Despite COVID, injuries, the Denver Nuggets are still watchable

Denver Nuggets guard Bones Hyland (3) is defended by San Antonio Spurs guard Bryn Forbes (7) during the second half at AT&T Center on 11 Dec. 2021. (Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports)
Denver Nuggets guard Bones Hyland (3) is defended by San Antonio Spurs guard Bryn Forbes (7) during the second half at AT&T Center on 11 Dec. 2021. (Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports) /

This feels a lot like early 2020. Players are entering the league’s health & safety protocols as a close contact or infected persons and it’s hurting the watchability of some teams. Despite all this, the Denver Nuggets are still a must-watch thanks to Nikola Jokic.

Games are being postponed, star players are sitting out, rosters are being filled with end-of-the-bench two-way players, and with the Omicron variant affecting the entire world, it doesn’t look like there’s an end in sight.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver says there’s no plan to pause the league, saying that after assessing all options, there’s little merit in a leaguewide halt:

"“As we look through these cases literally ripping through the country, let alone the rest of the world, I think we’re finding ourselves where we sort of knew we were going to get to over the past several months, and that is this virus will not be eradicated, and we’re going to have to learn to live with it. I think that’s what we’re experiencing in the league right now.”"

On top of the COVID absences, the Denver Nuggets are dealing with several injuries including the long-term ones to Jamal Murray, P.J. Dozier, and Michael Porter Jr. as well as shorter injuries to Markus Howard and JaMychal Green.

The Dunc’d On NBA Podcast (subscription required) recently released a grim episode looking through all 30 teams and figuring out which teams are still watchable. With the NBA deciding to put their heads down and play through these interruptions, it’s almost not worth tuning into some games.

Teams like the Milwaukee Bucks are missing Giannis Antetekoumnpo and Khris Middleton while the Brooklyn Nets decided to bring back Kyrie Irving for away games before losing him to the health & safety protocols.

But the Denver Nuggets are dodging that billing. Despite all the absences (including the ones we knew about before the Omicron variant like Murray and MPJ), the Nuggets still employ Nikola Jokic, an MVP that has only grown this season.

Jokic is averaging 26.3 points, 13.5 rebounds, and 7.5 assists on the season while shooting 59 percent from the floor, 38 percent from the 3-point line, and 75 percent at the free throw line. What he’s doing, on a team with worse spacing and teammates than in the past, is absolutely absrud.

He’s garnering some well-deserved MVP buzz and also boasting the biggest on-off disparity I’ve ever seen since following the NBA. When Jokic is on the court, the Nuggets score 13.9 more points per 100 possessions, when he’s on the court, opponents score 13.6 fewer points per 100 possessions. That results in an overall +27.5 when he’s on the court…

Despite the injuries, Jokic is dragging this team to respectability and Denver is currently only one loss away from a top-four seed in the Western Conference. Before the start of the season, if people had known we’d be without Porter Jr. on top of Murray’s ACL, there’s likely nobody who would’ve picked them for a top-four seed.

The attention Nikola Jokic commands is also opening up opportunities for the rest of the roster and Bones Hyland, Aaron Gordon, Zeke Nnaji, Will Barton, and Monte Morris, among others, are all looking capable in their newfound roles. It bodes well for the future of the franchise as it adds rotation depth for the team when they’re ready to compete.

So when scrolling through NBA League Pass, looking at the TV schedule, or just watching games on repeat, know that the NBA’s MVP is still playing and whenever he’s on, people should watch. And with his exciting play, Nikola Jokic is keeping the Denver Nuggets watchable throughout this COVID slump.

dark. Next. Would a Jerami Grant reunion make sense?