It may be early, but the Denver Nuggets have the makings of a true contender.

After 10 games this season, the Nuggets are beginning to come into focus as a team with championship aspirations. Though the Nuggets started slow, all of the aspects of a championship run have shown positive signs. Nikola Jokić remains awesome, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. look good, and the new additions are providing an impact early on.

Though it’s impossible to make sweeping proclamations on the season, let’s dive into some specific predictions regarding various aspects of Denver’s roster.

Jamal Murray is progressing quicker than many anticipated

After missing a season and a half of time due to an ACL tear, Jamal Murray is back on the floor. The overall per game numbers are down as to be expected, but Murray is trending in the right direction sooner than most thought he would.

What’s most impressive is the workload Murray has handled so far. The Nuggets have had one back-to-back so far this season, and Murray missed the front end of that game as a result. Outside of that, Murray has been available every night, and his minutes are trending up.

  • Game 1 – 25:55
  • Game 2 – 27:30
  • Game 3 – 26:37
  • Game 4 – 27:43
  • Game 5 – 20:33 (blowout win)
  • Game 6 – 31:31
  • Game 7 – 32:57
  • Game 8 – 23:02 (blowout win)
  • Game 9 – 31:38

Every game or two, Murray and the Nuggets are adding another minute or two to his playing time. Over the last four games, Murray has played better and better, showing the confidence, timing, and shooting touch that can only manifest from live repetition. The result? A 3-1 record, including two close wins that came down to Murray’s individual contributions in both cases.

The Nuggets are in a good place with their star guard.

Michael Porter Jr. is a top 5 shooter in the world

Though is professional career has been tumultuous to say the least, Michael Porter Jr. remains an incredible shooter. For his career, the 6’10” forward has maintained a 42.7% mark from three-point range on a tough shot diet. Opponents know how lethal he can be, but so far in his career, Porter hasn’t let that deter him.

To begin the season, Porter has been one of the world’s best shooters. He has made 33-of-67 three-pointers in his first nine games, good for 49.3%. He’s tied for 10th in the NBA in three-pointers made but just 27th in the NBA in three-pointers attempted. Among the other players to shoot as many threes as him, Porter’s shooting percentage ranks first.

What’s most impressive is his consistency. In seven of the nine games, Porter has shot exactly 50% from three, no matter the number of attempts. In one other game, Porter shot 30% from three, while in the other game, Porter shot 80%. Being that consistent is extremely abnormal, but it’s something that coaches and teammates love to see.

Porter may not have had a “top five shooter in the world” reputation before this season. That’s about to change.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is Denver’s best 3&D wing ever

While that may be an exceptionally high bar, I believe it’s true. Though the Nuggets have had a wide range of point guards, scoring forwards, and unique bigs throughout their history, they’ve always lacked the archetype of success for the modern NBA. 3&D wings don’t grow on trees, and the Nuggets haven’t had a lot of success bringing them to Denver.

Caldwell-Pope may be the best of them at this point. He’s shooting 52.4% from three to begin the season, and while that likely won’t persist, he will still shoot a high percentage overall. On the other end, he’s currently averaging a career high 1.6 steals per game, locking in against other top options and making them work for their buckets.

KCP is positioned to be the best 3&D option in Denver’s history. The Nuggets had Byron Russell late in his career, but he wasn’t anywhere close to his peak. Gary Harris and Aaron Afflalo are probably the other two primary candidates, but KCP’s savviness at filling the role could help him take up that mantle.

Nikola Jokić will average a triple-double

It’s difficult to commit too heavily to this one because 10 assists per game is a lot to average for anyone, let alone a big man.

Still, if anyone can do it from the center position, it would be Nikola Jokić. Joker’s currently averaging 20.9 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 9.3 assists in 32.6 minutes per game. The 9.3 assists would be a career high, and they would exceed Wilt Chamberlain’s 8.6 assists per game he averaged during the 1967-68 season, the most of any center in NBA history.

In order to achieve 10 assists per game though, Jokić has got some major work to do. If he played all 82 games, he’d have to account for 820 total assists. He’s at 93 through 10 games, meaning he’d have to averaged 10.1 assists in the final 72 games to exceed double digits. Any blowout win or loss likely means falling below that number as well, meaning he will have to rack up plenty of games with 12, 13, 14, or even more assists than that.

He can do it though, and it’s clear that Jokić wants to be more passing focused this season after multiple years of carrying the team as a scorer. With returning stars and a better cast of shooters and cutters around him, there’s no reason why he can’t at least push for that triple-double threshold.

If he were to average a triple-double on elite shooting efficiency for a team that finishes at the top of the West, that third MVP trophy might be more achievable than some believe it to be right now.

The defense will finish just outside top 10

There’s no doubt that the most disappointing aspect of the Nuggets through 10 games of the season has been their defense. The Nuggets have certainly eased into the season with both their defensive effort and defensive scheme. Though various parts of the defense are working, the unit as a whole ranks 22nd in defensive rating, per Cleaning the Glass (excludes garbage time).

In the last two weeks, the defense has picked up a bit. Denver’s had games of holding opponents to 99, 101, and 101 points. Though they caught the wrong end of the only Los Angeles Lakers shooting exhibition of the season, their other matchups have been kept reasonably under wraps. Credit the starters for making strides on that front.

The Nuggets will face better offenses in the coming weeks, and they will need to be locked in for those matchups. This team has almost always risen to those challenges though, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if they play more consistent defense against good teams than they do against bad ones. That’s just how they’re wired.

When it’s all said and done, I expect the Nuggets to be pushing for a top 10 defensive unit, though they’ll finish just outside that range.