Have expectations for the Denver Nuggets tempered? Has there been a national media campaign that’s brought us back to earth?
Not yet. For the first time in recent memory, the buzz surrounding the Nuggets is being legitimized around the league. ESPN published a ranking of the NBA’s young cores and had Denver 4th.
There’s been a mostly fun debate raging on Twitter comparing Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid. My view is that it’s so difficult to compare or rank players who have such different games and roles with their teams. My go-to evaluator is replacement.
For example, when there was debate over whether Kevin Durant had supplanted LeBron James atop the NBA elite list, I used the simplest of equations: If Kevin Durant had been the centerpiece of last year’s Cleveland Cavaliers, would they have made the NBA Finals?
The answer, by any objective standard, is absolutely not.
Using that method, I contemplate Jokic on last year’s Philadelphia squad and Embiid on Denver’s roster. I believe the Sixers have a relatively similar result, Nikola’s game would mesh well with Ben Simmons and Simmons would benefit greatly from Jokic’ particular skillset.
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Denver, on the other hand, would be disastrous with Embiid in the middle. Let’s be clear, Joel is a force, he’s freakishly good and he’s an Olajuwan-level defender. He just wouldn’t fit the rest of the Denver roster.
That’s the crux of the argument for Tim Connelly and Michael Malone. What they’ve built here (and the roster is finally all TC’s) is special and it is unique. We detailed earlier in the Summer that the Nuggets don’t need and honestly couldn’t use any of the top-level free-agents available. The only thing another “big” name will do in Denver is take the ball out of Nikola’s hands.
Does anyone think that’s a good idea?
What Denver has done well this offseason is add complimentary pieces. They didn’t panic and pursue a defensive player that would not fit the roster. They’re going to have to find the amount of defense they need from the current crew. It’s not as dire as it may seem. Jokic, by all reports, has worked hard this offseason on footwork. He’s lighter and faster. He took his PNR defensive shortcomings seriously. Millsap is an outstanding defender, Barton is disruptive in passing lanes, Harris can be a great defender and Murray…….well, Murrray’s defense isn’t traditional but he did have that steal-and-three attempt versus Milwaukee last year.
Isaiah Thomas will rock the zero on his chest, like he’s the best. He’s also guaranteed the Nuggets will make the playoffs. Beautiful words but at this point a playoff first-round appearance isn’t going to be enough. My honest, truthful, statement that es verdad:
Denver should be in the Western Conference Finals this season.
Thomas is a big reason why. Denver has the talent, Millsap added a strength and toughness to go with The Core’s finnesse. Thomas brings swagger, attitude. He also brings nearly 30 points a game, if he’s truly recovered from hip issues.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the retirement of Manu Ginobili. I was never a Ginobili fan. His brand of basketball had no integrity, in my opinion. I carried that attitude for 10 of Manu’s 16 years in the league. As time went on and my attitudes matured, I saw in Manu a drive, a resiliency and a competitive spirit that was undeniable. Grudging respect turned into an odd affection for the Argentine star in the last few years. I still could never stomach the flopping but when I paid attention, I discovered that was such a fringe part of what made him who he was. We hear a lot about indomitable spirits and other such hyperbole but Manu Ginobili was unique and the NBA will be less without him.
We are roughly six weeks from the Nuggets October 17 season opener against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Six weeks until Denver rises out of the middle-of-the-pack or breaks our hearts again. Any bets on which way it’s going?