The #NuggetsGreats bracket is progressing toward some very difficult matchups. After knocking out the lower tier matchups, only the Elite Eight remain—two in each region. Today, we focus on the Joker Region and the Blade Region.

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In the Joker Region, top seed Nikola Jokic defeated LaPhonso Ellis, an integral member of the 1990’s squad that defeated the top seeded Seattle Supersonics in the 1994 playoffs. Jokic’s contributions over the first five years of his career have put him in special company in franchise history, and fans continue to vote him through. Second seed David Thompson also took down Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, as the perimeter sharpshooter just couldn’t match up with one of the most important pieces of Nuggets franchise history. The Skywalker helped put the Nuggets on the NBA map as they transitioned from the ABA, and Thompson’s athleticism was the biggest reason why.

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In the Blade Region, top seed Alex English took down Allen Iverson in a landslide, unsurprising given how much more time English spent in a Nuggets uniform than A.I. did. While Iverson had a couple of special seasons in Denver, English was the engine behind Denver’s success during the entire 1980’s. Second seed Fat Lever also ousted Third seed Ty Lawson relatively easily as his versatility and contribution to the Golden Age of Nuggets basketball in the 1980’s really struck a chord with Nuggets fans.

Now, here comes our first two matchups of the Elite Eight!

Nikola Jokic (1) vs David Thompson (2)

Jokic’s standing in franchise history needs little explanation, but his individual dominance combined with an ability to elevate the team around him made him the top seed in the entire bracket. He is one of just six players to average 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists per game, doing so during 2018-19 and 2019-20. His 40 triple-doubles rank second in franchise history behind Fat Lever.

Even more than that though: Nikola Jokic gave the current version of the Nuggets a clear direction. Stuck trying to pick up the pieces after the Carmelo Anthony trade, George Karl’s firing and Masai Ujiri’s departure, and the disaster that was the Brian Shaw era, Jokic almost immediately gave the Nuggets someone they could build their around. He may be untraditional, but his style has proved to work these last few years as the Nuggets have returned to playoff caliber basketball. Jokic helped the Nuggets advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in a long time in the 2019 playoffs, and there’s no reason to expect him to slow down.

On the other side, the Skywalker, David Thompson, was one of the most athletic guards in NBA history and an inspiration for Michael Jordan. Thompson spent seven seasons with the Nuggets, one during their time in the ABA, and dominated as a scorer and slasher to the basket. He once scored 73 points in one game and was possibly the best player in the NBA during the 1977-78 season. Thompson averaged 24.1 points per game during his Nuggets career and set a new standard for guard scoring in the 1970’s. He truly was one of the best players to ever play the game, tying George Gervin in that 1977-78 season for the scoring title.

These two players are the two bookends of the Nuggets franchise, the first and only two in Nuggets history to achieve All-NBA First Team status. There are no wrong answers here between who was the better Nugget. Both have an incredible claim.

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Alex English (1) vs Fat Lever (2)

English played parts of 11 seasons with the Nuggets and was the top scorer in the NBA for the entire 1980’s decade. Not Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, or any other mainstream greats. English had a versatile scoring skillset with elite touch in the midrange, generally focusing on hitting short jumpers in Denver’s fast paced offense. He was so good at, and the supporting cast around him was strong enough, that he helped guide the Nuggets to nine straight playoff appearances, including one Conference Finals against the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers.

It was very rare for the Nuggets to draw significant attention, but during the 1980’s, they had the fourth best record in the Western Conference. The Lakers were the cream of the crop, but the Nuggets were consistently there in that second group of teams vying for position. English was the biggest reason why, as the Nuggets could count on his productive scoring every single game. He was a machine in the midrange, scoring with grace and touch that most 6’7 scorers didn’t utilize in that era.

His partner in crime for much of the 1980’s was Fat Lever. Lever played basketball like he was using a Swiss Army knife. He averaged 17.0 points, 7.5 assists, and 7.6 rebounds during his six seasons with the franchise. His versatility and ability to rack up triple doubles complemented the elite scoring prowess of English during the 1980’s.

Lever truly filled up the box score and made life easier for the players around him. He never had a season in Denver averaging under 6.5 assists, nor a season averaging under 5.0 rebounds. Lever was a machine. His 43 triple-doubles lead the Nuggets franchise all-time, and some of the numbers he put up were mind-boggling. In separate games, he amassed 38 points, 23 assists, and 22 rebounds as a 6’3 point guard. Lever has the most games with 20+ rebounds in NBA history among guards 6’3 and under at four, which is just absurd. He helped contribute to Denver’s winning ways in the 1980’s, along with English, and consistently had the Nuggets as an elite team in the NBA.

Both English and Lever were essential to the 1980’s Nuggets, and it feels blasphemous to pick one over the other. Still, it has to be done, and you get to decide.

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