The Denver Nuggets have captured their first NBA Championship in one of the more impressive postseason runs, especially from Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. A small market team has won the NBA Title, the fifth new Champion in as many years, a possible sign that there is a new age of parody in the Association that many have clamored for. What did the OKC Thunder learn from the Champion Nuggets?
Denver dominated most of the season before coasting to the Finish line post-All-Star break on their way to 53 wins. The Nuggets lost just four playoff games this season, turning in a 16-4 record since April 16th. An awe-inspiring feat, but when you wash away the records, stats, wins, and play style, this can all be boiled down to Patience.
The OKC Thunder can learn a valuable lesson from the Denver Nuggets as Jokic and company hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
As we get lost in the MVP talk, the real sticking point around why Denver was able to pull off a Title run is the patience they have shown throughout this process. The Nuggets drafted Nikola Jokic with the 41st pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, a brilliant stroke of luck that led to five All-Star and All-NBA appearances, along with two MVP awards en route to a Championship. That is rare and will likely never be seen again, but it happened. Though, drafting the Serbian Superstar was not some cheat code for the Nuggets. This was not a microwave fix.
Jokic did not come to the NBA until the 2015-16 season, and it has not been all sunshine and rainbows since. That year, the Nuggets hired Michael Malone, and the team went 33-49. Denver then finished with the following win totals on their way to a Title this year: 40, 46, 54, 46, 47, 48, and 53. The Nuggets did not make the playoffs until year four of the Jokic and Malone marriage. Along the way, one of the most respected front offices made mistakes and dealt with adversity.
For as good as the roster is in Denver, the team traded away Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell on trade night. They selected Emmanuel Mudiay over Devin Booker. With one of their three first-round picks in the 2016 Draft, Denver grabbed Juancho Hernangomez over the likes of Pascal Siakam, Dejounte Murray, Malcolm Brogdon, and even Caris LeVert. Most recently, Bones Hyland seemed to be a promising player for Denver before a messy ending forced the Championship organization to give him away for almost nothing. There were mistakes and misses along the way for the Nuggets’ front office, which is now lofted as one of the best in the sport. These things happen, even at the top.
Circling back to win totals, once the Nuggets finally broke through in year four to make the NBA Postseason, Malone and Jokic made it to the second round in their first go around. After that, they reached the Conference Finals before being bounced in the second round the following year. Just last season, the Nuggets took such a step back on the staircase of success they were ousted in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. This year, they went from a first-round exit to NBA Champions. Progression is not linear. Things happen, mistakes are made, and you have to go through battles.
Speaking of adversity, part of the reason the Nuggets were not a microwave success was due to Jamal Murray missing all of last year with a Torn ACL and only playing in 48 games of the 2020-21 season. Michael Porter Jr, who only fell to Denver in the 2018 draft due to concerns about his back coming out of college, missed his entire rookie year with a back injury. After just nine games, Porter Jr was sidelined in the 2021-22 season.
Patience is vital in life and basketball. Nikola Jokic played 68 playoff games before hoisting that Larry O’Brien Trophy. Jamal Murray played in 53. For this OKC Thunder team, the experience is not there yet. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has 13 playoff games under his belt, Lu Dort has 7, and Isaiah Joe has participated in 11. The rest of this young roster has not graced the hardwood during a playoff series, though their two play-in tilts this season were valuable.
The Nuggets stuck by their head coach, built around their star players, and made savvy free-agent pick-ups. Even the Aaron Gordon trade, which helped push this team over the edge, did not happen until March 2021, five years after Jokic debuted in the NBA. Even that trade was a salary filler, a flyer on a lackluster first-rounder, and a protected 2025 first-round pick. Not exactly breaking the bank.
So as OKC Thunder fans get caught up in the sugar rush that was this unexpected 40-win season, plead with Sam Presti to push their chips all-in this offseason; it is essential to remember the value of patience. As Presti says, “We have to finish our breakfast around here.”