The Denver Nuggets are headed to the NBA Finals for the first time in team history, sitting just four wins away from their first NBA championship after sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals.
The team that will face the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals was built with a combination of draft picks, free agent signings and trade acquisitions. Below we’ll dive into how each player joined the Nuggets, broken down by acquisition type. (And here’s a look at how the Heat built their Finals roster.)
Nikola Jokic: 41st overall pick, 2014 NBA Draft
• Playoff stats: 38.9 mpg, 29.9 ppg, 13.3 rpg, 10.3 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.9 bpg, 53.8% FG, 47.4% on 3-pointers, 1.8 3pg, 78.4% FT, NBA record eight triple-doubles in 15 games
The core of this Nuggets team was built through the draft, beginning with Jokic back in 2014. When Denver used its second-round pick to select the future two-time Kia NBA MVP, Jokic was asleep in Serbia and the selection was revealed on the U.S. broadcast on ESPN’s ticker while a Taco Bell ad played during a commercial break. Fast forward nearly nine years and Jokic has established himself as an all-time great NBA center, breaking records set by Wilt Chamberlain while leading the Nuggets to the Finals.
Jamal Murray: 7th overall pick, 2016 NBA Draft
• Playoff stats: 39.1 mpg, 27.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 6.1 apg, 1.7 spg, 48% FG, 39.8% on 3-pointers, 3.1 3pg, 92.5% FT in 15 games
While the Nuggets selected Murray with the seventh overall pick in 2016, they acquired the rights to that pick five years earlier as part of a three-team trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to New York. In addition to the players and Draft picks they received for trading the future Hall of Famer, the Nuggets acquired the right to swap 2016 first-round picks with New York. Following the Draft Lottery, the Knicks (32-50) held the No. 7 pick while the Nuggets (33-49) held the No. 9 pick, so they decided to exercise the pick swap to move into the No. 7 spot where they selected Murray out of Kentucky. It seems fitting that on the same day that Anthony officially announced his retirement, a player acquired in a trade by the team that drafted him back in 2003 helped the Nuggets reach the Finals.
Vlatko Cancar: 49th overall pick, 2017 NBA Draft
• Playoff stats: 2.4 mpg, 0 ppg, 0.8 rpg, 0.3 apg in 4 games
Cancar is the third-longest tenured Nuggets player. However, he has not been part of the playoff rotation and has only played late in playoff games that have already been decided.
Michael Porter Jr.: 14th overall pick, 2018 NBA Draft
• Playoff stats: 33.7 mpg, 14.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.8 apg, 45.5% FG, 40.8% on 3-pointers, 2.8 3pg, 81% FT in 15 games
Entering the 2018 NBA draft there was no concern about Michael Porter Jr.’s talent translating to the NBA. But there were plenty of concerns about a lower back injury which had required surgery and limited him to just three games at Missouri before he declared for the Draft. Picking at the end of the lottery, the Nuggets watched as Porter Jr. continued to fall. Entering the day with little hope of landing a player of Porter Jr.’s caliber, the Nuggets pounced on the opportunity to bring him to Denver. His third season with the Nuggets was cut short as he needed a third back surgery, but he returned healthy this season and has been a key contributor to this Finals run.
Zeke Nnaji: 22nd overall pick, 2020 NBA Draft
• Playoff stats: 2.9 mpg, 1.3 ppg, 0.5 rpg, 0.3 spg, 50% FG in 4 games
Similar to Cancar, Nnaji has not been part of the playoff rotation and has played solely once the outcome of playoff games are essentially set.
Christian Braun: 21st overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft
• Playoff stats: 11.8 mpg, 2.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 0.4 apg, 0.4 spg, 42.9% FG, 22.2% on 3-pointers in 14 games
Denver’s most recent first-round pick has seen his minutes squeeze from 15.5 during the regular season to 11.8 in the playoffs, while appearing in 14 of 15 games. Making a Finals run in your rookie season is a pretty great way to begin a career, though.
Aaron Gordon: Trade with Magic on March 25, 2021
• Playoff stats: 35.6 mpg. 13.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, 49% FG, 35.1% on 3-pointers, 0.9 3pg, 70.4% FT in 15 games
After making three shrewd Draft picks to acquire Jokic, Murray and Porter, the Nuggets looked for additional pieces to help bolster the roster. At the trade deadline in 2021, the Nuggets pulled the trigger on a trade to acquire Gordon from Orlando along with Gary Clark in exchange for R.J. Hampton, Gary Harris and a 2025 first-round draft pick (top-five protected). While best known for his Slam Dunk contest exploits during his time with the Magic, Gordon has been a full-time starter for the Nuggets since his arrival.
Peyton Watson: Trade with Thunder on June 23, 2022
• Playoff stats: 3.3 mpg, 1.3 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 0.3 apg, 40% FG, 50% on 3-pointers in 4 games
The Nuggets acquired Watson from the Thunder on a Draft-night trade for JaMychal Green and a 2027 protected first-round draft pick. Watson appeared in 23 games during the regular season and has been limited to spot minutes in the postseason.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: Trade with Wizards on July 6, 2022
• Playoff stats: 33.3 mpg, 11.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.3 spg, 48.1% FG, 41.1% on 3-pointers, 2.0 3pg, 86.4% FT in 15 games
The Nuggets acquired Caldwell-Pope (and Ish Smith) from the Wizards for Will Barton and Monte Morris. Denver saw Caldwell-Pope as a strong perimeter fit alongside Jokic and Murray and have been proven correct as he has been a key piece to Denver’s run to the Finals. Caldwell-Pope is the only player on the Nuggets to have won an NBA title as he was part of the 2019-20 Los Angeles Lakers that won the title in the bubble — knocking out Denver in the conference finals along with way. Three seasons later, Caldwell-Pope helped the Nuggets oust the Lakers in the West Finals.
Ish Smith: Trade with Wizards on July 6, 2022
• Playoff stats: 2.9 mpg, 0.5 ppg, 0.3 rpg, 50% FG in 4 games
The other half of the trade with Washington, Smith adds a veteran guard to the Nuggets roster. Playing for his record 13th different NBA team, Smith appeared in 43 games during the regular season, but has not been a part of the playoff rotation.
Thomas Bryant: Trade with Lakers on Feb. 9, 2023
• Playoff stats: Has not appeared in any playoff games
Acquired from L.A. at the trade deadline, Bryant appeared in 18 games for the Nuggets during the regular season but has yet to play in the playoffs.
Jeff Green: Signed as free agent on Aug. 11, 2021
• Playoff stats: 18.6 mpg, 3.9 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 0.7 apg, 37.7% FG, 26.9% on 3-pointers, 84.6% FT in 15 games
The Nuggets signed the veteran forward in August of 2021, making Denver the 11th team that Green has played for in his 15-year career. Green is one of three Nuggets players that have appeared in the NBA Finals as he was part of the 2018 Cleveland Cavaliers, who were swept by the Warriors.
Bruce Brown: Signed as free agent on July 7, 2022
• Playoff stats: 26.5 mpg, 12.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.1 spg, 53.1% FG, 28.9 3P, 0.7 3pg, 89.5% FT in 15 games
Drafted by Detroit in the second round of the 2018 NBA draft, Brown spent two seasons with the Pistons before being traded to Brooklyn as part of a three-team deal with the Nets and Clippers. A key part of Brooklyn’s playoff teams in 2021 and ’22, Brown signed with Denver as a free agent last summer, bringing versatility and toughness to the roster. He has been a key contributor off the bench during this playoff run and has a player option for next season.
DeAndre Jordan: Signed as free agent on July 11, 2022
• Playoff stats: 3.5 mpg, 1.7 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 0.3 apg, 66.7% FG in 3 games
The veteran center joined his seventh NBA team when he signed with the Nuggets last summer. Jordan appeared in 39 games during the regular season, but has been out of the rotation as the bench has shrunk in the postseason, appearing in only three games.
Reggie Jackson: Signed as free agent on Feb. 14, 2023
• Playoff stats: 3.3 mpg. 0.6 ppg, 0.2 rpg, 0.2 apg, 100% FG/3P in 5 games
The veteran guard signed with the Nuggets after being traded by the Clippers to the Charlotte Hornets (who then waived him). He appeared in 16 games during the regular season (7.9 ppg in 19.9 mpg), but essentially isn’t in the playoff rotation. He is another Nuggets player with Finals experience as he was a rookie on the 2011-12 Oklahoma City Thunder team that lost to the Heat in five games.
Collin Gillespie: Signed two-way contract on July 3, 2022
• Playoff stats: Two-way players are not eligible to play in the postseason
After going undrafted, the Villanova point guard signed a two-way contract with the Nuggets and played for Denver in Summer League. However, Gillespie suffered a leg fracture that required surgery back in July 2022 and has him out indefinitely.
Jack White: Signed two-way contract on July 19, 2022
• Playoff stats: Two-way players are not eligible to play in the postseason
The small forward out of Australia signed a two-way contract with Denver in July and has spent this season splitting time between the Nuggets (1.2 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 3.9 mpg in 17 games) and their NBA G League squad, the Grand Rapids Gold (20.9 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 33.8 mpg in 14 games).
Coach Michael Malone: Hired June 15, 2015
The road to the Finals began before any current player was on the Nuggets roster. The first step was finding the right coach to lead the team, which Denver did when they hired Michael Malone on June 15, 2015. Inheriting a team that won 30 games the previous season, Malone led the Nuggets to 33 wins in his first season, 40 in his second, 46 in his third and broke into the playoffs with a 54-win season in 2018-19. There are only three active coaches that have been with their teams longer than Malone: the San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich (27 seasons, five titles), the Miami Heat’s Erik Spoelstra (15 seasons, four titles) and the Golden State Warriors’ Steve Kerr (nine seasons, four titles).