After Denver lost Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals, there was a popular narrative that the Nuggets had squandered the best chance of getting into the NBA’s final four, derailing some of their momentum heading into the offseason.
Although it may be true that Denver missed an opportunity against an injured Portland team, that’s an unfortunate oversimplification of a fantastic Nuggets season, one that puts that them in excellent position moving forward. While the rest of the league began the season looking at Utah as the next best team in the West, now it seems like everyone was just ignoring the sleeping giant in the room. The Warriors and Rockets may rule today, but Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets are the team of the future, and they’re already better than most teams in the present.
The Nuggets hadn’t made the playoffs since 2013 entering this season, when they served as a sacrificial lamb to a then up-and-coming Golden State group. They missed the postseason in 2017 and 2018 by one game, were roundly ridiculed for trading the pick that became Donovan Mitchell, and didn’t do anything to upgrade their roster this summer. Instead, Denver traded draft picks to shed salary in the form of Wilson Chandler, Darrell Arthur, and Kenneth Faried while selecting Michael Porter, Jr. with their first-round pick, a player who didn’t see the court for a single minute this season.
What the Nuggets did do was ink Jokic to an extension and choose to rely on their internal improvement to propel the team forward. And it has worked supremely well. Regardless of the outcome of Denver’s second-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers, this season has been a resounding success, both for how the Nuggets have performed now and how they have set themselves up for the future.