With the NBA’s All-Star weekend upon us, the Denver Nuggets have been quite the buzz in Charlotte. The Joker makes his first appearance.
Nikola Jokic, who on Wednesday moved into a tie for 13th place in NBA history (with Michael Jordan) for triple-doubles enjoys a well-deserved spot on captain Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s squad. the Serbian phenom is rapidly moving up lists that proves he, at 23, is a generational talent.
I mean, we can attach all the qualifiers we want to his accomplishments but to rise to 13th in NBA history at 23 is an accomplishment that can’t be dismissed. I was reminiscing today with a lifelong friend about our shared Nuggets experiences. We spoke of what this Nuggets team could accomplish and I let out that in my heart-of-hearts, I believe this team can beat the Golden State Warriors in a seven-game series.
I know, I know.
We could debate forever the guards but I believe Monte Morris, Isaiah Thomas and Jamal Murray trump Stephen Curry and Shaun Livingston. I think Gary Harris and Malik Beasley are better than Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala. Kevin Durant wins small forward and Paul Millsap is a wash with Draymond Green but Nikola Jokic and Mason Plumlee simply crush DeMarcus Cousins and Kevon Looney.
Regarding Cousins, while he’s dominated Jokic in the past, it’s been a while since Boogie has seen the Joker. Jokic is 265 lb. now and the book on him that you can physically back him down has been closed. Nikola has also shed the ‘defensive liability’ label. While the moniker never really fit, Jokic has been a steady, smart defender this season.
Jokic belongs in Charlotte and in about the next 15-17 All-Star Games. It is a privilege to watch him play in Denver and now in front of the world.
The other standout Nuggets participant in Charlotte is head coach Michael Malone. By virtue of the Nuggets record, he’s the coach of team LeBron for the Sunday tilt. In an interesting twist, Malone will be coaching against Jokic in the game which should provide some entertainment. Malone’s story is steeped in Americana. He’s willed himself to this position and he belongs just as much as Jokic. For those interested in Malone’s story, The Athletic’s Nick Kosmider wrote a fantastic piece on the coach’s journey. I would like to point out that Nick’s slug is a bit long and could use some shortening.
In that same conversation with my friend, we noted how often at the end of games opposing players made a point to talk to or embrace Malone. It’s a thing that really stands out, players league-wide adore Malone. Isaiah Thomas is in Denver because of him, LeBron James was excited to have his old friend (Malone was a Cleveland assistant) coaching him this weekend. The Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors, previous stops on Malone’s resume remain close.
Maybe one of the most endearing thing about the coach was the video of him leaving Wednesday’s game after being ejected and accepting a candy bar from Denver superfan Vicki Ray. His connection to people transcends basketball and the Nuggets are lucky to have him. The newly extended Tim Connelly knows.
This Denver team is special, they are well regarded and a big part of discussions in Charlotte. It’s been a long time coming for beleaguered Nuggets fans but it is getting very close to the time we can trust in the process (sorry, Joel Embiid) that’s brought us here.