Denver Nuggets: Contenders or Pretenders?

Nikola Jokic

The Denver Nuggets have been one of the best teams in the NBA as of late with an exceptional 14-6 record over their last 20 games. They have defeated elite teams such as the Raptors, Warriors and 76ers. Throughout the entire season they stand as the 6th seed in the Western Conference with a satisfactory record of 45-31, which has excited fans across America about this Nuggets team. Despite their success, along with the believers of the Nuggets, many analysts and NBA followers question if this team has a true chance of competing for a championship.

Overall Synopsis of the Nuggets 2021-2022 Season

The Nuggets have had a fairly successful season so far, the driving force of the team being MVP candidate, Nikola Jokic. Jokic has taken the basketball world by STORM over the past two seasons. Winning MVP last year averaging approximately 26 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists, he has taken his game to another level this year. He’s averaging more rebounds, more steals, more blocks, has a higher fg%, efg%, and ts%, while maintaining similar points and assist numbers.

–> To View Nikola Jokic’s statistics for the 2021-2022 season, click https://www.basketball-reference.com/players/j/jokicni01.html

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Aaron Gordon (Left), Nikola Jokic (Right)

The Nuggets have had players such as Aaron Gordon, Monte Morris, and Will Barton step up alongside Jokic. Off the bench, rookie Nah’Shon (Bones) Hyland and newly added Demarcus Cousins have played huge parts as well. The Nuggets have the 7th best Offensive rating in the league, and the 15th ranked Defensive rating this season, both very solid marks.

Denvers biggest struggles occur when Jokic is off the court. With him off the court, their offensive, defensive, and net rating decrease exponentially. They have also had major injuries to some of their best players.

Injuries

Although Denver has been solid this season, they are missing two of their key guys. Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray have missed the entire season due to severe inuries. Both these players have had success as a second option behind Jokic, and they are two guys the Nuggets wish they could have back immediately.

Jamal Murray

Jamal Murray is generally the teams starting Point Guard, and nuggets secondary, and sometimes tertiary scorer. He suffered a torn ACL injury on April 12th, 2021 in a game against the warriors. Nearly a year later, he is yet to return. During the 2020-2021 season, Murray played 48 total games and averaged 21.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 4.8 assists. In these 48 games, the Nuggets had a win% of 64.5%, which would currently put them as the 3rd seed in 2022. Last time Murray played in the playoffs, the Nuggets made the Western Conference Finals during the 2020 bubble. He averaged nearly 27 points a game.

Michael Porter Jr. (Left), Jamal Murray (Middle), Nikola Jokic (Right)

Michael Porter Jr.

Michael Porter Jr. was the Nuggets starting Small Forward in the 2020-2021 season. Because of Jamal Murray’s injury, Porter Jr. was asked to step up and be that secondary player, and he delivered. After Murray’s injury, Porter finished the season averaging approximately 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists, on incredible 58,51,85 shooting splits. He averaged 19 and 7 on the season. Porter played the first 9 games of the 2021-2022 season but significantly struggled. He was shooting terribly and averaged a little under 10 points. After a second look, the Nuggets determined he needed back surgery for a serious nerve issue Porter Jr. was dealing with during the season.

My Thoughts

The Denver Nuggets are a great team. They have players with size, who step up, can hit big shots. But the fact of the matter is, it will be very tough for them to win a championship. A team with only 1 player who averages more than 15 points a game is bound to struggle. The Nuggets are deep, but lack the star power to be true championship contenders. Can they make noise in the playoffs? Yes. Will they be able to win a championship? Most probably not. Nikola Jokic can very well win the MVP award again as he is an otherworldly Colossus. But to win a championship, he has to be absolutely perfect.

Denver’s championship aspirations quickly shift if Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray are somehow able to return to the lineup, or at least one of the two. It’s unlikely, but there is still a small possibility.

These 2022 playoffs are going to be exhilarating to watch, and anything can happen.

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