Denver Nuggets: The path to the NBA Finals is through their defense

Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murry, Denver Nuggets. (Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images)
Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murry, Denver Nuggets. (Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images) /

The Denver Nuggets are fully healthy again and expectations are higher than ever. The season is underway and one thing is clear through the preseason and opening games, the Nuggets need to be elite on the defensive end if they want to make it to the NBA Finals.

Through the first three games of the 2022-23 season, the Denver Nuggets lost to the Utah Jazz on opening night before winning two straight against the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder.

In the two wins, the Nuggets scored 128 and 122 points respectively and boasted an offensive rating above 116, a mark that would’ve been in the top three for the 2021-22 season. With their full complement of players available, Denver fans know and expect these kinds of offensive explosions.

Despite the heavy-hitting offense, this is probably the most talented defensive team of the Michael Malone era. Offseason acquisitions like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Bruce Brown, and DeAndre Jordan and draft selections in Christian Braun, Peyton Watson, and Ismael Kamagate add plenty of defensive-minded length.

Newly-appointed general manager, Calvin Booth, fortified the offensive nucleus of Nikola Jokic, Michael Porter Jr., and Jamal Murray with long, athletic and defensive-minded wings.

While each of the core should improve on defense, it was imperative that the Nuggets acquire players who would be able to take on the challenge of guarding players such as Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, Devin Booker, and Luka Doncic among others, on any given night.

It’s clear that the Nuggets now have the personnel to meet the challenge, but can they put it together on the court?

The final four teams in the 2022 NBA Playoffs were the Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, and Dallas Mavericks. These four teams happened to be four of the seven-stingiest defenses in the league via

Michael Malone has referenced this fact several times this offseason and he has mentioned that in order for the Nuggets to get where they want to go they will have to commit to being the best defensive unit they’ve ever been during the Michael Malone era.

Newly hired assistant coach Ryan Saunders has been taking up the main duties as the team’s defensive coordinator but the Nuggets will need to rely on player-to-player communication more than ever if this task is to be accomplished.

Given how early we are in the season, the sample size is too small to know if Denver is elite on the defensive end but they look the part in the eye test. It’s clear that the right pieces are around the core and they’ll only get better with time.

It’s this defense that could help them bring the Larry O’Brien trophy to Denver for the first time in history.

The reigning back-to-back NBA MVP, Nikola Jokic, is 27 years old and right in the middle of his prime. Throughout NBA history great teams have been able to maximize the peaks of historically great players by fortifying them with a roster of teammates who amplify their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses.

During the past two postseason runs, the Denver Nuggets have been outmatched by Western Conference teams that ended up playing in the NBA Finals (Warriors and Phoenix Suns), somewhat due to injuries and somewhat due to the poor roster construction around Jokic, MPJ and Murray.

But with the recent acquisitions, those defensive issues have a reasonable path to being solved. It is up to Michael Malone, Nikola Jokic, and the rest of the Denver Nuggets players to take up the challenge and become a team just as formidable on the defensive end as it is on the offensive side of the basketball.

As Malone said before the season started, there’s a different vibe in the gym:

"“There’s a really good vibe this group. The energy has been great, the work ethic has been great, and I think the guys feel something about this group where we have a chance to be special.”"

There are no more injuries and the defensive concerns should be addressed. It’s now winning time.

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