The Nuggets are whole again, and this will show in the springtime. At least that’s the hope for Denver as the club welcomes back Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., who are No. 2 and 3 in the pecking order and two necessary players if Denver harbors any hope of representing the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.
Yes, that’s a lofty goal, but such is the possibility for a team led by the back-to-back Kia MVP Nikola Jokic. He’s exactly what a team needs to win it all, a player who can change the game and win a few of them almost all by himself. Jokic did heavy lifting the last season and a half and will be relieved to know the load will be lessened this season.
Assuming Murray and Porter will be good to go — and they’ll likely be load-managed throughout the season — the Nuggets have their own version of a Big Three and a decent cast around them. Michael Malone is a solid coach who connects with his players, so overall, the Nuggets figure to travel deep come springtime, this time with a few pieces that were missed last year.
Are Porter Jr.’s back issues a chronic thing, or finally a non-issue? Remember, his lower back first derailed him a week into his college career, then caused him to fall in the 2018 Draft, then held him to nine games last season. Back injuries are tricky, and multiple procedures are always a cause for concern. The Nuggets gave him a rich contract extension prior to last season, so there’s a lot at stake for Porter Jr., both on the floor and the payroll, to finally stay upright.
The Nuggets are qualified to proclaim themselves a top-four team in the West if only because of the obvious — Porter Jr. and Murray return to join the winner of the last two Kia MVP awards. These three have great chemistry and together form a winning nucleus. Remember, they reached the Western Conference finals together in the 2020 bubble. The ultimate fate of the Nuggets, and how far they travel, could be decided by everyone else in the rotation — there really isn’t another player with a high upside other than maybe Bones Hyland. Denver is built for 50-plus wins, even with load managing of Porter Jr. and/or Murray, and will be a factor in the postseason, but they might be missing one more piece to get to June. Projection: Playoffs.
1 KEY STAT TO KNOW
113.2 — Over the last five seasons, the Nuggets have been the league’s most efficient offensive team, scoring 113.2 points per 100 possessions.
— John Schuhmann
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Jamal Murray: Missed all of last season while recovering from a knee injury, Murray is a certified bucket-getter and big-shot taker who’ll be anxious to restore his flow.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: Newcomer will instantly give the Nuggets a tough-minded perimeter defender and someone who isn’t afraid of taking big shots, especially from the deep corner.
Aaron Gordon: He’s not the A-option offensive player he was in Orlando, but he’s a credible defender who’ll get the toughest assignments.
Michael Porter Jr.: Solid and silky-smooth shooter is capable of challenging Jokic for the scoring lead on some nights.
Nikola Jokic: A multi-functional big man who serves as the core for the club and rates as a top-five talent in the game.
Bones Hyland: He was a revelation last season as an impactful combo guard who lessons the pain of losing Monte Morris in the offseason.
Jeff Green: He never seems to age or become a liability and remains a solid contributor at both forward positions.
Bruce Brown: Newcomer hopes to carve a meaty role in the rotation. He’ll need to continue his efficiency (40.4% shooting on 3-pointers and 50.6% shooting overall last season) to do that.
LAST 5 SEASONS
How the Nuggets have fared stats-wise over the last 5 seasons …
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
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