DROP THE MIKE

The Nuggets did things the right way, in so many ways this season

Jun 15, 2023, 5:52 AM

Thoughts, observations and overall takeaways from the Nuggets’ history making championship run:

• I think back to when the seeds of this championship were planted. Last year, after the Nuggets had been brushed aside in a gentleman’s sweep at the hands of the Golden State Warriors in the first round, Michael Malone conducted his end-of-the-season press conference. In it, he talked about what it would take to be a championship contender and how he felt the Nuggets were in a championship window and the expectations around the team should be that of winning a championship, etc. I remember thinking, “Wow, pretty big talk for a team coming off a first-round exit.” But clearly, Malone saw something brewing with this team. And boy, was he right!

• Can we now pronounce Malone’s job as safe? I’ve always been on Team Malone. I guess I look at an NBA coach differently than some. I’m not consumed with X’s and O’s and substitution patterns and out-of-bounds plays. I look at how players develop. Do they play with effort and professionalism? Are they self motivated? Do they take hard coaching and criticism? Former Detroit Pistons head coach Chuck Daly once said, “The job of an NBA coach is to get his players permission to coach them.” Malone has done that. He knows his players. He knows what buttons to push. He is honest with them. And his guys know he cares about them and will be truthful with them. That’s all most pro athletes want in their coach.

• I can’t go this long without talking about Nikola Jokic. Where do I start? Let’s start with culture. Everyone agrees it’s important, but no one seems to have a clear answer as to what it is and how it happens. I’ve always thought it was pretty simple. When your best player is your hardest worker and best teammate then, voila!- instant culture. That’s Jokic. He’s clearly The Man, but he doesn’t act like it. He loves his teammates and his extended Nuggets family, right down to the equipment guys and security folks. He enjoys being one of the guys. He plays the game the right way and respects the game and those who play it. Do you realize how powerful a force that is when every guy who wears a Nuggets uniform looks at Jokic and realizes if the best player on the planet, never mind the team, acts like that than I better darn well too?

• Just because you’re a pro athlete doesn’t mean you crave or can handle the big moments. Jamal Murray was clearly put on this planet to shine under the brightest of spotlights.

• Huge respect for Aaron Gordon. To go from being the fourth-overall pick in the draft with the idea he’d be The Man in Orlando to coming to Denver and accepting a complementary role that would mean sacrificing touches and points for rugged defensive assignments is amazingly refreshing in an ever-expanding “me first” generation of young NBA players.

• Michael Porter, Jr. has grown up before our eyes. While “superstar” and “future Hall of Famer” labels are ridiculously premature, there is no doubt that MPJ has come a long way this year and leaves all of us anticipating what his next level looks like.

• Last thought on this team. I want to thank them for saving or at least, rekindling my passion for NBA basketball. I don’t like what the game has become recently. Too many three-pointers and too much isolation, “hero ball” players. The Nuggets play team basketball. The ball moves. Extra passes are made. Good shots are passed up for great ones. They actually run an offense with real honest to goodness plays. And through out it all, there is unselfishness. That’s the basketball I grew up with; that’s when the game is played at its best. I liked this team long before they won a championship. But now that they are the best in the world and hopefully will serve as an inspiration for others to follow, then that makes this even sweeter.

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The Nuggets did things the right way, in so many ways this season