out West, they will need a consistent third scorer. Barton, Millsap, Harris, and others have gone in and out of that role over the last two years, but while all have done decently, it’s not the exact boost that the team needs.
MPJ should be able to fill that void this season. He’s a wing that can also play the four, a fitting third primary option given Jokic and Murray’s positions.
The resiliency he showed while overcoming a serious back injury is also a factor, which has allowed him to be a regular man in the rotation. At one point in the bubble, with Murray sidelined, he stepped in and racked up 31.3 PPG and 4.3 3PG on 62.3% shooting in a three-game span.
Nikola Jokic will make All-NBA first team
Anthony Davis is the king of big men in the NBA, and is poised keep his seat in the throne for years to come despite a number of solid competition. However, that doesn’t exactly mean he’s the most efficient overall, because Nikola Jokic is making a great run in that department.
There’s no kidding around for The Joker when he’s on the floor, as he will light up that stat sheet like no one’s business. He’s an automatic double-double like the other top centers, and along that is his ability to get everyone involved. He’s easily the best passing big man today, and maybe even in the list of top five pound-for-pound passers.
Jokic is averaging 20.0 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 7.1 assists over the last two seasons, and he might be the only center or power forward in recent memory to have such assist numbers in consecutive years.
Combining his monster stats with the Nuggets’ chances of being among the West’s top seeds, Jokic is in a good path of grabbing a first team All-NBA nod again.