The upstart Sixers are widely acknowledged as one of league’s best defenses with Joel Embiid on floor.
My question: Why aren’t the Denver Nuggets recognized as the best offense with Nikola Jokic in the starting 5?
As surprising as that may be to many, that’s the truth. And nothing but. This team is electric with Jokic at the point – strike that – as the fulcrum of the offense. Not just electric, but elite. Since December 15, Denver has had the top offense in the NBA. Going 15-12, the “Mile High City” has outscored the opposition by a whopping eight points per 100 possessions while Jokic has been on the floor. In other words, for the majority of the season the Nuggets have been better than the cheat code Warriors at putting the ball in the hoop.
The reason? Mr. Nikola Jokic. Since December 15, “The Joker” has put up an astounding 20.6 points, 10.4 boards, and 5.7 assists on 59 percent shooting while knocking down 42 percent of his threes. For the record, this is not an anomaly, he’s shooting 37 percent on the season from beyond the arc. Now, to be fair, they do still lag on defense. Denver comes in at the lowest defensive efficiency in the league. Part of it due to their big men being less than stellar rim-protectors. But the offensive potency of this team alone means something – something very relevant to the future of the upper echelon of the Western Conference.
Yes, Minnesota is what they call a sure thing. They will be very good and might be gracing the Western Conference Finals by 2020. But so might Denver.
Earlier this season, when fans and writers alike were making the pilgrimage to Philadelphia to lay myrrh, incense, and gold at Joel Embiid’s feet, one fan base was notably outraged. All of these articles were asking if Embiid had assumed the title of best big man in the NBA, comparing him to the likes of Boogie Cousins, the Brow, Marc Gasol, KAT, and Kristaps Porzingis. However, no one has included Nikola Jokic in those comparisons. He wasn’t mentioned in Bill Simmons’ “Unicorn Rankings.” And he was left off of the All-Star roster with none of the outrage that Trust the Process phanatics had thrown at Eastern Conference voters. No more. The well-deserved hype is finally here. And after acknowledging the Joker’s status as a franchise cornerstone, now we can start to ask: is his supporting cast better than the competition (i.e. Simmons, Covington and company, or Air Lavine and recently risen Andrew Wiggins)? The question needs answering – especially after we see what kind of return the Nuggets can get for dealing their star veterans (which neither Philly nor Minnesota has the good luck of rostering).
Earlier I wrote a piece on what the Nuggets could do this season if they let Jokic start and the young backcourt made improvements. While at least half of that prediction has come true, there’s a good case to be made for the latter half as well. Jamal Murray has shown spurts of microwave scoring that puts him squarely in the top-3 of any savvy 2016 re-drafts. And Gary Harris has become a quality two-way threat at the league’s weakest position. So much so in fact, that Coach Michael Malone said he didn’t believe it was a coincidence that the Nuggets have played very well since his return. Despite Mudiay’s inconsistencies, he boasts potential at least on par with say, Kris Dunn. And we haven’t even started to discuss the young depth Will Barton provides, or the asset return they may get for Danilo Galinari and Kenneth Faried.
Luckily they jumpstarted the dealing last week. All things considered, this team might be in better position than either of the two young promising squads out of Minnesota and Philly, especially considering how far along they are right now. Last year the big man took the Nuggets to a .500 record when he graced the starting lineup. This season is a whole different story. This year, Denver’s record when Jokic starts without his kryptonite Jusuf Nurkic on the floor would be on pace for an impressive 47-win season. This isn’t a matter of if, so much as a matter of when.
This team is destined for greatness. So for goodness sakes: let’s start talking about what pieces Jokic needs around him to challenge a team like the Clippers. Who starts at the 4? To keep Mudiay or not to keep Mudiay? And perhaps most importantly should they put together a godfather offer to land an All-Star wing like Paul George or Jimmy Butler? Call me crazy, but contending could be as early as this season in the form of taking Golden State to six games in the first round.
Ultimately, finding a promising young wing or guard could also be fulfilled with the right draft pick this summer. Jonathan Issac, Jaysun Tatum, Josh Jackson, and others could fill their spot on the wing for years to come. Meanwhile this year offers a plethora of young point guards as well if they decide to move on from Mudiay. If Jokic goes down with an injury don’t be surprised if Denver racks up a few losses to get into the middle of the lottery. If not, look for them to make a big trade to move up in the draft or hunt to acquire a big talent in free agency. If Jokic doesn’t get hurt and the Pelicans don’t go on a massive run to end 2016-17, this team becomes a good bet to make the playoffs in the West this year, next year, and for many more years to come.
Enjoy the show, because the Joker is wild in Denver.
“A pass makes two people happy…”