• Adam Uribes

3 Piece Nugget

The Denver Nuggets enter this upcoming season on the precipice of doing something they haven’t done since the 2012-2013, qualify for the NBA playoffs. In boasting some of the most promising young players in the NBA today, Denver is banking that the full maturation of those players, along with recent free-agent signee, Paul Millsap, will help them keep pace with the rest of the imposing Western Conference.

Any team, from championship-contender to struggling franchise, has its core of players that it builds on with an eye toward future success. The Nuggets are no different in that these three key players will be counted on to be the cornerstone of this team for years to come and hopefully lead them towards postseason success. In no particular order, here are three young Nuggets, who will be most vital to this year’s team.

Nikola Jokic

The European big man made a splash in his first full season as the team’s starting center. While the center turned some heads, literally and figuratively, with his passing ability, Jokic also led the Nuggets in rebounding at 9.8 a game and was second on the team in scoring, with 16.7 points per game. Now, with Danilo Gallinari leaving for greener pastures in Los Angeles, Jokic is the unquestioned best player in Denver and looks to land his first all-star game bid this upcoming season.

It’s a no-brainer that Jokic is, far and away, the best player on the team and most crucial to the success of Denver this upcoming season. No further evidence is needed of how important Jokic is when looking at a three game stretch last season where the big man went down with an injury, which resulted in Denver becoming unorganized on offense and going only 1-2. Just 22 years old, Jokic is barely starting to scratch the surface of his enormous talent that the Nuggets hope will guide them into postseason play.

Jamal Murray

It’s not a matter of if, but when, Murray takes his spot with the starting five for this upcoming season. Playing with a sports hernia for all of last year before finally having the injury corrected this past offseason, Murray remarkably played in all 82 of the Nuggets’ games last season and posted respectable numbers in points (9.9), three-point percentage (33.4%) and assists (2.1) despite only averaging 21 minutes a game. With Murray now fully healthy and Emmanuel Mudiay’s role with Denver still being very much in limbo, he figures to be running the show at some point soon for the Nuggets.

Murray has the ability of playing both guard spots in the backcourt and was initially recruited at Kentucky to play point guard (and would have if not for another talented point guard in Tyler Ulis). The Nuggets think so highly of the second-year guard that they rebuffed any attempts to include him in trade discussions over the summer. Despite a slow start to his rookie season, Murray came on strong and looked to man the point for the Nuggets in much the same style that Steph Curry does for the Golden State Warriors. After a full winter in the team’s strength and conditioning program, Murray has added size and strength, which should make him even more durable and explosive for this upcoming season.

Gary Harris

Harris doesn’t get the publicity of Jokic nor does he get the sky-high projections of Murray or even Mudiay. All of that hasn’t stopped the former Michigan State Spartan from being one of the best kept secrets in the NBA, hitting his stride last season and becoming another blossoming player for Denver who hasn’t yet hit the age of 25. Harris was arguably the best perimeter defender on the team, in addition to shooting 50.2 percent from behind the three-point line in route to averaging a career-best 14.9 points a game.

Every team needs the type of player who will match up against an opponent’s best offensive threat and Harris has been called upon to do just that for the past two seasons. Ever since a sluggish rookie season under since-departed coach, Brian Shaw, Harris has made himself a versatile two-way player who can lock someone up on one end of the floor and either shoot effectively from the wing or throw it down in your face at the other end. Despite being under contract till 2019, the Nuggets front office is already starting the process of keeping Harris in the Mile High City for the foreseeable future.

Once known as the team that Carmelo Anthony forsake to go back home and play on the east coast, the future of the Denver Nuggets is getting hoops fan in the Rocky Mountains excited at the idea that their team is close to breaking through to bigger and better things. In Jokic, Murray and Harris, the Nuggets finally have the talent to make some noise in the Western Conference and are young enough that they should be good for some time to come. That alone should give pause to the rest of the West, showing that Denver isn’t just a good place to go skiing anymore.

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