We are one week away from the start of the 2022-23 NBA season and beyond Looking at the championship cases of the seven teams, the Vegas Sharps top the league, I decided to take a closer look at a few other teams that I find particularly compelling as we tiptoe towards the tip. Our look at the most interesting teams in the NBA—for me, if not necessarily everyone else—begins with a question of faith in Mile High City.
How much can you believe in 117 minutes?
That’s not quite two hours; It’s the runtime of The Big Lebowski.“ It’s also less than two and a half regular NBA games — not exactly the most robust sample size for drawing broad conclusions and jeopardizing a franchise’s future.
But what if all that guided you Up until those 117 minutes, were you sure what you saw in it was real? The years of scouting, scrimmage, scrambling, and sacrifice, the countless hours of film study, player development work, and talking about what kind of basketball team you wanted to build—what if all of this pointed to exactly what you put together , on What did you see with your own eyes? How much could you believe in that back then?
By the time they open this new campaign, it will be more than 18 months since we last saw the Denver Nuggets as they were meant to be. Circumstances conspired to limit the team that envisioned Denver’s brass to a mere cameo appearance. Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon – who were added at the 2021 trade deadline as a hoped-for missing piece in a potential championship jigsaw puzzle from Orlando – played together in just five games before Murray tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. However, this three-week teaser provided enough offensive fireworks and defensive opportunities to get NBA watchers to stand up and pay attention.
Denver was devastating on offense, confounding and twisting defense with a rare combination of size and skill. Each action revealed new horrors for the opponents. Shade too much help towards Jokic and he would drop the ball over the top to one of his super athletic giant cutters. Hang on to Gordon and Porter as they clip the ball and you’ll likely let go of Murray, who has been flirting 50-40-90 for three full months, for a clean look.
Get help early to get the cutter through the alley and you may have left Porter, a catch-and-shoot threat that sometimes resembles a 6-foot-10 Klay Thompson, open in the corner. Bring it on too late and there’s Gordon, deep inside, leaping up to reverse-dunk you to the top of your skull. Swap everything around to avoid creating any rifts that you can exploit, and oops: you just landed on Jokic with a guard who’s about to make him hell.
Denver scored 127.2 points per 100 non-garbage-time possessions with Jokic, Murray, Porter and Gordon on the floor, according to Cleaning the Glass — a rate of offensive efficiency so ridiculously hot that the KD-era warriors like a Curious looking and cute little attack. It’s the worst kind of choose-your-own-adventure story: whichever path you choose, whichever page you turn, you’re dead.
The addition of Gordon also solidified Denver’s defense, flanking Jokic — a powerful and positional center with active hands but not exactly imposing rim protection — with two athletic 7-foot-span forwards who could come in from the weak side to take shots at the to contest the edge and clear the defense boards. Gordon also filled the Nuggets’ biggest void, serving as a true 1-to-5 defender capable of taking on the toughest of assignments, be they big wings or smaller guards. The Nuggets conceded 110.1 points per 100 in Jokic-Murray-MPJ-Gordon minutes — a top-five mark over the course of an entire season.
The Nuggets went to Los Angeles, glared at Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, and hit the Clippers wire-to-wire, holding the NBA’s No. 3 offense to just 94 points on 41 percent shooting; Their loss in those five games came en route to Golden State the night they lost Murray. The theory was confirmed, the pieces all fitted and the results were fantastic: the Nuggets outperformed their opponents by 46 points in 117 minutes with their top four players on the court. But then Murray went under before the 2021 playoffs, and then Porter went under at the start of the 2022 season, forcing Denver’s dream to rest even as Jokic put the franchise on his back, a pair of MVP trophies on his mantle and a two disappointing ones (if expected) Post-season losses on his resume.
Now, however, Murray and Porter are back, tapping off the preseason rust and eager to get back to the business of blitzing clueless defences. So much about the league has changed since we last saw them together, but the fundamental fundamentals of what made this Denver core look so special and dangerous — the size and interchangeability of Gordon and Porter on the forwards, the huge targets they give Jokic, the strain their off-ball movement puts on defense, the opportunity for all sorts of interesting screening combinations with eager pick-setter Murray, the defensive switchability on the wing, the overall firepower – should still be there
In addition, the pieces surrounding this foursome could be even more terrifying. Will Barton, the acclaimed People’s Champion, was a stalwart spark plug in Denver for nearly a decade. He was also a reed-thin shooting guard, often undersized and overwhelmed when defending on the touchline, shooting 36 percent up and down as a nugget from 3-point range, and who was always better at creating the ball with his hands as finishing plays the catch. He went to Washington in favor of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — a stronger and more versatile full-back who’s shot 39.5 percent from deep over the past three seasons and who has played an important, low-utilization 3-and-D role in the bubble . Champ Lakers. He should be a pivotal throw alongside Denver’s big four as a handover partner for Jokic, who can shoot on the move and show up on the weak side of primary action. and Shadow opposing scorers all over the floor. (Barton’s move to DC was joined by Lord Monte Morris, who supported the assists-to-turnovers ratio, giving rising sophomore Bones Hyland more room to take on a bigger role as an on-ball playmaker with Denver’s second unit .)
Joining KCP in Denver’s revamped Wing Corps is all-round talent Bruce Brown Jr., who began his NBA life as a backup with the Pistons and has carved out a surprise role as a small-ball star in Brooklyn, defending everyone. Brown arrives in Colorado on a two-year, $13 million deal as a 6’4 bulldog with a 6’9 wingspan who can guard up and down the position spectrum while giving Jokic another live wire cutter, another spot-up shooting threat (if last season’s 40.4 percent mark is remotely legit) and possibly another crazy inverted pick-and-roll partner.
It’s possible that in the postseason any defense built around Jokic will always be vulnerable to opponents getting small, spreading them out and trying to force the big guy to help and defend in space. However, it seems likely that a version of the Nuggets that can field Gordon, Caldwell-Pope, Brown and the cantankerous Murray in the attacking center would have a significantly better chance of making it in the playoff crucible than those who had it in relying heavily on Barton, Morris and Austin Rivers for the last two seasons. Combine Caldwell-Pope and Brown with the expected forward strides from the likes of versatile big man Zeke Nnaji, who could defend and shoot 47 percent from three during a lengthy stint in last season’s rotation in space, and swingmen Dazu Reed and Christian Braun and head coach Michael Malone may have a greater degree of flexibility to mix and match his coverage depending on the situation. (It’s all spat here, but Brown, Gordon, Nnaji and the immortal Jeff Green feel like the start of a pretty solid defensive unit when Jokic needs a breather.)
Never shy from the burden of high expectations, Malone has made it his goal to have this year’s Nuggets in the top five in defense in the NBA. That would be a massive leap for a team that finished 15th in points allowed per possession last season. (And in fact, it hasn’t cracked the top 5 in a year since 1996-97, the first year the NBA tracked play-by-play data.) It’s a worthy goal, though: if the new recruits and returning players can help Denver get revenge close into the top 5, that stability coupled with a ball-moving offense with multiple shot creators and finishers, led by a two-time MVP, both historically elite and just getting better could be incredibly difficult to manage.
Maybe that’s not enough. Given how stacked the West has become, it’s possible that even a healthy and retooled version of the Nuggets won’t have what it takes on either end to survive the conference gauntlet and advance to the finals for the first time since Larry Brown’s coaching she in mod fits into the ABA. I’m excited to see them try though. The team that built Denver before Murray’s injury ruined it all was brilliant, made sense and felt real. Maybe those 117 minutes aren’t very believable. But it’s a heck of a lot more than what most teams have.