Hot Take Marathon: The Denver Nuggets Will Finish as The West's One-Seed, Nikola Jokic Bags MVP
The Denver Nuggets have been climbing the ladder of contention in the NBA's tougher conference over the past couple seasons; after a relatively successful playoff run last year, the Nuggets are primed to make yet another leap over the course of the 2019-2020 regular season. In contrast to the startling amount of roster turnover that swept over the Western Conference's pool of contenders this summer, Denver will be running back a reloaded squad that boasts plenty of continuity and tactical familiarity.
Considering that the Nuggets finished last season as the West's two-seed (with a record of 54-28), a one-spot improvement should not be considered too hot of a take, especially when their current roster boasts both the requisite skill and depth to navigate the NBA's 82-game regular season. Their biggest addition this offseason came in the form of Jerami Grant, a skilled forward who can space the floor while defending multiple positions; his arrival should excite plenty of Nuggets fans, as he seems to be the perfect compliment to their incumbent superstar, Nikola Jokic.
And really, Jokic's portion in the title is where this take finds its Scoville units starting to spike, as a bona fide centre has not taken home the MVP award since the 1999-2000 season (when Shaquille O'Neal won it while playing for the Los Angeles Lakers). Many will point to the glut of superstar wings in the league, and argue that there is an inherent narrative bias against big men, as their role has been diminished during the NBA's three-point revolution.
Well, someone better tell Jokic, because he's been putting up numbers.
He's been doing so while piloting a team that boasts elite offensive and defensive chops, with the Nuggets finishing last season in the top-10 of both offensive and defensive rating - hallmarks of a superb regular season team with excellent roster composition.
Last year, in just his fourth NBA season, the superstar Serb averaged a per-game line of 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 7.3 assists. His shooting from beyond the arc was actually a career-low, at 30.7%, so a regression to the mean in the shooting department would portend a natural scoring boost for the increasingly fit big man.
You can bet that with improved perimeter weapons (including the aforementioned Grant, a healthy Michael Porter Jr., and a more consistent Jamal Murray), Jokic will only continue to see his numbers rise while leading an improved team to a better regular season record and lengthier playoff run.
Things will get hot in hurry if the Nuggets can pull off a highly anticipated trade for Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal. Just imagine an all-world shooting backcourt of Jamal Murray and Beal, operating with a nightly triple-double playmaking threat at the five-spot, while flanked with plus defenders capable of switching assignments all over the court.
But even without that trade, the Nuggets have the goods to deliver on an expectation-loaded season with the Joker at the helm.
Should Denver finish the upcoming season as the West's one-seed, with a win total north of 58, an approximate per-game line of 23.0 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 9.0 assists (with above-average defense) should earn Jokic the individual accolade he rightly deserves. Should he take home the award, just remember: this Nikola called it first.