The Denver Nuggets are squarely taking aim on the Larry O’Brien trophy this year.
Last season the Mile High City franchise went as far as the Western Conference Finals where they lost in five games against eventual NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers bannered by transcendent NBA superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Before 2020, the Nuggets had only advanced into one conference finals in the NBA. That was in 2009 when the upstart Denver team, led by a young Carmelo Anthony and “Mr. Big Shot” Chauncey Billups, extended the eventual champions Lakers (again) to six games.
That reiteration of the Purple and Gold had a hungry as ever Kobe Bryant (manically wanting to prove to all and sundry that he can win minus Shaquille O’Neal) as well as another future Hall of Famer in Pau Gasol, steady point guard Derek Fisher, defensive stalwart Trevor Ariza (yes that Ariza now playing for the Miami Heat) and the NBA’s premier Swiss Army knife Lamar Odom.
There’s no doubting the talent president of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly has assembled for the 2021 season of the Association. Currently, the team is fourth in the ultra-competitive Western Conference with a 31-18 win-loss record and is riding high on a four-game winning streak entering today’s matchup with the lowly Detroit Pistons.
Fueling head coach Mike Malone’s team’s recent resurgence is the acquisition before the trade deadline of 6’9” power forward Aaron Gordon from the Orlando Magic. The two-time NBA Slam Dunk contest runner-up has been more than a lob threat and high-wire fast-break finisher for the Nuggets, as the former Arizona Wildcat has been a decent kick-out three-point shooter plus the team’s most rugged defender on the low blocks.
Gordon’s 14.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and 1 block per game averages nicely and complement the play of Nuggets’ resident superstars Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.
Jokic, or Joker as he’s more fondly known, is a 6’11” Serbian reincarnation of Magic Johnson. The three-time NBA all-star is a walking triple double as exemplified by his Westbrook-like season averages of 26.3 points, 11 rebounds, and 8.6 assists. Like Magic, Joker is the Nuggets’ main catalyst on offense and as a center doing that, he’s always a marvel to watch.
Murray is a deceptively athletic guard who never met a shot he didn’t like (who still remembers his 360-degree layup against Rudy Gobert in the conference semifinals last year?). The 6’3” native of Ontario, Canada is second in the team in points per game at 21.6 and is slowly shedding his ball-hog reputation by dishing out 4.8 dimes in a contest. He’s also clutch personified as proven by his multiple 50-point games in the playoffs last year.
The team’s third star, Michael Porter Jr., has quieted all doubters that his back injuries would derail a promising NBA career (The reason why he slid down to 14th overall in the 2018 NBA Draft). The 6’11” wunderkind from Missouri sat out his first year recovering from back surgery but is currently lighting up the scoreboard in his first season as a starter.
Porter is a mismatch waiting to happen and has future superstar written all over him. He is currently averaging a team third-best 16.7 points per game on top of 7.5 rebounds per game. The knock on his game is he doesn’t pass much and his defense is average at best. But give the kid a break. He waited for a couple of seasons to show his true worth and his all-around game will come with more games under his belt.
Truly the sky’s the limit for the Nuggets and we’ve not even talked about 7’3” small forward Bol Bol, another draft day slider like Porter (again, due to injury concerns). The son of the late Manute Bol, the 7’7” Dinka tribesman who probably shot the highest arcing three-pointer in NBA history, was a second-round draft pick in the 2018 draft and oozes potential. He, however, is stuck deep in coach Malone’s bench.