The start of the 2020-21 season has left many Denver Nuggets fans with unsettling feelings as we progress towards the campaign’s midway point.
22 games into the 72 game season, and the Denver Nuggets are in basketball purgatory. They’ve looked outstanding in spurts and dreadful in other instances.
For the first time since the Carmelo Anthony days, the Nuggets have a legitimate MVP candidate in Nikola Jokic. The problem is the rest of the team has struggled to play consistently around him, and that’s a big issue for Denver.
Following the team’s run to the Western Conference finals last season, expectations were set sky-high for a team that managed to overachieve in the controlled environment that was the NBA bubble. Since returning to a semi-regular schedule this season, the Nuggets appear to have reverted to their old, pre-bubble ways.
Jokic is the only exception. He is genuinely playing out of his mind right now, averaging nearly a triple-double per game. He’s notched a double-double in every contest this season and is fresh off dropping 50 points against the Sacramento Kings, albeit in a loss.
That said, Jokic cannot shoulder the blame in any way, shape or form. Certain players can single-handily will their teams to wins, and Jokic has done everything in his power to keep his team competitive this season in light of struggles across the board. Without him, Denver is probably at the bottom of the standings.
“You guys aren’t going to understand this, but more impressive than the 50 points … was his approach, his mindset, his leadership,” said Nuggets head coach Michael Malone. “I ran him the whole third quarter, and he said, ‘Hey listen, I’m ready to go. Get me back in the game.’”
Critics had previously questioned Jokic’s desire to win given his physical stature and loose playstyle, but he has silenced any and all critics this season.
Jokic has taken things up a notch and appears to be playing with a different level of intensity so far this season. Perhaps this is because Denver has relied upon him more due to the departure of Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee, and Torrey Craig. Or maybe he has started to realize his full potential as a ballplayer.
Whatever happened, Jokic has embraced the challenge of working with a new roster this season and has firmly established himself as a leader on the court.
Night in and night out, the Joker is bringing the heat, and it’s time the Nuggets considered giving him some legitimate A-type help.
“Our approach needs to be to win every possible game,” Jokic said. “We are not that good that we can give one game away.”
The Nuggets have regressed this season. There is no other way to slice it. They lost a few critical components to their latest postseason success and placed the weight of the franchise on the shoulders of Jokic, Jamal Murray and 22-year-old Michael Porter Jr.
Murray and Porter Jr. have struggled with the added responsibility, whereas Jokic has thrived. They are solid players, but it’s damn frustrating to watch Jokic go out there and play MVP level ball just to have the rest of the team fail to match his energy and intensity.
Sure there were some built-in excuses early on the season due to fatigue and the short offseason, but the Nuggets are not the only team dealing with these circumstances. Denver is in the midst of their championship window with Jokic in his prime, and they currently wasting away what could end up as the best single-season for a player in franchise history.
I’m not going to advocate for any trades of any players. We all know Murray and Porter Jr. are considered untouchable, but Denver desperately needs to do something to improve the roster down the stretch. We know who is out there, and we know the cost of acquiring premium talent in the league. At some point, Denver might need to go all-in with their ace in Joker.
With the level Jokic is playing at, there is no reason Denver should not be a top-4 seed in the Western Conference when it’s all said and done. One and a half games separate the #4 seed and the #8 seed in the Western Conference at the moment.
The cream always rises to the top, and with the team’s current complexion, one has to wonder if Denver is capable of being one of the top teams in the conference.
There is still plenty of seasons left. More than enough time for the team to get things figured out. The Nuggets have had some nice wins, but also some egregious losses.
At the end of the day, it’s hard to sit here and watch Jokic play at an elite level while the rest of the team struggles to rally around his play.The man needs help. Is it too much to ask that the front office figures out a way not to waste this historical season?