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Roundtable: two superstars and Western Conference Finals discussion

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Stiffs writers join together to discuss the Denver Nuggets just a day before they start the Western Conference Finals.

Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Seven Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Is Nikola Jokic a top-5 player in the NBA?

Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717): Yes. For me, a top player in the NBA has less to do about his stats, but more to do with how valuable he is to the team. These playoffs have proven just how valuable Nikola Jokic is to the Denver Nuggets and because of that, I believe he is a top-5 player in the NBA.

Not only is Jokic the best center in the NBA — which is not even a debate anymore — but he’s cemented himself into superstar status during this Nuggets playoff run. I have never seen a player dominate a game more than what Jokic did in Game 7, while only scoring 16 points. That game alone certainly cracks Jokic into the top-5 for me and his overall body of work has been phenomenal as well.

Gage Bridgford (@GbridgfordNFL): For the purposes of this, I’m operating under the assumption every player is fully healthy. Right now, I’d slot him as fifth or sixth. Players like James Harden and Stephen Curry make it difficult, but I’m comfortable with the players I have ahead of him right now. Among players in his age bracket, there is only one or two that I would put above him though. We’re witnessing a true superstar at work every time he touches the court.

Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): Top-anything lists are so subjective. What you put a thumb on the scale for makes for strange lists. For me, the best players are the engines of their teams. It’s why I view Jokic as a better player than Anthony Davis, who does not control the game with the ball in his hands all the time but shines like a diamond when playing next to LeBron James, who IS the engine of that team. I’m gonna say yes, Jokic is a top-5 player - and he’s shown it when his team needed him in the postseason this year and last.

Did you see the rise of Jamal Murray coming or has it caught you by surprise?

Ewing: I can’t say I saw this coming, but I’ve always been a massive believer in Jamal Murray. I never doubted the contract Denver gave him and I truly thought he would grow into being one of the best point guards in the NBA. Did I see it coming this quickly though? Absolutely not. Not only has Murray played fantastic in these playoffs, be he continues to grow so much off the floor as well. Murray has truly become not just one of the Nuggets best players, but one of their best leaders as well.

Bridgford: This caught me by surprise. I had the belief that Murray had a level of production that he was previously unable to reach, but I never expected it to be this level. He’s averaging over 27 points per game with a nearly 50/50/90 shooting split. Throw in the massive jump in his assists numbers, and he’s becoming the absolute ceiling of what we thought he could be.

Gross: Nope. I’m the resident Murray doubter, but these playoffs showed me that I need to accept that Murray is a 16-game player. He’s just a different player under the bright lights, and his growth in recognizing his limitations and working to overcome them is paying huge dividends. Jamal Murray is exactly the sort of player you want on your team when the second season rolls around, and I’m happy to be wrong about his ceiling. Denver needed him to turn into a Dame or Kyle Lowry and he’s shown up with the leadership, the attitude and most importantly the play, game after game. The Clippers series was more impressive to me for Jamal than the Utah one, to be honest. The push and pull between Jokic and Murray as the instigator has also been perfectly judged in these comebacks, which gives me nothing but hope for the future.

Will the Nuggets start the Western Conference Finals strong? Or do you see them falling behind in yet another series?

Ewing: It feels risky to say, but I don’t think Denver goes down 3-1 in this series. I know they like too, but I think the Nuggets actually win Game 1 and I wouldn't be surprised if they took Game 2 as well. I really like the Nuggets in this series and I think they have a chance to win the whole thing in six games. Nuggets in 6 is an island I am ready to die on. Lets go!

Bridgford: I think Denver splits the first two games. They’ll either run the Lakers over because they’ve played more recently, or they’ll get beaten down because of the high number of minutes they’ve played in comparison to Los Angeles. Then, after Game 1, the opposite result will happen in Game 2. The Lakers won’t go down 0-2, but I also think Denver is more than capable of taking that second game off of them after a loss in the first.

Gross: I agree with Gage, I think it’ll turn into a 5 game series after the Lakers and Nuggets split the first two. I don’t think Denver winds up down 3-1 again, but I wouldn’t be afraid if they were. The Nuggets are making me immune to fear with this team. Their ability to hit the reset button is unparalleled.

Who is going to be the Nuggets x-factor if they want to make it to the NBA Finals?

Ewing: I am going with Torrey Craig. Not only is Craig going to play a fair amount of minutes like he did in the first two series, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Nuggets started him and put him on LeBron James. Michael Malone would have to take Paul Millsap out of the starting lineup for it to happen, which is something not out of the realm of possibilities.

It also would be awesome if Craig could make just a couple three-pointers per game. Those extra points the Nuggets are not really counting on could be huge in deciding who wins this series. We already know what Craig brings to the table defensively, you just have to hope he can provide the Nuggets some production on the offensive end of the floor as well.

Bridgford: For me, it’s Gary Harris. Harris will never be the 2017 version of himself again. Instead, he needs to be the player that he was in the series against the LA Clippers. He brought elite defensive play while contributing 10-15 points a night on efficient shooting. This Lakers’ team doesn’t have quite the diversity of firepower, but they can still get white hot on any given night. I’m not sure who Gary will be guarding, but I have confidence in whatever assignment he ends up with.

Gross: For me it’s Michael Porter Jr. No surprise coming from me, I know. Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee should both be playable in this series for stretches, and Millsap hitting threes and fighting inside would be nice, but the Lakers still have the size advantage. Gary Harris will be crucial with his defense, but LA doesn’t necessarily have that guard-sized scorer that Gary needs to shut down and he can’t exactly slow LeBron as the point-forward. Jerami Grant will be fighting with AD and LeBron all game, so expecting offense from him as well is a tough ask. Jokic and Murray can’t do all the scoring, and MPJ has the size and scoring profile to make a difference. He’s also switchable onto the bigger Lakers as a wing, which is a blessing and a curse. MPJ’s mistakes could cost them the series, or a hot couple of shooting nights could make all the difference in the world. What they get out of Porter could definitely swing things for Denver, for better or worse.