Denver Nuggets 2020 Playoff Preview
USA TODAY Sports
All season long, all eyes have been on the Battle of LA. The Lakers and Clippers demand quite a bit of gravity, and so perhaps there hasn’t been enough attention paid to the other premier teams in the West.
The Denver Nuggets have a true superstar in Nikola Jokic, who was even more efficient this season. Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap played well, and the team has a few intriguing young players waiting in the wings.
In short, this Nuggets team has a lot to work with in the war chest.
With Jokic, Denver plays an interesting inside-out style game that is unique and effective. The club played with the second slowest pace of any team in the league during the regular season. They share the ball at a high rate, and rarely commit turnovers.
At the same time, the Nuggets don’t shoot the ball from deep particularly well. Their defense is a little pedestrian, and they don’t stop the fast break.
Denver went 3-5 in the Bubble, but had some injury/COVID issues. Likewise, head coach Mike Malone used this stretch to showcase some of the team’s intriguing young players. Now they face the Utah Jazz in the opening round of the postseason.
Biggest Strength: Versatility
Nikola Jokic is a singular talent. He’s one of the most gifted passers in the game today, but stands 7’0”.
Jokic has a solid post game, but can also step outside and shoot. He rebounds. He quarterbacks the fast-break.
By some regards, the Nuggets will go as far as Jokic takes them. But they don’t need him to do everything every night. Instead, Denver has quite a few players who can step up and be the go to guy during any given contest.
Six Nuggets players averaged double-digit points this regular season. Almost all of them can pass and rebound adequately. This isn’t a team of specialists, neatly fit together. Instead, the Nuggets are a collection of solid, athletic, switchy guys who support each other quite well.
Biggest Weakness: Defense
Much of the above applies to the offensive side of the ball. On defense, the Nuggets don’t have much that inspires.
The team isn’t abysmal defensively, far from it. Again, they have the personnel to throw out a number of different looks. But they don’t have many true stoppers, and across the board, they’re sort of just mediocre on D.
They don’t guard the three-point line all that well, for example, and teams shoot just fine against the Nuggets, despite the immense length. On any given night Denver can lock in and shut things down, but they haven’t shown a knack for doing so consistently.
Team’s X-Factor: Jamal Murray
Will Barton and Gary Harris are injured, and Jamal Murray is still nursing himself back to health. If the fourth year wing can stay healthy, he could prove pivotally important for the Nugs.
Murray’s shooting was pretty solid this year. But it’s his play-making that will really be critical. He averaged 4.8 assists this year. The Nuggets need some real dynamism from their second star to befuddle the best defenses in the West.
Players to Watch: Michael Porter Jr.
Michael Porter Jr. has played just 55 games as a pro, and yet he’s among the most exciting young guns in the league. This was certainly the case in the Bubble.
Mike Malone was being coy with protecting his key players, and so the youth movement in Denver got a lot of burn. MPJ did not disappoint.
Importantly, he represents an intriguing front court partner for Nikola Jokic. Porter Jr. is also long and hard to pin down. He and Jokic already have a nice little two-man game going, too.
Estimated Playoff Run: Second-round exit
Expect the Nuggets to hold their own against the Jazz in the first-round. That doesn’t feel like breaking news.
That would put them on a collision course with the Los Angeles Clippers. Here star power could assert itself, with LAC taking firm control of that series.
The Nuggets will presumably give it a tough go. But the much more experienced Clippers likely have the edge.