Western Conference Dark Horse Team
A part two to my last article where I discussed a possible Eastern Conference dark horse team, the Western Conference is a completely different animal. In possibly the best state of the conference’s career, the West has a chance at featuring up to seven different 50+ win teams. However, there are teams that are still flying under the radar and may not be considered as a contender. So let’s take a look at the Denver Nuggets and their chances at making a run in the Western Conference.
Roster: The Denver starting lineup consists of Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Wilson Chandler, Paul Millsap, and Nikola Jokic. Murray, now entering his second year in the league, had an up and down rookie season. However, he was selected to the Rising Stars Challenge, ended up averaging 9.9 points per game, shot just over 40% from the field, and 33.4% from behind the arc. Although not the greatest stat line, Murray shows a surplus of potential and could blossom into a future all-star.
Gary Harris, on the other hand, flew far under the radar last season as he averaged 14.9 points a game, shot over 50% from the field, and 42.0% from deep. Harris led the team in steals, and he was one of the more underappreciated members of the organization. Wilson Chandler, the veteran of the Nuggets starting lineup, averaged nearly 15 points per game on 46.1% from the field. Although not likely part of the Nuggets long-term future, Chandler is a solid scoring presence who obtains the ability to contribute off the bench. Paul Millsap, probably the most underrated signing of the offseason, averaged over 18 points per game last season while also continuing to be the league’s most underrated defender.
He, along with the rising star in Nikola Jokic, should combine to be one of the best front courts in the league. Nikola Jokic is the leagues most exciting young player, as last season Jokic averaged 16.7 points per game, 9.8 rebounds, and 4.9 assists. These stats came in a late-season push as Jokic didn’t see many minutes early in the season due to the surplus of centers the Nuggets had obtained. However, after some mid-season trades, Jokic broke out and proved that he has the potential to be a franchise player for years to come.
Season Prediction: In an ultra-competitive Western Conference, many have already written the Nuggets off due to possibly the craziest offseason in NBA history. However, under an offensive genius head coach in Mike Malone, the Nuggets have the potential to reach as high as the sixth seed in the Western Conference. Although, in order to accomplish this they would need some breakout seasons from Gary Harris and Jamal Murray. Harris did perform adequately last season, but in order to have a real shot in the Western Conference, he will need to turn into a 17+ per game scorer. As for Murray, he will have to become a more consistent player and learn how to run an offense without trying to do too much.
Millsap and Jokic will need to learn how to play together, and quickly. In his short tenure as a starter, Jokic has yet to have shared the court with another star. Millsap did it for many years alongside Al Horford, where the two saw great success. To me, it seems that these two will have no problems, as neither are known as “bad teammates”, but you can never be too sure. If Millsap attempts to establish himself as the dominant player, this Nuggets team will go down, and it will go down quickly. At the end of the day, the Nuggets are one of the leagues most underrated teams, and I see them winning close to 46 games this season.