Over the last few days since the Nuggets promptly did away with the Lakers after their 4-0 Western Conference finals sweep, there’s been lots of complaining from fans and NBA media folks alike. People have constantly been talking about how NBA Finals ratings will be down.
On top of that, instead of folks talking about the actual potential matchups ahead of us, most talk has been about LeBron James potentially retiring and what the Lakers could do next to improve their team.
And, look. I get it. It’s LeBron James. It’s the Lakers. Those are two enormous draws packed in tightly together. It’s easy money to talk about — that’s fine.
But then, as that conversation has died down a bit, we’ve had more and more people talk about how the Nuggets just aren’t all that interesting. Here’s Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix doing exactly that.
Not to take down Mannix in any way here — he’s a journalist who is good at his job. That’s why he’s been around for as long as he has. But he’s wrong here. There’s really no way around it.
Not only are the Nuggets a compelling team, but they’re incredibly fun and watchable. Just to prove it, here are 10 storylines surrounding the Denver Nuggets heading into the NBA Finals that we should all be paying attention to.
1 Denver just made its first NBA Finals in 47 years
That’s right. The Denver Nuggets have been an NBA franchise for 47 years. They’ve played thousands of games with hundreds of players rostered. The team has made 29 playoff appearances and played in 44 series.
Yet this is Denver’s first time making the NBA Finals. Here’s more from the Associated Press.
“It took 3,787 regular-season games and 29 trips to the playoffs, countless ripoffs of rainbow uniforms and even more ‘yeah, buts’ than any city should have to stomach. Finally, 47 seasons into an entertaining, often frustrating and almost always overlooked journey in the NBA, Denver is at the center of the basketball world.”
They’ve come close a number of times — including a few times against the Lakers, who the organization was 0-7 against before getting the sweep. But they’ve broken the curse and the Nuggets are in the finals.
That’s a pretty cool story.
2 Nikola Jokic is proving to be an all-time great player
Nikola Jokic has made history essentially every single time he’s stepped on the court this postseason.
The man has passed Wilt Chamberlain with the most triple-doubles in a single playoff appearance.
Nikola Jokic records his 8th triple-double of the playoffs, passing Wilt Chamberlain for most in a single postseason.
Most Triple-Doubles in Single Postseason
2023 Nikola Jokic 8
1967 Wilt Chamberlain 7
1982 Magic Johnson 6
2019 Draymond Green 6 pic.twitter.com/xtQn82jSk4
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 23, 2023
He also became the fourth player in league history to average a triple-double in a conference finals appearance. That is beyond impressive and definitely worth talking about. He’s climbing up the NBA’s rankings and is going to be regarded as one of the best players we’ve ever seen when it’s all said and done.
We’re a long way away from that, folks.
3 How did Jokic become so good at passing the ball?
Nikola Jokic has always been one of the best passers in the NBA. Highlights from his rookie season have been circulating around the internet and they’re super impressive.
Rookie Jokic was so tough pic.twitter.com/P3q9KEm7JZ
— Teg🚨 (@IQfor3) May 23, 2023
Jokic came out of nowhere with this sort of skill. It’s rare to see anyone pass that well — let alone a big man of his ilk. That’s what makes him so fascinating as a player.
The question is how did he get that good? There’s actually an answer out there that I think is worth exploring and talking about on a larger scale now that Jokic is on this stage.
The positionless way that Jokic plays ball is simply how they’re taught the game in Serbia where he’s from. It comes from the philosophy of Aleksandar Nikolic, according to Sports Illustrated, is Serbia’s version of James Naismith. Here’s how he taught the game:
“To that end, Nikolic pushed his pupils to excel at each discrete part of the game, traditional requirements be damned. Guards learned to pivot in the low post, big men to dribble upcourt with their off hands. Decades before “positionless basketball” became chic in the NBA, Nikolic’s Yugoslavian national team whirred through European tournaments, a marvel of adaptability. His crowning achievement was a gold medal in the ’78 FIBA World Cup, but his legacy, 20 years after his death, remains the methodology by which he won it, which still serves as the backbone of Serbian basketball.”
That’s definitely worth talking about.
4 Jamal Murray's incredible comeback
It’s easy for people to forget that Jamal Murray wasn’t there for the Nuggets last season, but he was still recovering from a torn ACL that essentially sidelined him for a season and a half.
Murray opened up about how he thought he’d actually be traded after he tore his ACL in the Nuggets’ push to win a title.
Those were troubled times, so uncertain, so daunting. The day after he tore the ACL in the final minute of a game at Golden State, Murray boarded the Nuggets’ team bus and sat next to coach Michael Malone, and shared such a vulnerable moment that it still sticks with Malone to this day. As the bus rumbled to the airport, Malone said Murray turned to him and asked “Are you guys going to trade me?”
Today, Murray chuckles at that memory.
“I mean, that wasn’t my only thought,” Murray said. “There were so many doubts: Am I going to be different? Am I going to play the same? Am I going to be worth it? So … being traded was one thing on my mind.”
Now, he’s in the NBA Finals. Definitely compelling.
5 Murray's performance is so much better than his Bubble performance
Coming into the playoffs, one of the biggest questions about Murray was whether he could resurrect that “Bubble Jamal Murray” performance he put on back in the 2020 postseason.
That’s not a thing anymore. He’s absolutely shattered the notion of an NBA bubble version of himself because he’s been that good so consistently in the playoffs.
This stat from The Athletic’s Law Murray is so shocking.
Jamal Murray just finished his 8th career postseason series averaging a 32.5 point 50/40/90
– 52.7% FGs
– 40.5% 3s
– 95% FTs
The only time Stephen Curry had a 50/40/90 out of his 28 career postseason series: 2019 1st round vs Clippers (50/50/97.3). Curry averaged 24.7 points.
— Law Murray ❎️ (@LawMurrayTheNU) May 23, 2023
That’s how good this dude has been.
6 Jamal Murray outplayed two all-time greats on the biggest stage of his career
Not only has he shattered the notion of Murray only having big performances in the NBA Bubble, but he’s also outplayed all-time greats on the biggest stage of his career so far.
Jamal Murray averaged 32.5 points through four games in the NBA Conference Finals while shooting at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line.
He did that while outdueling both LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Jamal Murray is the first player to ever average 30 points on 50-40-90 shooting in a Conference Finals 🔥 😮 pic.twitter.com/VROQ3CpXYA
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 23, 2023
Let’s start talking about this guy as one of the best players in the NBA. Because that’s what he is.
7 Aaron Gordon's path to getting to the Finals
Aaron Gordon has been through so much throughout his NBA career. He started as a fifth overall pick in the NBA Draft. He never quite found a niche with the Orlando Magic, but then he gets traded to Denver and turns into a defensive stopper.
Today, he’s credibly guarded LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, Anthony Edwards and more. And he’s in the NBA Finals. That’s a pretty phenomenal journey.
8 Michael Malone's path to the NBA Finals
There were questions about Michael Malone’s future with the Nuggets if this Nuggets team had a disappointing playoff run.
It’s certainly not over yet — there’s still one more series left to be played. But he’s been phenomenal with his game-to-game adjustments, motivating his players and his overall strategies.
He looks like one of the better coaches in the NBA right now. Having a combo like Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray can help with that, for sure. But we should give Malone his credit for this run, too.
9 Carmelo Anthony vs. Nikola Jokic: Who was the better 15?
Now that Carmelo Anthony has retired, we’re all looking back on his Nuggets career. And, though it never ended with a championship, the run was pretty impressive nonetheless — especially considering where Denver came from.
The question is, though, will his number 15 be retired? That’s a tough decision because, well, Nikola Jokic wears that number today. And he’s already taken the team to an NBA Finals at this point.
Maybe 15 should be retired under both of their names. I don’t know. It’s an interesting discussion, though.