The Denver Nuggets have drawn comparisons to Golden State in their building of a potential championship contender. Can Denver live up to the newfound hype?
These days, it seems like everyone wants to figure out who will succeed Golden State as the NBA’s next powerhouse. Some analysts see promise in the revamped Timberwolves, while others argue Milwaukee has the formula to become the next big thing. The Denver Nuggets have entered the race too, with several ESPN writers suggesting that the team is quietly recreating the Warriors’ path to a potential dynasty.
ESPN’s Micah Adams wrote an article last week titled “How Denver is stealing the Warriors’ championship blueprint.” Adams equates the 2017-18 Nuggets with the 2013-14 Warriors, a team that emerged from the Western Conference cellar and began an unexpected run to NBA dominance. He draws similarities in the two team’s drafting strategies, as both were able to find tremendous talents despite having lower picks.
Golden State's biggest copy cat is… Denver?
Why I think the next superteam is hiding in plain sight.https://t.co/dyZ3lGQj7Z
— Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13) October 10, 2017
Adams makes a direct comparison between the free agent signing of Paul Millsap and the Dub’s signing of, ironically enough, Andre Iguodala. Both players provide strong two-way play and a veteran presence for their new teams.
This isn’t the first time the folks in Bristol have prophesied Denver to be the next Golden State. Back in July, staff writer Tom Haberstroh picked the Nuggets as “the next‘ 14 Warriors,” also comparing the drafting of Jokic, Harris and Murray to Golden State’s drafting of Curry, Thompson and Green.
Just like Adams, Haberstroh views the Millsap signing as comparable to the Iguodala addition. He adds that Denver’s savvy drafting leaves plenty of cap room for a major free agent signing next offseason. Obviously, Its doubtful the Nuggets will get a Kevin Durant-level player. But they could lure another all-star to the Mile High City, especially if they make the playoffs this year.
These are some high expectations for a Denver team that hasn’t seen the postseason since 2013. It seems hard to imagine the Nuggets will come close to the sheer dominance that Golden State is displaying. But the similarities are hard to ignore. They’ll need be examined closely to find out where the future of this team lies.
Here are some reason you should, and shouldn’t, believe ESPN’s hype.
Reasons to believe
For a team to get on the Warrior’s level, they’ll need an up-tempo offensive attack. One that can match the blistering pace of Golden State’s three point assault.
The Nuggets have already done that. In fact, Denver had a higher ranked offense than Golden State for a large chunk of last season. That fact was evident when the Warriors came to the Pepsi Center in February and received a 132-110 beatdown. The Nuggets tied the NBA record for three-pointers in a regular season game at 24. They’re one of the few teams that can beat the sharpshooting Warriors at their own game.
In his article, Adams attributes Denver’s offensive emergence to Jokic’s coming out party at the center position. Something he thinks is comparable to Curry’s rise to superstardom as an all-world threat out on the perimeter.
Obviously, the two don’t have similar styles of play, but the argument is that they bring the same level of value on offense. In the same way Steph can shoot like nobody else, Jokic dishes out dimes like nobody his size can. The unique, high-level skillsets that each bring to their team are essential to taking their respective offenses to the next level.
A Gary Harris-Klay Thompson comparison is a much easier one to make. Since both play the shooting guard position, it’s a matter of numbers and when it comes to that, Harris actually has the upper hand in some areas.
At 22, Harris had a better field goal (50.2%) and three point percentage (42%) last season than Thompson did at the same age (42.2% and 40.1% respectively.) He also had more win shares despite seeing less minutes per game than Thompson did. Thanks to the Warriors, three-point shooting is a must-have for any NBA team looking to contend. The Nuggets have it with Harris, whose stroke is almost automatic from behind the arc.
It’s no guarantee that Harris will stay on the same trajectory as Klay, but the potential is definitely there. Nuggets fans should be ecstatic that Harris chose to re-sign for a reasonable rate, making it even easier to implement the Warriors’ blueprint down the line.
Among Denver’s cast of other young players, there’s plenty of potential for somebody to step up and become the Draymond Green, the player that adds that extra spark to really step up the team’s play.
Adams lists second-year guard Jamal Murray as a good candidate, as he’s shown flashes of brilliance on offense and solid shooting from three. But it doesn’t really matter who it is, as long someone fills the role. Denver has more than a few options for achieving just that.
Looking at all these pieces in place, maybe Darrell Arthur isn’t completely crazy after all.
Reasons to doubt
Notice that in all these comparisons, defense hasn’t been brought up much. That certainly aids Adams’ argument, but defense is arguably the most important piece of the puzzle.
The Warriors became true contenders not only because they could rain threes, but because they could shut down opposing offenses. Green, the reigning defensive player of the year, is a force of disruption all over the court. Meanwhile, Thompson stifles oppossing shooters with his superb perimeter defense. Add in the blocking ability of Durant, and the Warriors are a nightmare to score on.
Denver on the other hand, has struggled mightily on the defensive side. They finished the 2017 season ranked 18th in team defense. And they finished with a bottom three defensive rating from the December 15th on, when Jokic was moved into the starting rotation.
While Harris can match and potentially outpace Thompson at shooting, he can’t compare with Klay’s ability to lock down opposing guards. Similar things can be said of Mudiay and Murray, the two competitors for the starting point guard spot.
Despite popular perception, Jokic actually provides better defense in the post than we are led to believe. But even he will have to step it up if the Nuggets are to become a two-way team. Bringing in a defensive-minded asset like Millsap definitely helps. But the Nuggets will need their young stars to develop on defense if they want to win a championship any time soon.
Roster construction + Competition
The Nuggets also have some depth chart issues to work out before they can create their own version of a “death lineup”. They’ll have to sort out log jams at both the power forward and guard spots. They’re also in dire need of depth on the wing. Until Denver balances out its roster, they’ll have a hard time dominating like Golden State does.
But the biggest obstacle in the Nuggets way is the continued stockpiling of talent in the Western Conference. Before getting Kevin Durant, the Warriors didn’t have to face teams in the west that were built specifically to beat them. Now, teams like the Rockets, Timberwolves and Thunder are stacking up all-stars in a bid to dethrone the reigning champs.
The Nuggets are caught in the middle of an arms race. They’re trying to properly assemble a pistol while the best in the West have stocked their warehouses with fully automatics.
The West wasn’t weak in 2013-14 by any means, but the Warriors managed to burst onto the scene before things got truly ridiculous. Denver doesn’t have the same luxury, and will face an uphill battle just to finish near the top of the Northwest Division.
It’s not hard to see why these articles were written. Ideas about a post Warriors landscape are intriguing to anyone tired of watching the same Finals matchup every year. But trying to get ahead of potential future narratives is a difficult business. Any such theory is riddled with contingencies and uncertainties. It’s easy to connect the dots and paint an idealistic future in which all the pieces fall right into place. But that’s not how professional sports work.
Yes, the Nuggets share some of the Warriors strengths on paper. And yes, the future is undeniably bright in the Mile High City. But recreating what Golden State has built isn’t as easy as these articles want it to be. Denver still has a lot of work to do. This upcoming season will provide the Nuggets a chance to show how far they’ve come, but they’ll likely have much further to go before a championship is in sight.
If you’re a Nuggets fan, take the compliment, but take it with few grains of salt as well. More importantly, just enjoy this team for what it is: a group of great characters that have brought hope and fun back to Denver basketball.
Good things are in store for this team. But for now, let’s slow our roll and just enjoy the ride.