The Nuggets are unlikely to have star guard Jamal Murray this season as he recovers from a torn ACL, and it’s a brutal blow to a team that would otherwise be a real contender in the West. Denver is still all-in this season because they have the reigning MVP Nikola Jokic in the prime of his career. Jokic will maximize the supporting cast around him — led by Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon — to keep Denver competitive in the West, but this team still feels like it’s lacking championship upside without its top guard.
Jamal Murray returns to full health following ACL surgery after the All-Star break and is fully comfortable with playoff basketball by April. Nikola Jokić repeats his MVP level performance. While he’s out, Michael Porter Jr. takes on a larger scoring role and pushes for an All-Star appearance. The Nuggets piece together a solid backcourt rotation that includes rookie Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland. Aaron Gordon (and new addition Jeff Green) help tie the rotation together to help the Nuggets grab a Top 3 seed in the West, and Denver’s overall talent level pushes them to their first Finals appearance in franchise history.
Jamal Murray’s return to full health is delayed, and he doesn’t play with the same confidence an aggression that he showed prior to tearing his ACL. While he’s out, the Nuggets struggle to find solutions beyond Nikola Jokić. If Porter doesn’t take the scoring leap and the backcourt becomes too reliant on Jokić to create offense, the Nuggets will struggle. If the Nuggets also face similar injury issues in their backcourt to last season, they will finish closer to the Play-In tournament than a Finals appearance.
Michael Porter Jr. experiences steady growth as a scorer and playmaker next to Jokić, with bumps along the way but the overall trajectory towards All-Star status still on track. Denver will be dependent on solid production from Will Barton, Aaron Gordon, and Monte Morris to supplement their star scorers, and if they stay healthy, the Nuggets will be in line for home court advantage in the first round. Beyond that, it will all depend on Murray’s return, and expectations should be tempered. He will definitely be good, but expecting All-Star caliber performances immediately may be too much.
It seems like the NBA world acknowledges that Nikola Jokić is very good but still struggles to give him proper credit for what he has accomplished. He won an MVP at 26 years old, has been an All-Star and All-NBA three times in a row, and there’s no indication that he has stopped improving. I look forward to him defending his MVP in the only way he knows how: not caring about it and focusing on team success. The Nuggets need the best version of him to remain afloat, and there’s no reason to think he won’t be awesome once again.
Nah'Shon "Bones" Hyland