The Denver Nuggets entered the final game of the 2017-2018 riding a six-game winning streak as a victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves would have sent them to the playoffs for the first time in five years. But a 112-106 overtime loss to the Timberwolves denied the Nuggets their chance at the postseason as Minnesota would go instead. However the only thing that Denver had to hang their hats on heading into the off-season was the fact that they had won 46 games. And as Denver’s season had ended in such a heartbreaking fashion, it would have been easy for them to sulk about, but they’ve used it as motivation as this team has become a force.
The Nuggets began this season by winning nine of their first ten games, and here at the NBA’s All-Star break, their record of 39-18 is good enough for the top spot in the Northwest Division, while they are second overall in the Western Conference. And if there is anyone who expects the Nuggets to slow down during the second half of the season, think again as this team has all of the pieces in place to make some noise in the playoffs.
At the 2014 NBA Draft, center Nikola Jokic had to wait until the second round before he hears his name called. Jokic was taken 41st overall that night, but in a very short time he has made the Nuggets brass look like geniuses for selecting him. After playing one more year in Europe, Jokic joined the Nuggets in 2015, and as a rookie, he would averaged 10 points and 7 rebounds which led to him being selected to the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team. Jokic has continued to improve his game which led to him earning a five-year, $148 million extension last summer. And Jokic is once again proving the Nuggets right for believing in him as he has rapidly become one of the best big men in the NBA.
This season Jokic is averaging 20.4 points per game, to go along with 10.6 rebounds, and 7.7 assists. Jokic is a catalyst for Denver which is evident by him making the first All-Star Game appearance of his career. And due to Jokic’s ability to pass, rebound, and score on the interior as well as from the perimeter, he is the second coming of Toronto Raptors center Marc Gasol.
In 2016, Denver used the seventh overall pick on the NBA Draft on point guard Jamal Murray and they as well as the rest of the NBA are watching him grow up right in front of them. Murray’s game has continued to improved and here in his third year in the league, people are starting to recognize his ability to score. On the season Murray is averaging 18.3 points per game which includes a pair of games in which he has scored more than 40 points. And although that Murray might not be the prototypical point guard, he is perfect to play off of Jokic as he can make teams pay if they double the big man from Serbia.
But around Jokic and Murray, the Nuggets have plenty of depth as seven players on the team are averaging at least 10 points per game which includes veteran power forward Paul Millsap who even at the age of 34 gives Denver another big that can score on the inside as well as outside. However the Nuggets ability to spread the scoring wealth can be attributed to the philosophy of their head coach Mike Malone.
Malone is in his fourth season as the Nuggets head coach and in each season there, the team’s win total has increased. Malone preaches team ball which is evident by the fact that they are second in the NBA this season in assists with 27.6 per game. And Malone’s ability to get the most out his team is not going unnoticed as he has been selected to coach in tomorrow’s All-Star Game.
And with the playoffs seven weeks away, the Nuggets are in the driver’s seat in regards to securing a playoff spot, but after their strong regular season, they will be defined by what they’ll be able to do in the postseason. The Nuggets are 24-10 versus the Western Conference this season which includes wins over title contenders in the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, and Oklahoma City Thunder. Denver has also stacked up versus the best that the Eastern Conference has to offer which includes a victory over the Boston Celtics as well as a season sweep of the Toronto Raptors.
Malone along with the Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly have built the foundation for this time and their attention to detail along with the ability to scout and develop talent has put them in prime position to contend for an NBA Title in the near future. The Nuggets will have to deal with the specter of having to possibly face the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs which will not be a walk in the park due to the LeBron James factor, while also knowing that they’ll more than likely need to get past the Warriors is they’re going to get out of the West. But there is no time like the present as the upcoming playoffs could be the coming out party of Jokic, while showing the entire basketball world that these Nuggets are for real.