The Denver Nuggets seemingly came out of nowhere this year. Despite going 46-36 last season, the Nuggets narrowly missed out on the playoffs, and were promptly forgotten about, making their current seeding in the Western Conference a surprise for any casual NBA fan. They are the 2nd seed, currently resting directly behind the Golden State Warriors who are unsurprisingly at number 1. The West still runs through Golden State at the moment, but are the Nuggets ready to topple the Warriors and take the west back?
The argument that the Western Conference is a harder bracket than the East is well founded. The fact that the Nuggets missed the playoffs with 46 wins is testament to that, with Eastern Conference teams making the playoffs last season with 44, 44, and 43 wins respectively. The Nuggets last season sat at the 9th seed, with only 3 wins separating them and the 3rd seeded Portland Trail Blazers. That level of competition remains true this season with the 2nd seeded Nuggets sitting only 6.5 games above the 8th seeded Oklahoma City Thunder. The better play by the Nuggets this year will have to be consistent throughout the playoffs in order to hold off any lower seeded matchups.
The Nuggets worked hard to get to the playoffs this year, and the increase in effective play can be attributed to success on both sides of the ball. Defensively the Nuggets made a large step up which can be seen by their improved defensive rating as a team, going from 25th ranked last season to 10th this year. They also maintained their offensive ranking of 6th from last season to this. Whilst the signings of several notable role players helped, the biggest asset to the Nuggets has been the steady and consistent development of Nikola Jokic. Since his rookie year in 2015/16 Jokic has never failed to increase his effectiveness, and this year is no different, going from 18.5PPG, 6.1APG, and 10.7RPG last season to; 20.1PPG, 7.3APG, and 10.8RPG this season. Growth like that doesn’t just happen and Jokic has earned the number 2 seed as much as any player on the Nuggets. This team, if they can hold off the rest of the Western Conference, might just have the best shot to knock off the Warriors and give everyone the NBA finals they actually want to see.