The Denver Nuggets are in a precarious spot. Their championship window is open with a core group of players that have star potential. For them to recognize the potential, there are a few questions they have to answer. Is Jeff Green an underrated signing? Can Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr form a big three with the reigning MVP? Speaking of, can Nikola Jokic repeat as MVP? And will everything fall into place for Denver to get home court in the first round of the playoffs?
We’ve got you covered with our Fact or Fiction series. It features the boldest and biggest claims being made about the Nuggets and offers you the answer with a decisive fact or fiction.
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Jeff Green is an underrated addition
The addition of JaMychal Green was a success last season. Why not add another J. Green this season? In short, the team let “dad” Paul Millsap walk in free agency. As beloved and significant as he was in getting this team to where they are, it was apparent he no longer fit what this team needs. The addition of Green provides more reliable depth to the frontcourt that struggled to do much of anything when Jokic was off the floor. He’s a guy that can make some shots on the perimeter and is a good physical player inside, despite being undersized.
It’s clear the Nuggets remain committed to playing small ball bench units with not using JaVale McGee, instead opting for Millsap and Jmyke as the primary bench frontcourt. J. Green squared should be a better tandem than what was left of Millsap. He shouldn’t be asked to do too much. He just needs to be steady and produce on both ends. There’s volatility across the rest of the bench. It’s ultimately the biggest question for this team. If Jeff Green can be a stabilizing force, that will help this bench a lot.
Where it gets tricky is what to do with your second-year first-round pick Zeke Nnaji. This signing makes the likelihood of him getting consistent rotation minutes a lot less likely. That said, as a Nnaji believer, I’m not a huge fan, but it makes sense. You need guys you can rely on, and he can be a reliable piece that you just don’t know if you can get from a young guy. By and large, this signing hasn’t been talked about enough. He’s going to have a significant and vital role with this team. There’s a shot he could end up being the team’s sixth man just given his reliability.
Verdict: Fact, Jeff Green is an underrated signing
Can Michael Porter Jr and Jamal Murray form a big three with Nikola Jokic?
Murray and Jokic together have one of the best two-man games in the league. When it comes down to crunch time in the biggest moments of big games, every team knows it’s coming, and it’s still near impossible to stop. Jokic is essentially unguardable at this point, and Murray has shown an incredibly deep bag when creating space and shots for him and Jok. They are an elite duo that’s incredibly underrated. The unfortunate part is the ACL injury Murray suffered late last season. This becomes the big question for MPJ. Can he be a number two player on a championship-caliber team?
The short answer is yes. The better question is can it happen this year when he needs to keep the team afloat without Murray. It was obvious that he has some deficiencies in his game that just don’t work in the playoffs. He has to work on his handle and just his hands in general. Developing the ability to create more for himself would be a massive addition to an already historically good jumper. With Murray, this is less important because he can be the more ball-dominant shot-creating guard, allowing Porter to be a Klay Thompson type spot-up guy. His defense, while improved, still has quite a ways to go. He knows it and is a ridiculous worker. It’s a guarantee he’s been working on it, and we should see some added elements to his game.
Both guys’ best we’ve seen come with playing next to Jokic, but not necessarily with each other and Jokic. That was the question going into last year. It was shown they can play together and produce exceptionally well on the floor together. The trade for Aaron Gordon opened everything up. The lineup of Murray/Will Barton/Porter/Gordon/Jokic, granted in only ten games pre-Murray injury, was producing offense at an all-time rate. That group has the potential to challenge any offense in history. The better question would be if Gordon can make them a big 4.
Verdict: Fact, MPJ, and Jamal Murray can form a big three with Nikola Jokic
The Nuggets are a top-three team in the west
I don’t want to rule it out, but a lot has to go right, and this team’s margin for error has gotten much smaller. It’s hard to overestimate what the Nuggets are losing with Murray out. Monte Morris will have to step up as the starting point guard, Facundo Campazzo will have to step up with a greater role on the bench, PJ Dozier is the biggest x-factor for this team. The guards will have to all step up to a bigger role than they had last year. Gordon will have to step up more from the role he fell into after the trade from Orlando. Porter will have to develop into a number two guy.
The west is stacked. A few small errors, even for a really good team (see the Lakers last year), can put you in the play-in tournament. The margin for those errors is much smaller without the walking nuclear bomb Murray can be. As many jokes as we can make about the “old man” Lakers, they are sure to come back and look like a powerhouse once again. The Phoenix Suns have maintained most of their pieces, including their main core of Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and Chris Paul. So many times, I said the Utah Jazz would fall off because they were so reliant on the three. It didn’t happen. They were unbelievably good and consistent all season.
For the Nuggets, they’ve been a top-four seed each of the last three years. I don’t think that matters this year. Keep Jokic rested and the team healthy. That has to be the key for them. They are a formidable matchup for any team in the league when healthy. As long as they get to the playoffs (avoid the play-in) and keep guys healthy while reintegrating, Murray will make for a successful regular season.
Verdict: Fiction, the Denver Nuggets will not be a top-three team in the west
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