No Fool's Gold: The Nuggets' Future
Updated: Nov 18, 2019
Two years ago my friends formed a group chat to roast me when I said the Denver Nuggets could end up with home court advantage in the playoffs and become one of the West’s top teams. They called me dumb. They said I smoked too much. Well, it turns out I was smoking just the right amount because two years later the Denver Nuggets are the number 2 seed and just wrapped up their first win in the Western Conference Semifinals. Who’s dumb now, Jensen. Am I prophetic, or just observant? I’ll take either as a compliment. It’s not difficult to notice that Denver has something special brewing; their superstar/franchise player is just 24-years old, their starting point guard of the future is 22, their coach will contend as coach-of-the-year, and they have cool jerseys! In fact, Paul Millsap is the only player in rotation over 30 (Isaiah Thomas is 30, but hasn’t played in a few weeks now), giving the Nuggets the youngest roster in the Association (at the start of the season). But where do they go from here? Let’s take a look at a few variables that could catapult the Mile High team to dominance.
Michael Porter Jr.
Ah, to be young again. I remember when I had the physical resilience to undergo two back surgeries within 12 months and still be able to throw down windmill dunks with ease. Now I’m 23 and my five floor walk-up is what I call “leg day”. If you geek out over NBA prospects, then you’re familiar with Michael Porter Jr. One of the top players out of high school, Porter signed to Missouri with executives already eyeing him as the number one pick in the NBA draft. Unfortunately for him, he left the first half of his first NCAA game with a season-ending injury. That’s how the Denver Nuggets were able to get him in the draft with the 14th pick in the lottery: teams were too scared to take the risk on him. Well, if you’ve been checking Twitter, the 6’10 forward who draws comparisons to Kevin Durant has been showing off his hops during Nuggets practices by dunking over fellow teammates and less athletic coaches. Not hardcore evidence he’s ready, but remember the workout videos from Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons before they returned from injury? This has that same feel, and look how those guys turned out. If Denver can unlock their 2018 draft pick, then it’s the rest of the league that needs to watch out.
Keeping The Gang Intact
Did I mention the Nuggets are set for the future? Not only are their core players too young to rent a car, they’re also locked up for the next couple of seasons. Jokic and Gary Harris just signed contracts that’ll keep them in Denver for a few more years, Jamal Murray is still under his rookie contract (he’ll be a RFA after next season - giving the team Bird rights), and sixth man Will Barton is around until at least 2021. Both Millsap and Mason Plumlee have just one more year on their respective deals, but Millsap’s is a team option - a good thing. He’s getting older, and if his play starts to decline, I could see Denver letting him go and opening up that $30 million he’s owed to offer another similar contract to another All-Star. They have a bevy of young guys, and seem to have the right coaches in place to develop them.
The Golden State Warriors
The only team with a better record in the West this season is the only team that has represented the conference in the Finals the last four years. It’s the mountain (not Splash Mountain, Brooke Lopez) that every team in the Association is scheming to hurdle. It feels like every year that Golden State adds an ace to their house of cards - first Durant, and now Boogie (RIP) - but this could be the year the cards finally fall. While Curry & Co. are still favored to win the title again this season, the team could look much different after free agency, with both Durant and Boogie’s future uncertain. If both of them leave, then the West is wide open and wild once again.
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