NUGGETS

It’s a shame that the Nuggets aren’t defending their title right now

Jun 10, 2024, 5:58 AM | Updated: 6:16 am

Shame on the Nuggets. Everyone involved dropped the ball. They squandered an opportunity. They blew it.

After watching Game 2 of the NBA Finals, it’s hard to to think about what might’ve been. Denver is better than Dallas, by a mile; it’s inexcusable that they aren’t representing the West. And they could’ve ousted Boston; the Celtics are a byproduct of a weak Eastern Conference, led by two unbelievably overrated “stars.”

The Nuggets have the best team in the NBA. They have the best player in the world on their roster, with Nikola Jokic having won three of the league’s last four Most Valuable Player awards. And they boast a great supporting cast, with Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon being better than anyone outside of Luka Doncic, Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown currently in the Finals, by a wide margin.

But they aren’t there. Thanks to a second-round collapse against Minnesota, which culminated with a Game 7 meltdown that saw them blow a 20-point, second-half lead to the Timberwolves, Denver has been on vacation for three weeks.

That begs one question: Why?

That’s where things get interesting. And it’s not about pointing the finger of blame just to find a scapegoat. It’s about figuring out what went wrong in order to avoid another whiff next season.

Calvin Booth decided last offseason to put developing young players ahead of trying to defend Denver’s title. It was a mistake.

During the playoffs, the Nuggets bench was woefully thin. Players like Zeke Nnaji and Peyton Watson just weren’t ready for primetime.

As a result, Michael Malone’s options were limited in the playoffs. Nonetheless, the head coach panicked in the playoffs.

He needed to find a way to get Jokic some rest. He had to use Nnaji or DeAndre Jordan in some sort of effective manner. He had to figure out how to get some points off the bench.

Instead, he leaned on the MVP and Murray. Denver ran their two-man game ad nauseum in Game 7 against the Wolves. Minnesota decoded it and Malone had no answers.

Of course, that wouldn’t have mattered if his players had bailed him out. They didn’t.

Jokic was 2-for-10 from three-point range in the finale. Minnesota dared him to shoot; the MVP didn’t make them pay.

Murray was even worse. Yes, he had some memorable moments during the playoffs, including a pair of game-winning shots against the Lakers and a halfcourt heave against the Wolves. But he was ineffective for most of the postseason.

Murray took more shots that any other Nugget in the playoffs, hoisting it an average of 20.8 times across 12 games. His 40.2% shooting percentage was the second worst among Denver’s five starters, second only to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. And his scoring efficiency (.992) and shooting efficiency (.45) were the worst of any player on the roster who saw significant minutes.

He needs to stop griping about not making an All-Star team. He needs to stop bristling when referred to as “Bubble Murray.” He needs to start being an adequate Robin to Jokic’s Batman.

Or MPJ needs to fill that role. He’s certainly paid like a star, earning $35.9 million last season. Porter Jr. disappeared against the Wolves, scoring under 10 points in five of the seven games, including the final four.

He needs to be more aggressive. He needs to be a scorer and not just a shooter. He needs to take his game to the next level.

The Nuggets should be on the cusp of defending their title. The reasons they aren’t need to be rectified.

Booth needs to maximize the window, worrying about today and not tomorrow. Malone needs to be better, not just relying on Jokic to be a coach on the floor. And Murray and Porter Jr. need to elevate their games, jumping from the good plateau to greatness.

The Nuggets blew an opportunity this season. It’s up to those four people to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

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It’s a shame that the Nuggets aren’t defending their title right now