Will the Nuggets have multiple All-Stars next season?

Mar 19, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (1) reacts to Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) game tying three point basket in the fourth quarter at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The current iteration of the Denver Nuggets has primarily been a one star show.

Nikola Jokić is everything for the Nuggets organization. A back-to-back MVP, four-time All-Star, and four-time All-NBA in the last four seasons, Jokić has been soundly credited for elevating the Nuggets back to relevancy. He dominates the stat sheet with triple-doubles, makes game-winning passes and game-saving blocks, and is perhaps the most consistently dominant scorer in the NBA today. Even without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., the Nuggets made the playoffs outright last season, a feat few players could accomplish.

But the Murray and MPJ absences highlighted one singular tenet for the Nuggets going forward: they can’t just be a one star operation if the goals are championship caliber.

Perhaps the Nuggets would have fared better against the Golden State Warriors had they simply subbed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for Will Barton and Bruce Brown for Bryn Forbes. Maybe stronger defenders is all the Nuggets truly need to amplify Jokić in a playoff environment. Unfortunately, Jokić has struggled at various points carrying the entire offensive burden in recent years. Even though Jokić struggling will probably still yield 25 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists on 50% from the field, it’s not enough offense to keep up with the best offenses in the NBA.

The Nuggets need Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. back so Jokić doesn’t have to do everything by himself.

When Jamal Murray last played, he was in the midst of a career year. Following an incredible and highly publicized bubble playoff run, Murray started last year slow before turning on the jets. He averaged 21.2 points, 4.8 assists, and 4.0 rebounds per game on 47.7% from the field and 40.8% from three-point range. Those were nearly All-Star numbers, but through the first five seasons of his career, Murray hasn’t made an All-Star game.

When Michael Porter Jr. last played, it wasn’t much to write home about. During the 2020-21 season though, he was incredible. His defense left a lot to be desired throughout the regular season and the playoffs, but offensively, there were very few shooters in the NBA that could do what he did. In all, he averaged 19.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.1 assists while shooting an absurd 54.2% from the field and 44.5% from three. Those weren’t quite All-Star numbers, but increasing the number of shots and improving as a playmaker could certainly get him into the conversation.

Is it viable for Nuggets fans to expect multiple All-Stars though? Probably not.

The Western Conference is loaded with talented teams, and as a result, the All-Star roster is often full with elite players on the West side. In the backcourt where Murray resides, Stephen Curry, Luka Dončić, and Ja Morant are practically shoo-ins if healthy. Other guards like Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell (if he stays in Utah), Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and Klay Thompson have all made the team in past years. Other guards like Anthony Edwards, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and CJ McCollum are also lurking as potential new inclusions in the backcourt.

In the frontcourt where Porter resides, Jokić and LeBron James are obvious inclusions if healthy. The same goes for Kawhi Leonard, while Paul George, Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis, Draymond Green, and Rudy Gobert have all made the team in recent seasons. Beyond them, Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Domantas Sabonis, and Deandre Ayton are lurking.

To expect either Murray or Porter to rise to those heights coming off of injuries may simply be too much. Jokić carries so much of the offensive burden that the remaining possessions are often spread too thin. If Jokić averages 26 points per game like he did during the 2020-21 season, Murray averages 21, and Porter averages 19, that’s already 67 points per game between the three of them. In the entire NBA last year, here were the trios that averaged at least 66 points a night:

There’s some room for improvement there as Denver’s stars become more comfortable carrying a heavy burden. With both Murray and Porter likely to be on minute and game restrictions though, it’s difficult to see them exceeding their 2020-21 outputs by enough to be locked in as All-Stars. If it were either Murray or Porter coming back, then there would simply be more points up for grabs. Perhaps Denver can utilize load management to their advantage by finding opportunities for both Murray and Porter to shine in games when the other doesn’t play. Whether that’s enough to push for an All-Star bid remains to be seen.

The one factor the Nuggets have going in their favor is expected record. With improvements made to perimeter defense and the return of two very talented players, the Nuggets will almost certainly win 50+ games in the 2022-23 season. Where they are in the standings around January 15th to 22nd when All-Star rosters are decided might change the number of All-Stars the Nuggets get. If the Nuggets are 30-15 and in first place in the Western Conference when ballots close, then the coaches that pick All-Star teams may feel obliged to include more than one Nugget. If Murray’s averaging 22 points per game on a title contender, that might be enough to justify including him over a player like Damian Lillard, even if Lillard is averaging slightly better numbers on a worse team. If Porter’s at 20 points and 8 rebounds on a first place team in the West, then perhaps one of Zion Williamson or Brandon Ingram is left off the team if the Pelicans are sitting in ninth place.

This is perhaps wishful thinking, but it’s the way the Utah Jazz were able to finagle three All-Star spots when Rudy Gobert (defensive ace) and Mike Conley were both averaging under 17 points per game. If the Nuggets win, they will be allotted certain privileges as long as one (or both) of Murray and Porter are in the picture. If the Nuggets don’t win enough games to separate themselves, then they’re almost guaranteed to have just one All-Star.

The Nuggets will probably be great whether Murray or Porter make the All-Star game or not. The structure of the team is well suited to enhance what Jokić does well, and both Murray and Porter add to the firepower. They help increase Denver’s margin for error on both sides of the ball. Though that might not be enough to make the final cut on the West All-Star team, it will certainly be enough for Denver’s title chances.

Still, let’s see if Murray or Porter can surprise the NBA world and join Jokić in Salt Lake City this year.

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