When Jamal Murray limped off the court on May 12th, the Denver Nuggets hopes of a deep playoff run seemed to go with him. Losing their star point guard was a huge blow, and yet the Nuggets won 7 of their next 8 after Murray was injured. The Nuggets are fourth in the West, and locked in a battle with the Clippers for the 3rd spot. Even though Denver lost their star point guard, they have not lost any ground.

Michael Porter Jr.  

When the Denver Nuggets drafted Porter Jr. in 2018, he was considered a boom or bust prospect. Coming off a big injury in college, he had the talent to make it in the NBA but the injury history was a concern. Denver took a gamble and it has paid off in a huge way. He is averaging 20ppg and has been popping off after Murray went down with injury. Murray was averaging 20ppg, and having Porter Jr. deliver more and more 25+ point games helps take the offensive load off Jokic. Porter Jr. is also a gifted iso scorer, as a 6’10 wing who can move like a guard. When the Nuggets need a bucket they can rely on the two man game of Porter Jr. and Jokic, which will be very crucial to the success of this team come playoff time. 

The Joker 

This is the obvious one. I wrote an entire article about how great Nikola Jokic has been this season, and he has been playing well enough to keep this team afloat. The one thing I want to focus on right now is Jokic’s passing ability. This is the difference maker that has set him apart all season, and it is helping now more than ever. No one on the Nuggets can really create shots for themselve, except for MPJ, and with the Joker’s ability to find the open guys makes it so much easier on the rest of the team. Instead of having to try and consistently get past their guy in order to score a bucket, the rest of the team can make a cut and get an easy bucket or stand at the three point line and catch and shoot. 

This example right here shows how much easier it is on the rest of the team to get buckets. Austin Rivers is in the corner waiting for someone to drive or make a move, completely out of the play. Jokic loses the handle on the ball and immediately gets double teamed. A lot of teams would pass it out and reset the situation, forcing a secondary playmaker to make something happen. Instead, Jokic finds the wide open Rivers in the corner for a wide open three. These are the kind of difference making plays that add up as the game goes on, and is what makes the Joker so special. 

Everyone else 

It was hard to find another big contributor other than Porter Jr and Jokic. Instead it seemed like everyone was sticking to their role and making the offense and defense function. The Nuggets are allowing the 12th least points on defense and scoring 115 ppg, 6th in the league. Aaron Gordan has been giving this team solid minutes after coming over from Orlando, and both Will Barton and Monte Morris are contributing. I could read off a list of 4-5 players that are making an impact, and not scoring 15-20 a night. This group effort keeps pressure off Jokic because everyone can score, and yet everyone needs Jokic to score. He opens the floor and creates open shots and driving lanes. It will be interesting to see how the Nuggets hold up without Jokic, especially come playoff time. 

Top Image: Kyle Terade, USA Today

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