Some people still can’t wrap their heads around how the Nuggets won the 2023 NBA title. This wasn’t supposed to happen, casual fans couldn’t believe it happened, but Michael Malone’s team’s success wasn’t a fluke, let alone a thing of coincidence.
This championship was years in the making, and it went far beyond just having one of the best centers in NBA history. This team was meticulously and thoroughly planned. The fit was carefully studied, and they had uncharacteristic patience with Coach Malone.
Most teams would’ve fired their coach after seven trophy-less seasons. The Nuggets didn’t, and they now have their hands on the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the very first time in franchise history. Of course, it will take some time before they enter the list of the teams with the most NBA titles but it wouldn’t be shocking to see them become one of the next NBA dynasties. Here, we’ll break down how it happened.
How the Nuggets won the 2023 NBA title
First and foremost, the Denver Nuggets are the true definition of a team. They’re no one-man show, regardless of Nikola Jokic‘s greatness and historically-impressive postseason run. He couldn’t win on his own, even in back-to-back MVP seasons, simply because no player can win without a solid supporting cast.
Props to the Denver Nuggets for staying put with Jamal Murray. They could’ve taken the high road and parted ways with him after his major injuries, yet they were patient with him and trusted him as a pivotal part of their project. It paid off sooner rather than later.
The Nuggets had already reached the Western Conference Finals with Murray and Jokic together, but they weren’t ready and mature enough to take that leap forward. That wasn’t the case anymore after so many years of heartbreak in the postseason.
Adding more pieces
The Nuggets also did something multiple teams weren’t willing to do. They took risks. They drafted Michael Porter Jr. for his sky-high upside, even though multiple franchises had already passed because of his worrisome history with injuries. Once again, they didn’t sound off the alarms when he got hurt; they just waited for him.
Porter Jr.’s basketball IQ is still a work in progress, and chances are he’ll never be an even decent defender. But his shot-making skills are second to none, and the Nuggets made sure that he understood and embraced his role within the offense. He’s not ‘the man.’ He knows it. He doesn’t care. And that took him a very long distance this season. Still, he can get hot in the blink of an eye and be a major offensive factor for them.
The Nuggets then traded for Aaron Gordon, bringing his career back from the ground to prove that sometimes, all a player needs is a change of scenery to thrive. He was asked to take a role that wasn’t fit for his skills when he was with the Orlando Magic, where he had multiple coaches and was never able to establish himself in a system.
Gordon entered the league with high expectations, and some considered him a bust already. But he thrived in Denver, showcasing his unmatched athleticism as a roll man and a cutter, hitting shots from beyond the arc, and playing lockdown defense more often than not. He’s tailor-made for that role.
Last but not least, the Nuggets made moves to get the role players they needed to round out their lineup and get a matchup-based Sixth Man. They acquired Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who already had championship experience from his days with the Los Angeles Lakers, and who played a huge role with that three-and-D skill set that’s so highly coveted in today’s game.
But perhaps it was Bruce Brown the one who became a true X-factor. He played elite defense and guarded one through five, going over and under screens, putting his body on the line, and making hustle and winning plays on both ends of the floor. He’s now due for a big payday, and the Nuggets are likely to lose him, but they might well be prepared for that already.
Rookie Christian Braun excelled in his role from day one. He worked his way up the rotation, making the most of every single touch, hustling on the defensive end of the floor, and proving to be a trustworthy guy when the game was on the line, even during the playoffs.
Braun spent a lot of time in Kansas and improved every single year he was in college. He won three straight titles in high school, a national championship in college, and now an NBA championship as well. Winning habits matter, and the guy is a winner, so he’s likely to absorb most of Brown’s minutes going forward.
The Championship run
It wasn’t shocking to see that the Nuggets routed the Minnesota Timberwolves, a team that was never a true match. Their bigs aren’t equipped to contain Jokic, and Anthony Edwards‘ greatness was the only thing preventing them from a sweep.
Things got a little more complicated when Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, and Deandre Ayton were on the other end of the floor. But Paul’s injury took all momentum away from a Phoenix Suns’ team lacking depth and defensive effort. They still took two from the eventual champions, but it wasn’t enough.
Truth be told, the series versus the Los Angeles Lakers was closer than the final result shows. All four games were close at some point, but Darvin Ham and LeBron James could never figure them out. Jokic manhandled Anthony Davis on both ends of the floor.
Then, the Miami Heat became the only team that could take one game at Denver in the playoffs. That was a bit of a fluke, as the Nuggets only played a bad quarter of basketball in the NBA Finals, and that’s the only reason why they didn’t win in four games.