The trajectory of the Denver Nuggets doesn’t follow the normal patterns of a young, up and coming team or of an MVP injected team. It would be plausible that a core of Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic, and Micheal Porter Jr. would be capable of conference finals and finals appearances. Yet, the past two years we have seen Jokic win back-to-back MVP’s, only to be bounced in the first round of the playoffs. This doesn’t tell the whole story though.  During the craziness of the bubble year, Denver was able to make it to the conference finals and it seemed like only a matter of time before this team would be back in that same position. The problem is that, like many teams that year, the Nuggets never were able to reach that level of health or success. Both Murray and Porter Jr. would struggle with health throughout the 2021 and 2022 season, seemingly forcing Jokic to play at this MVP level to even make it to the playoffs. Now, it looks Denver is going to be at peak health heading into the season, and their place in the league is very much debatable. They could be grouped with the mediocre teams with a superstar like Portland and L.A, or with some of the teams that have an outside (but not impossible) shot at the title like Memphis or Miami. This team has just so many unknowns, and that is why it will be so interesting to see where this team lands in 2023. 

What is successful season?

For any team in the NBA, winning the championship is the final goal. The reality is that maybe seven teams have a legit shot at even making the Finals. For the Nuggets, the biggest goal is establishing that both Murray and Porter Jr. haven’t lost any part of their game to injury. They are trying to push themselves to the upper echelon of the West, and really prove that a core of Murray, Jokic, and Porter Jr. can compete with the best of the league. That would be success for Denver, and could take many forms throughout the season. It could be All-Star selections, deep playoff runs, or even just competitive series against the top dog teams like the Warriors. Whatever the form is, it’s vital that the almost two years of Jokic brilliance that had been “wasted” while waiting for a healthy Murray and MPJ is repaid in the next few years. 

How do the Nuggets stack up? 

Obviously the biggest additions to the roster will be Jamal Murray and Micheal Porter Jr., but the additions don’t stop there. The Nuggets made multiple additions this offseason with the acquisition of both Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown. Brown offers the ability to go small or play next to Jokic at the four spot, and adds a level of hustle and intensity that made him so valuable to the Nets. The addition of KCP and drafting of Christian Braun brings more shooting and defense to the wings. Caldwell-Pope is one of the better 3-d players, and will add even more space for the offense to operate in. Braun offers the potential to fit that 3-d role as well, but also flashed playmaking at Kansas and could serve as another offensive weapon. There is also the internal development of Bones Hyland, who served as the primary point guard last year but can move more into a 6th man role that would fit his strengths even better. 

Where in the West?

Looking into the West, Denver has always been in playoff contention and will continue to be as long as Jokic plays near his MVP level. The real question is where the Nuggets land coming into the season, and that is most likely going to be as a second tier team. This is right below the Suns, Grizzlies, and Warriors and puts the Nuggets on similar ground with the Clippers, Mavs, and Pelicans. Coming into the season, these teams have dealt with injuries or rely on a subpar supporting cast which puts them one step below the championship level teams. Of course this could all change during the season, and will almost certainly change come the playoffs. The biggest question will be if the Nuggets can take advantage of the talent and chances that come their way, and if they can get hot at the right time to make a Mavericks type playoff run. 

Top Image: Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

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