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Film Friday: It was fun while it lasted

NBA: Playoffs-Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Lakers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re not familiar with Film Fridays, each Friday, I’ll be looking at some recent Denver Nuggets’ games, lineups or something else from a film aspect to try and bring you a piece of content that you’re not getting somewhere else. Feel free to give any feedback positive or negative in the comments or find me on Twitter.

As with all good things, they must come to an end, and that was the case for the Denver Nuggets’ 2019-20 season. A year that started with some fun optimism with a little bit of injury turmoil in the front half of the season ended with back-to-back 3-1 series comebacks following a five-month hiatus where the NBA froze in place.

We saw the emergence of Jamal Murray as a budding superstar in the playoffs. Michael Porter Jr. flashed in some big ways on the offensive end after missing the entirety of his rookie season. Small-ball lineups featuring Jerami Grant at the power forward made an appearance after Michael Malone’s continued reliance on traditional lineups. A lot of good that can be built on came out of this year.

Starting next week, we’ll start to look at some free agent and draft stuff for film sessions, but, today, we’re going to look back at how we got here and where we’re going next. We’re getting a little nostalgic to start the month of October because this was definitely a season worth remembering fondly.

Jamal Murray Has Arrived

For the first few years of his career, Murray has struggled with consistency to really become a truly great option alongside Nikola Jokic. In the playoffs, he finally achieved that feat. He averaged over 26 points per game while shooting over 50 percent from the field on 19.4 attempts per game. He was consistently guarded by an opponent’s defender, and he answered the call more often than not. Late in the game, he’s guarded by LeBron James, but he goes right at him and gets all the way to the rim. This is the type of scorer Denver was hoping to get when they extended him last offseason.

When James and the Cleveland Cavaliers were down 3-1 to the Golden State Warriors, he put on one of the greatest three-game performances we’ve ever seen. Against the Utah Jazz, Murray did that for Denver. It was all highlighted by his Game 6 performance that saw him put up 50 points as he outdueled Donovan Mitchell, who had 44 points of his own. Murray also did it while shooting a scalding-hot 17-of-24 from the floor. They needed him to have the game of his career, and it was the second time in his career that he had put up a performance like this.

This shot will live on forever in my eyes. This was the dagger the Nuggets needed to put away the LA Clippers. The team that nearly every single industry expert picked to beat them had been stunned. Denver had outlasted the favorite for the title, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. They were likely going to win at this point in the game, but, with just under 2:30 on the clock, there was still time for a comeback. A 3-point shot like this is a backbreaker of epic proportions. It’s Murray being guarded closely by arguably the best defensive player in the NBA in Kawhi Leonard, and his offense sends them packing. If people didn’t believe in him after the Jazz series, they had no choice but to believe now.

Michael Porter Jr. Is The Next Big Thing

This typified the rookie season for MPJ. He was constantly second-guessed either by himself or the coaching staff, but he still found ways to be successful. He shouldn’t make this shot. He’s highly contested with a player that can get a hand in his face while falling away from the basket at an angle, and he still rises up and knocks it down. His size and shooting stroke just make him such a unique weapon because you can never completely alter as much as you want to. He’s not unguardable, but he showed a strong case for being unflappable.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted Porter’s second clip to be, but this one was just too easy. The two things Porter was best at this season was making contested shots and getting offensive rebounds. On this play, he absolutely bullies Kyle Kuzma. If he would have gone up for a two-handed dunk while knocking Kuzma to the ground, it would have been the second-coming of Shaquille O’Neal. With his strength and athleticism, there is not much that can be done to keep him from getting to balls like this. You just have to hope it bounces in the other direction.

This game was a fun one. In early January, Porter got a full run of playing time, and he sprinted with it. In 23 minutes, he went 11-of-12 from the floor, and the Indiana Pacers just had no answer for him. His lone miss came on a transition 3-point attempt, and he got the rebound and scored anyway. Porter showed that he could be the truly elite player they drafted him to be. Moving forward, the key will be on defense. As long as Malone is the coach, he will not allow for Porter’s defensive lapses to happen as frequently as they did this year. He can play alongside Jokic and Murry, and that’s what’s best for the team. He just has to keep growing and developing without becoming stagnant.

Nikola Jokic Is Getting Better

Our final topic is one that should terrify NBA teams. On the one hand, we’ve learned that the only person that can slow down Jokic is himself. If he gets into foul trouble, he can get himself out of a rhythm, and his game flow is messed up as a result. If that doesn’t happen, he’s a near-lock to put up 20 & 10 every night. Also, the let him shoot 3-pointers argument took a big hit this postseason. While averaging 5.2 deep shots per game, he made 42.9 percent of them. It’s not like they were all wide open either. Dwight Howard contests late, but he gets the hand in the face. It doesn’t matter. Jokic gets two inches of elevation, and the shot is gone from his hands.

There is nothing more back-breaking than a shot like this. Ivica Zubac does everything right on this play. He stays in front of him, and he’s physical without fouling. How does Jokic respond? He takes a slight step backward and flips and arcing rainbow up into the basket. It’s not even like this was a one-time thing. He does this every single night, and he makes weird plays like this look routine. With his improved outside scoring ability, there’s nowhere on the floor you can leave him open, which opens up the floor for everyone else.

Oh, Anthony Davis, I heard you were first-team All-Defense, and you stole my spot on first-team All-NBA. You mind if I just squeeze past you and leave you standing still? Jokic officially outweighs Davis by 30 pounds, and he blows past him like a guard on this play. How are you supposed to defend this? Davis is considered one of the NBA’s best defenders, and he just has no shot on this play. We know Jokic can score from mid range, but he’s showing that he can drive past even the best defenders while also being able to shoot from 3-point range. What the hell is the rest of the league supposed to do? They just have to hope and pray.

Did this season end in a title? No. However, if you came into the season with title expectations, you were being unrealistic. This Denver team was one that was viewed as a couple of years away, but they’re ready to compete now. With internal development, this team could make some serious noise for a long time. This was a hell of a ride from start to finish, and I’m just glad I was able to be a part of it. Until next year, enjoy the moments we had for what they were. Focus on the positives, and leave the negatives in the past. 2020 wasn’t a year for anyone to remember, but there were some nuggets (get it?) worth remembering.

For those of you that are still here, remember to leave your feedback in the comments or over on my Twitter, and have a fantastic film-filled Friday.