Nikola Jokić and the Denver Nuggets have officially reached the All-Star break. Sporting a 33-25 record with just 24 games left to go in the 2021-22 season, the Nuggets have firmly established themselves as a good team in a volatile Western Conference. Some teams (Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies) have outperformed expectations. Other teams (Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers) have fallen well short of expectations. The Nuggets are somewhere in the middle, and given the injuries they’ve had to face this year, staying afloat at sixth place in the conference is a significant accomplishment.
As part of SB Nation’s NBA season preview for the 2021-22 season, Denver Stiffs was asked to submit predictions for the Denver Nuggets. From best and worst case scenarios, to excitement level, to win-loss record predictions, there were a number of takes made before the season that were ambitious, but also prescient. It’s time to revisit those predictions, looking back on preseason expectations to determine if the Nuggets are still on track. The goals at the beginning of the year were championship caliber. Are the Nuggets within range?
Let’s find out, and check out the season preview above to follow along:
Best Case Scenario
Previous Sentiment: Nikola Jokić repeats his MVP caliber performance, Michael Porter Jr. pushes for an All-Star appearance, Jamal Murray returns to full health and performance by April, and the Nuggets make the NBA Finals.
How close were we: In the ball park
Analysis: Part of this answer is to be determined, given that Jamal Murray still hasn’t returned. February 21st marks the 10 month threshold after his ACL surgery back in April of 2021, and it appears that Murray remains on track to be physically cleared before the playoffs. Whether he’s back on the court for Denver remains to be seen.
The real issue with the best case scenario is the Michael Porter Jr. injury. He hasn’t played a game for the Nuggets since November 9th, and though he’s making good progress, there’s still no timetable for his return. If Porter is unable to return, it will be nearly impossible for any best case scenario to exist.
Worst Case Scenario
Previous Sentiment: The Nuggets struggle to find solutions to help Nikola Jokić score the basketball, Michael Porter Jr. doesn’t make the leap, and Jamal Murray struggles to make an impact when he returns.
How close were we: In the ball park
Analysis: The brilliance of Jokić has masked some of Denver’s overall offensive issues. Denver scores 116.8 points per 100 possessions with Jokić on the court and just 101.5 points per 100 possessions when Jokić sits. Aaron Gordon and Monte Morris have certainly stepped up their games while playing next to the MVP candidate, but the bench has struggled for the majority of the season without Murray and Porter there to support them.
Most Likely Scenario
Previous Sentiment: The Nuggets will need Aaron Gordon, Will Barton, and Monte Morris to step up as scorers. If the Nuggets stay relatively healthy, they’re in line for a top four seed. After that, it’s dependent on Murray’s return.
How close were we: On the nose
Analysis: It’s impossible to predict a season long absence like the one Porter has experienced. Adding that injury into the context of this response, the Nuggets are still in line to satisfy most benchmarks. They have a three-game lead on the Minnesota Timberwolves in the seventh seed and the play-in tournament, and they have a three-game deficit behind the Utah Jazz for a top four seed. Given the injury to Porter, Denver’s front-loaded schedule that grows easier post All-Star break, and the impending return of Murray, it’s reasonable to think Denver can push Utah down the stretch. Beyond that, Denver’s ceiling remains Murray dependent.
The most interesting part of this exercise is how likely the best and worst case scenarios still are. Denver could certainly make a run to the NBA Finals if things break right for them, and yet things could also fall apart given the injuries they’ve already sustained. Going one direction or the other likely hinges on the health of two players now, rather than just one.
Why Nuggets fans should still be excited
In the preseason prediction post, Jokić defending his MVP was one of the biggest reasons for Nuggets fans to be excited. That has once again been the predominant Nuggets storyline with Jokić averaging 26.0 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 7.9 assists per game on elite efficiency. Jokić is maybe the best player in the NBA right now, and he elevates Denver to places they’d never dream of. He may actually win MVP again, which would be a spectacular accomplishment given the circumstances.
Beyond Jokić, Nuggets fans should be excited to see Denver’s full starting lineup again. It’s possible that it doesn’t happen this year, but if the opportunity to bring back Murray and Porter presents itself, Nuggets fans will be over the moon. The Nuggets only got to see Jokić, Murray, Porter, Gordon, and Barton play five games together last year, and the results were so impressive that they were becoming dark horse Finals contenders. If they ever get on the court again, Nuggets fans won’t be able to contain themselves with excitement and joy.
Updating Season Predictions
Previous record and seeding prediction: 51-31 record, 4th seed
Updated record and seeding prediction: 49-33 record, 5th seed
The upstart Memphis Grizzlies have crashed the party of Western Conference contenders this season, and at their current 41-19 record, it’s difficult to foresee the Nuggets catching the current 3rd seed. The Utah Jazz are 4th at 36-22, and though they only have a three-game lead over the Nuggets, they also hold the tiebreaker. That means Denver would have to outpace Utah by four games down the stretch, which seems unlikely.
Still, the Nuggets have an easy schedule remaining for the rest of the season, and given that reinforcements are likely on the way, it would be a surprise if they didn’t pass the Dallas Mavericks, who are currently 34-24. The Nuggets go 16-8 the rest of the way and snag the 5th seed in the West.
Updated DraftKings MVP Odds
MVP odds and many more odds can be found here.
- Joel Embiid, +140
- Nikola Jokić, +290
- Giannis Antetokounmpo, +400
- Stephen Curry, +850
- Ja Morant, +1100
- Chris Paul, +2000
- Devin Booker, +2000
- DeMar DeRozan, +3000
- Luka Doncic, +4500
- Kevin Durant, +5000
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