From missing out on the NBA Playoffs last season to now battling it out with the Golden State Warriors for first place in the Western conference, the Denver Nuggets have appeared, to most casual NBA fans, out of thin air.
With an improved, MVP-caliber player in Nikola Jokic, talented overall roster, and impressive ball movement, the question remains; how far into the playoffs can the Nuggets go?
Typically in today’s NBA, a team needs multiple stars, good coaching, and impressive team defense in order to win the Finals. The Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, and Miami Heat teams of this past decade saw sustained success and had these elements.
So, do the Nuggets have the necessary elements in their game?
As far as multiple stars are concerned, they do have Jokic, the All-Star center who is proving to be one of the best big men in the NBA. After Jokic though, the other top names on the Nuggets roster are budding stars/valuable role players in Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, aging former All-Stars in Isaiah Thomas and Paul Milsap, and solid role players like Will Barton.
Although an overall talented team, it doesn’t seem as though Denver has enough star-power to claim the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
However, the head coach of the Nuggets has a great offensive mind and has proved to be able to make the best of whatever roster he has been handed. At 47, Malone is a young coach and will likely remain holding the reigns of the Nuggets franchise for the foreseeable future. Malone is a capable enough coach to deliver Denver a title.
The last remaining element is defense. Can Denver become a good enough defensive team to stop teams like the Warriors or the Thunder? Or at least slow them down? Offense has rarely been a problem for the Nuggets since Jokic emerged as a star. However, team defense is a large factor in why the Nuggets missed out on the playoffs last season. Denver was the 25th ranked defense in the 2017-2018 NBA regular season. This season, the Nuggets are currently the 11th ranked defense.
Needless to say, the Nuggets defense is much improved this season. A healthier Paul Milsap is a factor in that. However, this team has yet to reach the status of an elite defensive team.
What does it all mean? The Nuggets are in position to make a statement come playoffs but are far from a championship team. Although they will likely get past the first round, they will likely lose to a team like the Houston Rockets or Oklahoma City Thunder who each have multiple stars and more experience in the post-season.
The Denver Nuggets have a promising future; they have a likely future MVP in Nikola Jokic, young stars-in-the-making in Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, and a dynamic offensive gameplan. The Nuggets are a team to watch for in the seasons to come. However, this season will end in the second round of the playoffs.