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How the Nuggets got here: A look at the rise of Nikola Jokic

Lionel Bienvenu takes a look back at the first nine years of the Nikola Jokic Era, and how the Nuggets got to this point: Their first-ever NBA Finals.
Posted: 5:00 AM, May 31, 2023
Updated: 2023-05-31 07:00:03-04
jokic era.jpg

DENVER — It's been a long and winding road to the Denver Nuggets' first ever trip to the NBA Finals.

They came into the league in 1976. And it's taken 47 years to finally get here.

So it's worth a trip down memory lane to see how this Nuggets team is better than all the rest.

Now there are a lot of numbers here. And a lot of names to go through as this team finally is on the verge of a championship. So how did they get here?

Well, we'll start 9 years ago.

Nikola Jokic was a second-round pick of the Nuggets in 2014, with his name called during a Taco Bell commercial on the draft broadcast.



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As a rookie in 2015, "The Joker" averaged 10 points and 7 rebounds a game. Danilo Gallinari was the leading scorer with 19 points a game. Will Barton, Emmanuel Mudiay, Kenneth Faried and Gary Harris were the supporting cast. That team went 33-49.

Nikola Jokic, Kevin Garnett
Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15), left, is covered by Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett (21) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Oct. 30, 2015, in Denver. Minnesota won 95-78. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

During the next season: 2016-2017, Joker was up to 17 points and 10 rebounds a game. Gallo was still the leading scored at 18 points a game. And rookie Jamal Murray, the Nuggets' first-round pick, averaged 10 points a game. But they finished 40-42, missed the playoffs and were dead last in the NBA in attendance.

In the 2017-2018 season, things were getting better. The Nuggets went 46-36. And Jokic became the leading scorer at 18 points and 11 rebounds a game. Gary Harris was second at 17 and a half points, and Murray was coming on averaging 17 points a game. Still the Nuggets missed the playoffs and still they were dead last in attendance.

In 2018-2019, the wild ride was about to begin.

Nuggets finished second in the west at 54-28. "The joker" was up to 20 points and 11 rebounds a game. Murray was scoring 18 points a game. But they were still not there yet with Gary Harris, Paul Millsap and Will Barton as supporting cast, losing in round two of the playoffs,

2019-2020 was the crazy season: the COVID-19 season.

The league went into the bubble, and the Nuggets actually thrived going 46-27, coming back from two 3-1 deficits to reach the Western Conference Finals where they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers. But Jokic and Murray established themselves as super-stars.

But the team was still not there as M.P.J. was injured for the playoffs, and Will Barton and Jerami Grant were not enough as the supporting cast.

How the Nuggets got here: A look at the rise of Nikola Jokic

The 2020-2021 season was good. They went 47-25, becoming second in the West. Jokic averaged 26 points a game. Jamal murray averaged 21. M.P.J finished with 19 on average, and Aaron Gordon was averaging 10 points a game.

But disaster struck late in the season.

Murray went down with a devastating knee injury, and the nuggets lost to the Phoenix Suns in round two of the playoffs.

During the 2012-22 season, Jokic won MVP awards and the Nuggets went 48-34. But without Murray, who missed the season, and M.P.J. out again with back and hip injuries, they could not get out of the first round of the playoffs. The Nuggets lost to the Golden State Warriors.

That brings us to 2023. Everyone was healthy: Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, and with the trade for Kentavious Caldwell pope and the signing of free agent Bruce Brown, they had a complete team. The super stars were healthy. The supporting cast was elite.

Nuggets Lakers Basketball
Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, center, gets a pat on the head from teammates after receiving the series MVP trophy after defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 4 of the NBA basketball Western Conference Final series Monday, May 22, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The Nuggets' top six players are averaging 110 points a game in the playoffs, and playing great defense as well.

This team has put it all together and has all the pieces to win its first ever NBA title.

Let the finals begin.

Nuggets Lakers Basketball


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