It’s a sinking feeling. The Nuggets find themselves down 2–1 against a Spurs team that stole Game 1 in Denver and almost grabbed Game 2, had it not been for Jamal Murray lighting the Pepsi Center ablaze in the fourth quarter. The Nuggets have been battered in the paint (minus-38) and on the boards (minus-18) by a war-tested Spurs organization that has made the Playoffs 22 consecutive years. They deploy a mix of Playoff vets and newcomers who have tested the Nuggets’ young backcourt. In the grand scheme of things, this series probably doesn’t affect the Playoffs as a whole. The Spurs are good, but are they ‘top of the West’ good? Unlikely.
And what about these Nuggets? This is a squad that ran it back this year with almost the exact same roster that missed the Playoffs last year in overtime of the last game of the regular season. This year they mowed through the regular season and have produced the eighth youngest team that the Playoffs have ever seen. The Nuggets may not be ready for a deep Playoff run just yet, but what they can be is a heavy-handed Finals contender for years to come.
No one batted an eye when Denver offered Nikola Jokic a 5-year extension worth $148m before this season began. It seemed sensible to lock down a young big who lead his team in points, assists, and rebounds the previous season. This year Jokic was a first-time All-Star and received some MVP mentions as he lead Denver to the 2-seed in the West. Jokic is nearly averaging a triple-double in the first three games of his Playoff career, but the rest of his first unit can’t seem to help him get the Nuggets past the Spurs, thus far. To help lift that burden, Jokic will need other star players like Murray to step up and deliver.
Murray may be streaky, but when he’s hot, he’s very hot. If he can turn his three-pointer into a more consistent threat, Jamal will be the face of one of the deepest backcourts in the League. Backcourt mate Gary Harris missed a chunk of this season with a litany of injuries, but before this season was derailed he was starting to enter the top-5 shooting guard conversation. Lethal shooter Malik Beasley and the efficient scoring true-point Monte Morris round out a group that is barely old enough to grab beers together.
The core will all be back under contract next season alongside former All-Star Paul Milsap, Will Barton, and Torrey Craig. The Nuggets find themselves teetering towards a potential first-round exit from the Playoffs, but this year serves as a test run for a Nuggets future that looks as bright as gold. Oh yeah, and we haven’t even talked about what Michael Porter Jr. could be once he returns.
As many have speculated, we may be seeing the end of the Warriors dynasty, regardless of outcomes this postseason. If Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson leave, the West will open in a way it hasn’t in 5 years. The Rockets, Blazers, and Nuggets all have a fighting chance this year to put up some sort of fight against the former champs, but out of those teams, the Nuggets have one of the lowest floors and highest ceilings with their stable of young and capable players.