Look: I'm a Nikola Jokic true believer. He lumbered over everyone in his postseason debut. He might already be the best passing big man ever. (Fun thing that won't happen: With Westbrook and Harden cannibalizing their individual assist totals, how cool would it be if Jokic made a run at leading the league in dimes? He tied for 13th last season with 7.3 per game; John Wall and Kyle Lowry tied for second, behind Westbrook, at 8.7 per game. Just saying.)
The Nuggets are deep, steeled with fresh playoff experience, and they know who they are. You can't point to any player other than maybe Malik Beasley who should (by the numbers) regress from last season. If you want to slide them up a tier, I won't fight you.
They are still quite young. A combination of bricky opponent shooting -- especially on a league-high number of corner 3s -- and an insane record in close games suggests Denver punched a little above its weight. Its 7-7 playoff run (after some expert bracket manipulation) doesn't exactly inspire. The Nuggets wheezed by a Spurs team that wasn't very good, and lost Game 7 at home against a Portland team missing its starting center. The gap between their best and second-best players will remain pretty big unless Jamal Murray makes another leap this season (totally possible, but he's still 22).
Denver compensates with enviable depth, but depth doesn't matter as much in the postseason. I've been beating the "Bradley Beal to Denver" drum for almost a year, and if the Nuggets ever cashed in some of that depth for a star, watch out. Denver can still break into the next tier as is if Murray hits another level and Michael Porter Jr. proves as good as the buzz emanating from Denver camp.
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