Playoff Recap: Denver Nuggets
By: Devin Zanskas
During the NBA Bubble playoffs, Jamal Murray proved to be a reliable second option and more by averaging 26.5 points per game on 45.3% shooting from behind the three-point line. In a larger 59-game sample size, Murray showed that he can continue to be consistent and grow along with the rest of the Nuggets as they build towards championship contention. Sadly, Murray tore his left ACL on April 12th, and many fans believed that the Nuggets’ title chances went out the window along with Murray’s injury. In addition, Murray went down not even three weeks after the Nuggets were praised for acquiring Aaron Gordon from the Orlando Magic for Gary Harris, RJ Hampton, and a 2025 first round draft pick. Gordon is a perfect fit next to Nikola Jokic. Ironically, the Nuggets had a similar architype to Gordon last year in Jerami Grant. However, Grant bet on himself in free agency, and thoroughly succeeded by taking second in Most Improved Player voting. As opposed to Grant, Gordon averaged more than 14 points per game in each of his last four seasons. Now he’s a star in his role as a versatile defender and lob threat. Fortunately, Gordon fits well with Michael Porter Jr. as well, since he’s quick enough to defend small forwards, and has the strength and leaping ability to finish in the paint like a big.
Michael Porter Jr. finished just two points behind Grant in the Most Improved Player voting. Second-year players typically don’t receive recognition for this award, as they’re expected to improve after their rookie year. However, Porter Jr. did so by nearly doubling both his points per game. He even increased his points per game from 17.3 to 23.5 points per game in similar minutes when comparing his scoring totals from before and after Murray’s injury. Although the end of Porter Jr.’s regular season would suggest that he may be able to fill the enormous shoes left by Murray, that proposition became much more difficult in the second round. In the first round, he played his role perfectly by scoring 25 or 26 points in three of the six first round games, but only tallied 20 points once in the western conference semifinals. Andrew Schlecht of The Athletic NBA Show stated that Porter Jr. was “kind of a glorified spot up shooter in that series” when referring to his second-round performance. Unlike the first round, Jokic wasn’t quite able to lift the rest of the Nuggets’ depleted lineup over a much healthier squad.
Nikola Jokic was awarded his inevitable MVP trophy before Game 3 of their series against the Suns, and unfortunately, he couldn’t carry the Nuggets in a must-win game after their previous 25-point loss. There are somehow many fans who suggested that Jokic’s MVP was still debatable after Joel Embiid only played 51 games and Steph Curry’s Warriors were only in a play-in slot. Those are the same people who later on in the season pointed out that there was some serious 2007 Dirk Nowitzki potential, as Jokic was vulnerable to a first-round loss without his co-star, Murray. However, Jokic made sure that wouldn’t happen by surviving six games against the Blazers and a 55-point Damian Lillard game with an overmatched backcourt. To the Nuggets chagrin, their luck would not continue the following series against the Suns, another team with comparable guard talent and health. Additionally, Jokic’s final playoff game ended in ugly fashion, as he was assessed a flagrant foul for his windup up and swipe at the ball in Cam Payne’s possession. Nevertheless, it’s still safe to bet on the MVP.