The Denver Nuggets have been an NBA team since 1976. They’ve seen eight presidents, three NBA commissioners, and the rise of Bird, Magic, and MJ. They have never seen an NBA Finals, and 2023 may be the best shot they’ve ever had.
Denver’s National appeal has been on the rise since Nikola Jokic brought the MVP trophy to the Mile High City for the first (and second) time. Most recently, Shaquille O’Neal called Jokic “the best big man to ever play the game” in a post-game interview after a common Jokic triple-double against Memphis.
His passing and play-making ability coupled with insane efficiency and unassuming stature already makes Jokic an all-time-great, and absolutely deserving of his two MVPs, not to mention a potential ‘first-since-Larry-Bird’ threepeat. However, no one understands better than Joker that the game is played to be won, and the ultimate glory lies in a championship ring.
The threepeat doesn’t seem far-fetched. Nikola leads the NBA in triple-doubles, Player Efficiency Rating (PER), almost every “Win-Share” category, and even Defensive Box Plus/Minus. His most recent triple-double against the Lakers (14-11-16) provided the Nuggets with their 11th win in a row at home, where they’ve only lost 3 games on the season.
By the way, in that game Jokic did not miss a shot, going 5-5 from the field. He consistently puts up historic Wilt-like numbers and does it in the most humble and least flashy way.
A Little Help From His Friends
In Joker’s 2021-2022 MVP campaign, he needed to essentially carry the team. With Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray, both sidelined with injuries, Jokic’s only real help came from Aaron Gordon, Will Barton, and Monte Morris. The script has flipped this year.
The Nuggets are a much more complete basketball team in 2023, trading for defensive-minded Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and veteran Ish Smith in the offseason, saying goodbye to Barton and Morris. They also acquired depth players DeAndre Jordan and Bruce Brown through free agency, giving Denver a competent bench along with the emergence of Bones Hyland as a legitimate 6th man.
While Jokic is still leading the Nuggets in more statistical categories than not, the team’s success is no longer as dependent on his own success. In a recent game against the Clippers, the Nuggets were up by almost 40 the entire night. At the half, Jokic had just 3 points while the Nuggets were up 66-32. He would finish with only 12 as the team completed the rout for him.
This is a scary thought for the rest of the league. In years past, the Nugget’s obvious weakness was any time Jokic was not on the floor. Leads would vanish, and an undoubtedly frustrated Jokic was forced to continually pull his team out of the swamp. This season, the Nuggets bench can hang, and Bones Hyland has shown he is capable of filling in as a starter if need be.
If Murray and MPJ can stay healthy and continue to provide support to yet another MVP season by Nikola Jokic, then the Denver Nuggets very well might bring the Mile High City its first NBA Title.
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