Denver Nuggets Hope To Jump From Good To Great

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The Denver Nuggets are reaching a critical point in their current incarnation: Namely, is this a very good team about to make the jump to greatness, or is this very good team about to … remain very good?

After making it to the Western Conference finals in last year’s bubble-shortened season — only to lose to the Los Angeles Lakers in five games — the Nuggets return for the 2020-21 season with a team full of familiar faces in starting roles. The big difference this year may be Michael Porter Jr., who went from bench piece to explosive scoring machine over the course of the season last year, and who is poised to take another big leap this year. In fact, Porter Jr. — at +1600 odds on DraftKings — is the most heavily bet pick for the NBA’s Most Improved Player this year, according to a report issued by the sportsbook.

But Porter Jr. isn’t alone on the minds of NBA bettors nationwide; the Nuggets have garnered 5% of the handle and 6% of the bets on DraftKings to win the league championship this year.

And at +2000, the team is seventh on the board to win it all at DraftKings, and they’re the third option at +1000 — behind the Lakers and Clippers at +140 and +275 — to win the Western Conference.

Clearly, this is a team with high hopes.

Jokic leads the charge

Led by Nikola Jokic, the center who can do practically everything on the court, the Nuggets enter the season with a win total pegged at a 44.5 over/under on FanDuel. Keep in mind the NBA is playing a truncated 72-game season this year, and the Nuggets slipping in right over the number would put them at 45-27, right in line with their win percentages in recent seasons.

Over at FOX Bet, there are a few other options for a would-be Nuggets bettor. Coach Mike Malone is at +1800 to win coach of the year, and Jokic is at +4000 to take home the rebounding title, and at +2200 to win league MVP.

What is interesting with some of these numbers is while the Nuggets as a whole are expected to be a top team in the West, outside of Jokic’s long-shot MVP odds there’s really no steam for any individual awards for the team’s players.

In short: This is a true team, not a pair of superstars and a supporting cast.

In fact, the Nuggets starting five — Jokic and Porter, along with confirmed superstar Jamal Murray at point guard, Gary Harris at shooting guard, and Paul Millsap at power forward — may very well be one of the more explosive offensive starting fives, pound-for-pound, in the league.

Off the bench, newly signed forward JaMychal Green will be a defensive stopper, and Will Barton and Monte Morris will provide plenty of spark. The team also signed European star Facundo Campazzo, who is known for his hard-nosed play on both ends of the court. 

Of course, when the Nuggets want full-on offensive beast mode, Millsap will head to the bench, Porter Jr. will swing over to power forward, and Barton will hit the floor. While this incarnation may suffer a bit on the defensive end, other NBA teams are going to be very hard-pressed to match up with the fearsome foursome of Jokic, Murray, Barton, and Porter Jr. 

Bol Bol could be difference-maker

But of all the players, perhaps the most interesting player to watch will be Bol Bol, the 7-foot-2-inch center who didn’t see the court last year until the bubble portion of the program, and, as a result, is still considered a rookie (with +2000 odds to take home Rookie of the Year, according to DraftKings). The son of the late Manute Bol, Bol Bol was once expected to be a lottery pick before breaking his leg in his freshman year at Oregon. The Nuggets got him after the Heat picked him with the 44th pick of the 2019 draft and dealt him to Denver for a pick swap and $1.2 million.

Slated to be Jokic’s backup, Bol — who at 21, could still use another 30 or so pounds of muscle on his 235-pound frame — will have to prove he has the physical strength to hang with the Andre Drummond-types of the world. If he does … well, if he does, that second unit for the Nuggets might be as explosive as its first.

Of course, the Nuggets’ path to glory is blocked by the Lakers and Clippers. Getting through LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the rest of the somehow-improved defending champs will be no easy feat, and the Clippers — led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George — are also going to be major stumbling blocks.

And while the Nuggets, as built, are certainly going to compete for the Western Conference title, there is a possibility that this team’s odds may shoot up the charts, as a rumored destination for Bradley Beal or James Harden. Getting either of those shooting guards won’t come cheap — in fact, Porter Jr. would almost certainly be the centerpiece of either trade, along with Barton and/or Harris, and probably Morris — but it would obviously be a clear indication that management sees this year as a “win-now” situation. 

Could a Jokic-Murray-Harden/Beal squad take down the Clippers? Almost certainly. The Lakers? Well, that’s a best-of-seven conference final any NBA fan would want to see.

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Jeff Edelstein

Jeff is a veteran journalist, working as a columnist for The Trentonian newspaper in Trenton, NJ for a number of years. He's also an avid sports bettor and DFS player. He can be reached at jedelstein@bettercollective.com.

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