Jake Shapiro assesses the Nuggets’ season so far and makes his predictions for the rest of the NBA season.
The Denver Nuggets have never been to the NBA Finals, let alone won a Larry O’Brien Trophy. Explaining that to somebody in 1976 may have been hard as the Nuggets joined the NBA coming off an ABA Finals loss to Dr. J’s New York Nets.
Nevertheless, the Nuggets haven’t had many teams that could rival their current squad. The lone person in Denver history that matches Nikola Jokic’s honor of a First-Team All-NBA player is David Thompson.
The Nuggets have a bevy of young talented players that surround their Sombor shuffling star center. Jamal Murray has stayed right below All-Star level while one-time top high school prospect Micheal Porter Jr. has broken out in the Orlando bubble. The trio is part of a core that includes 3-and-D wing Gary Harris and playmaking forward Will Barton. Not to forget key role players like veteran former four-time All-Star Paul Millsap, athletic forward Jerami Grant, strong backup point guard Monte Morris and hustle defender Torrey Craig.
While the names may not be as sexy as Allen Iverson, Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony the current team may have a better shot at getting past the Lakers than the 2008-09 squad that fell to Kobe Bryant’s eventual champions. Just a few nights ago the Nuggets pushed the Lakers to the brink forcing Kyle Kuzma to hit a buzzer-beater against Denver’s second unit. While the Nuggets have only one win against the west’s favorites they’ve had three strong performances.
This comes off Denver’s seven-game second-round exit against Portland last season. And down the stretch right now, they’re doing what they did last year: manipulating seeding by resting players and allowing bench guys to solidify roles going into the postseason.
So can the Nuggets (+2500) win it all?
This probably isn’t the year. Though it’s becoming fairly evident that Tim Connelly has built something special in Denver. What we’ve learned in the bubble is that the Nuggets’ young core now has a younger core. Harris, 25, Jokic, 24 and Murray, 22, are supplemented by Bol Bol, 20, Porter, 21, and PJ Dozier, 23.
With Millsap’s $30-million and Plumlee’s $14-million coming off the books the Nuggets will have flexibility this offseason. They’ll want to bring back Grant, who has a player option worth $9-million. This deep, young and talented Nuggets team will only get better internally and may do so through an outside addition as well.
It’s quite possible the Nuggets challenge for the west as they have the fourth-best odds behind the LA teams and Houston at +1100. They’ve shown to be capable of beating anyone in the NBA, doing so without three starters on a back-to-back in Milwaukee this February—one of just three times the Bucks lost at Fiserv Forum.
If Porter keeps up the streak he’s on which has matched some of Shaq’s rookie records the Nuggets may have unlocked the wing scorer and second star they’ve been looking for. In that case, they have a chance to win it all. But in reality, they will still struggle to defend any team with two-star players as they’ll be forced to start an offensively deficient Craig for his defense and rely on Gary Harris who has yet to play in the restart due to injury. Without one of the two, a veteran Milsap may be forced onto Kawhi or LeBron which would not end well for Denver.
The Nuggets are likely to make a deep run, it’s just a matter of when they run into one of the LA teams and if they can get lucky from another upset and only have to face one instead of both.