The Denver Nuggets were overlooked last season, and somehow, despite being the reigning NBA champions, it seems like that’s the case again this time around. We’re not only talking about one of the best sports teams in Colorado, but about one of the best basketball teams on NBA – if not the best right now.
They finished last season with the best record in the Western Conference and didn’t find much trouble paving their way to the very first championship in franchise history. Notably, even though it’s still quite early in the season, it seems like they’re on the same path this time.
But just like what happened last season, the Nuggets have their fair share of doubters. Perhaps that’s because they’re a small-market team that doesn’t get enough attention or recognition, or perhaps because of how much other teams seemed to improve in the offseason.
That’s why today, we’re going to take a look at the team’s current status to try and determine whether they have a legitimate chance to defend their crown and win back-to-back NBA championships.
Jamal Murray’s Health Will Be Key
For starters, we have to talk about this team’s stacked starting lineup. All five starters are more than capable of putting up 15+ points per game on any given night, and they meshed perfectly altogether.
Nonetheless, Jamal Murray is by far Nikola Jokic’s favorite sidekick. He can play on and off the ball and is only the primary ball-handler and playmaker when Jokic isn’t on the court, so having him miss time with a hamstring injury is a big blow:
“This will be something that will be longer than we would like,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said shortly after the Canadian’s guard injury. “You have to have the big picture in mind and make sure we’re putting him in a position to get healthy before he comes back.”
Even so, this team has learned how to win and thrive without him, as he’s missed more than one-and-a-half seasons with different injuries. They need to make sure he’s ready and healthy for when it actually counts, so they shouldn’t rush him back to the floor.
What About The Rest?
This was a moved offseason in the Association. Damian Lillard made the Milwaukee Bucks an even stronger championship contender, at least on paper, and the same can be said of the Boston Celtics with the trades for Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday.
As for the Western Conference, the Phoenix Suns look like the team to beat with Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal, all while the Golden State Warriors added another future Hall of Famer in Chris Paul.
Both conferences have plenty of talent, and teams like the Los Angeles Clippers or Philadelphia 76ers could also sneak into the championship-contenders conversation if they manage to make their new pieces from the James Harden trade fit altogether.
Jokic Is Still The Best
Even so, Nikola Jokic is still the best player on Earth, and he’ll continue to be so until proven otherwise. We already know he’s the greatest passing big man of all time, and he’s a perennial triple-double threat who can affect the game in so many ways. However, the thing that impresses his coach the most about him isn’t even basketball-related:
“I think we all see it in all walks of life how does fame, fortune affect you,” Malone said. “And for most people, they got to their head and they become something different. Sometimes they forget where they’ve come from and who helped them to get where they’ve gotten to.
“And the one thing I really love about Nikola — just forget basketball — to your point just as a young man who is a proud father and a husband, but through all the success, the MVPs, the max contracts, all that stuff he’s still the same guy.
“I marvel at that because I’ve been in the league around this game a long time and that is a rarity in this business and for a celebrity, a superstar in general. So the fact that Nikola is still a humble selfless person and he cares about home, he cares about family, he cares about his horses. The guy is just who he is. I couldn’t have more respect for him as a man because of that.”
That humble and down-to-earth nature makes him special as well. He’s never fazed by the pressure. He pulls the strings of the offense like a puppet master, being the ultimate triple threat as a guy who can pull up, drive, or pass and create offense for others. And now that he already knows what it takes to win an NBA championship and has already been there and done that, it’s quite tough to envision any team standing in his way to another championship right now.