The Denver Nuggets asserted themselves as one of the best teams in the league this season, but are they overlooked as genuine contenders?
The Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers stand as the two favorites to represent the Western Conference this season and make it to the NBA Finals. As predicted, those two stood atop the conference when the season halted, and any other team was written off by most. But what about the third-place Denver Nuggets?
The Nuggets quietly put together a fantastic season as they finished with a 43-22 record when the NBA suspended play back in March. They do not have a superstar duo as either of the LA teams do, but Nikola Jokic had another All-Star season, and Jamal Murray took another step forward as an ascending star.
More from Hoops Habit
- 2021 NBA Draft: 5 of the biggest draft night winners and losers
- Pistons: What to make of puzzling Mason Plumlee trade on NBA draft night
- Cleveland Cavaliers: Be excited, but patient, with Evan Mobley
- OKC Thunder: Why Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is an NBA Draft steal
- Orlando Magic: 3 takeaways from the 2021 NBA Draft
Still, may do not see this Denver team as a legitimate contender yet, but should they? Jamal Murray thinks so. Per Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN,
“We know we can go win the title,” the Nuggets’ guard said in a Zoom call with Denver reporters. “Me and Joker [Nikola Jokic] have been in Denver this whole time, working out.”
“Why not?” Murray later replied when asked about winning it all. “We have proven to be one of the best teams year in and year out since we have been building. We have beaten good teams consistently. We shouldn’t have lost to Portland [last year in the conference semifinals]. That was more on us, our inexperience and they are a good team. But we don’t think that there is a team that can beat us in a seven-game series when we are playing at our best.”
The guard also shared some compelling comments about Jokic, saying he took advantage of the time off to get into better shape.
“It is kind of weird to see him like this where he is a lot more athletic, he is moving a lot better.”
Jokic was already arguably the best center in the NBA before the pandemic and could be an even more lethal threat with his improved physique. Regardless, does Jamal Murray have a point about the Denver Nuggets, especially after the hiatus? Not yet.
Their star duo aside, Denver has a very well-rounded roster. With a mix of savvy veterans such as Paul Millsap, Jerami Grant, Will Barton, and others, mixed in with younger pieces such as Michael Porter Jr., Monte Morris, and Torrey Craig, the team has several substantial components to complement their duo. On paper, it looks as if this team could make some noise, but until they actually do so, they will not get taken seriously.
In terms of being overlooked, every team in the Western Conference that is not from Los Angeles gets overlooked. Those two juggernauts have been the favorites all season long, and until someone overtakes them, it will stay that way. Rightfully so as both teams have star-power unlike any other team in the conference.
There is no doubt that the Denver Nuggets are one of the best teams in the league, but they are not in the same tier as the LA teams in that upper echelon. That is by no means a knock to them, just a testament to how good those other teams are. Denver is undoubtedly on the rise, but legitimate championship contenders could be taking it a step too far at the moment.
With Jokic being 25 years old, Murray just 23, and the rest of their core besides Millsap reasonably young, the Nuggets need more time before they are a genuine threat. This postseason will be intriguing to see just how far this team can go, but their lack of experience compared to either of those LA teams will likely be a prominent factor in a potential matchup.
As good as the Nuggets are, it remains highly unlikely that either the Clippers or Lakers do not represent the Western Conference in this year’s NBA Finals.