While the 2020 NBA Bubble Playoffs were mostly successful for this year’s Denver Nuggets squad, there was one obstacle in their way that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon: the Los Angeles Lakers.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis formed the most dynamic and dominant duo in the bubble to power a middling roster all the way to a title. Different players stepped up at different times — Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Dwight Howard, etc. — but the majority of the credit goes to LeBron and AD. Their dynamic connection proved unstoppable in a playoff environment. Overplaying one of the two led to the other having tremendous success, and sending too much help at both players allowed frequent opportunities for the Lakers supporting cast to succeed.
The Nuggets lost to the Lakers in five games in the Western Conference Finals. Though they can take solace in the fact that their playoff series had the slimmest margin of the four playoff teams the Lakers beat in order to win a championship, the fact remains that the Nuggets weren’t that close. If Davis’ game-winning shot in Game 2 misses instead of going in, the Nuggets probably still lose the series in six games, maybe seven.
So, how do the Denver Nuggets prevent from faltering at one of the last steps against the best team in the NBA next time around?
Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray are sure to be back, and Denver’s two stars formed what should probably be described as the second most dynamic duo in the bubble, only being LeBron and AD. There’s potential for Jokić and Murray to be even better going forward, though it’s an impossible ask for those two to outperform James and Davis. If Jokić and Murray do THAT, then this conversation isn’t as complicated going forward.
Michael Porter Jr. and Jerami Grant are likely to be back too, though Grant’s impending player option and free agency complicate that slightly. Those two formed a dynamic forward duo of their own that projects to be even better in the years to come. Porter showed no fear throughout the 2020 playoffs, and despite some major defensive questions, he looks like a star in the making. Grant appeared to be one of the best complementary starters in the entire bubble with his defensive versatility and improving offensive game, and his defensive efforts against LeBron and AD (as well as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George) are well documented. Porter and Grant should form a good foundation next to Jokić and Murray.
Beyond those four, there are questions abound. Gary Harris and Will Barton are under contract and offer different skillsets that would be helpful. Monte Morris and PJ Dozier also played minutes against the Lakers and looked important at various points. Paul Millsap, Mason Plumlee, and Torrey Craig are also free agents this offseason, and there’s no knowing how Denver will handle those absences if they aren’t retained. Could Bol Bol be an option against Anthony Davis? Is it wise to base an entire offseason plan around a two-way player with an injury history?
There are ways for the Nuggets to improve the team via the NBA Draft, free agency, and trades, and this post will serve as an open thread for Denver Stiffs commenters to discuss how best to beat the Los Angeles Lakers in a playoff series.
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