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Anatomy of an NBA finalist | The slow and meticulous construction of the Nuggets

The NBA is about cycles. The era of “super teams” seems to have had its day, in this case. If it could work in the past in South Beach or Los Angeles, the Warriors or the Celtics, and now the Nuggets, champions of the Western Conference, proves that you can build a team that wins thanks to the Draft.

A long-term project that comes to fruition

As the Spurs had also done in the past by building their dynasty on David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and finally Kawhi Leonard, the Nuggets have also bet on continuity since the arrival of Mike Malone in the Rockies in 2015. After Gregg Popovich, Erik Spoelstra and Steve Kerr, who have all won the supreme title several times, Mike Malone is the longest serving coach in the NBA.

By choosing to focus their game identity on Nikola Jokic, a most atypical passing pivot, the Nuggets have also established a real local culture, embodied by the duo Malone – Jokic for the most part, but also behind the scenes by Calvin Booth, the GM who also studied internally. A continuity that reassures Mike Malone.

“Having him come forward after Arturas left in Chicago and then Tim in Minnesota was very important to me because he had been there for four or five years. I told Josh (Kroenke, the owner) when Tim left, ‘I have a feeling Calvin is more than ready to lead this franchise. »

A former blue-collar interior who still survived ten years in the NBA, Calvin Booth managed to find his place on the other side of the fence. First as a scout for the Pelicans in 2012, then personnel manager in Minnesota and finally assistant GM in Denver in 2017.

Calvin Booth, a Nuggets-trained GM

Appointed GM on July 7, 2020, he learned from Tim Connelly, then he continued his work by intelligently making small adjustments to his already well-established roster on his Jokic – Murray – Porter Jr axis.

“It’s pretty unreal to know that we have now reached the level of the NBA Finals, which is a first in the history of our franchise,” savor Calvin Booth on NBARadio. “The guys at the top of our food chain, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, not to mention Michael Porter Jr, have set out to get us through to June with their competitive spirit. We had health, players at their best level, and very good coaching, and that’s why we are still standing today. »

A team that has progressed from year to year and which confirms once and for all that its results in the “bubble” of Orlando were not a flash in the pan, Denver has a workforce as long as an arm and players of very high level to embellish the whole.

Back in a few dates on the construction of the stronghold of Colorado.

June 26, 2014: Draft of Nikola Jokic (41st choice)

Chosen during a publicity break, very late at night, Nikola Jokic certainly took a little time to become the ogre he is now, double MVP of the League and triple-double machine in these playoffs. But it was this obscure June 2014 Draft pick that tipped the fate of the Colorado franchise. After the inglorious end of the Melo era, and the bitter failure of its association of crazy scorers with Allen Iverson, the Nuggets sailed on sight, without any real horizon. Until the arrival of Michael Malone, just sacked from the Kings, to the general surprise of his friends and many observers.

Sacramento just got over it…

June 15, 2015: arrival of Mike Malone

Landed at the head of a team that had finished with 30 wins the previous season, Mike Malone has constantly improved the Nuggets: 33 wins in his first season, 40 the second, 46 for the third and 54 in 2018/19 to find the playoffs. Then the conference final in the “bubble” two years later. And the NBA Finals this year!

“We all know that the word patience is not spoken much in our world”adds Mike Malone in The Athletic. “That they had the patience [de ne pas me renvoyer] after this third season, to 46 victories when we just miss the playoffs. They had seen something. They had sensed something in Nikola, in Jamal, in me. And they let it mature. »

June 23, 2016: Draft of Jamal Murray (7th choice)

With his reputation as a crazy scorer in Kentucky (and before), and his stories of rather hardcore training sessions with his father in the snow of Toronto, Jamal Murray too has taken a little time to find himself at the highest level. If he has always had this natural talent for putting the leather in the circle, he had to jump the pitfalls of injuries and malforms. To silence once and for all the critics who only saw in him a unique phenomenon, “Bubble Murray”.

History in history, Jamal Murray is a collateral effect of the exchange of Carmelo Anthony in New York. Five years after his departure for Gotham, Melo therefore brought good luck to his former franchise, which made use of its right to exchange draft picks in 2016, recovering the leader in 7th choice (instead of the 9th choice initially).

“I am so happy for Jamal”exclaimed Jokic after the sweep against the Lakers. “He proved his worth and proved that he was a special player in this League. »

June 22, 2018: Michael Porter Jr. Draft (14th pick)

If it is a lesser event in the more general chronology of these Nuggets champions of the West, knowing that he missed many games with several long injuries (in the back in particular), the selection of Michael Porter Jr. in the Draft 2018 still proves two things: that Denver was first ready to wait for this young player to recover from these physical problems, and second, that the Nuggets were thinking bigger. Literally.

Because with a “frontline” that combines Nikola Jokic and his quality of passing and his scoring, Aaron Gordon and his athletic qualities and his versatile activity, plus Michael Porter Jr. with his size and his shot at post 3, the Nuggets have unlocked the coded. They play with size advantages, favorable duels against any team. And these playoffs proved their strike force, crushing the Gobert – Towns duo in the first round, exhausting the Warriors in the second and crushing the Lakers in the final of conf ‘…

“We remember well when it was far from certain that he was going to find this physical level”was moved by Michael Porter Sr. on Twitter. “We are so grateful to the Nuggets franchise for their wisdom, their foresight and, frankly, the balls to bet on [notre fils] ! »

March 25, 2021: trade for Aaron Gordon

Acquired in exchange for Gary Harris (since subscribed to the infirmary), RJ Hampton (who disappeared from the radar) and a protected Draft round in 2025, just before the “trade deadline” of March 2021, Aaron Gordon was a blow genius from Calvin Booth and his staff.

Perfect complement to Nikola Jokic inside in that he brings the pep and the relaxation that the Serb does not have, who can on the other hand serve him at will at the alley oop or on a two-player game, between interiors, which can also be formidable, he has been an indestructible starter since his arrival in Colorado. By also bringing his defense, necessary against the wingers of the West.

I see the game differently. Just the angles. The readings of the game. I finally feel like I can read the game better”, he explained recently at the Denver Post. ” Jok’s game intelligence surpasses everything. He is a basketball scholar. He’s just a genius. It’s great to discuss with him, to understand how he sees the game. How can we simplify the game for him, how does he need us to position ourselves? »

Off-season 2022: final touches from veterans

Aaron Gordon is one of the latest pieces reported but he is not the latest. The Nuggets made other adjustments that were fine-tuned last offseason with the arrival of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a clean shooter and experienced defender who perfectly fills the last box of the major five at the back (in July 2022, with Ish Smith against Will Barton and Monte Morris).

We can also highlight the contribution of Bruce Brown, signed as a “free agent” last July and two other veterans, Jeff Green who was very useful during the season, and DeAndre Jordan.

Patiently built with clever and/or daring Draft choices and intelligent additions to the power winger and fullback positions, the Nuggets squad has had its share of disappointments, eliminated by the Lillard duo Blazers – McCollum in 2019, then in the conference final by the Lakers the following year in the “bubble”, but, with the same captain and a well-established collective that is maturing, Denver is now the favorite to win the Graal…

“It all starts with this desire to believe in yourself, and even more in the collective”, concludes Mike Malone. “I’ve seen that faith throughout the season. We knew it in mid-December when we arrived at the first place in the West. Despite the ups and downs, we never lost our first place in the West. To beat this team in the Conference Finals and do it with the first sweep in franchise history is huge. But I say it on behalf of the seventeen players in our locker room and our entire franchise: we are not yet satisfied! We’re going to enjoy it a bit and it’s going to be one hell of a flight home. But we still have work to do! »

Shots Bounces
Players GM Minimum Shots 3 points LF Off Def Early pd bp Int CT party Points
Nikola Jokic 69 33.7 63.2 38.3 82.2 2.4 9.4 11.8 9.8 3.6 1.3 0.7 2.5 24.5
Jamal Murray 65 32.8 45.4 39.8 83.3 0.7 3.2 4.0 6.2 2.2 1.0 0.2 1.6 20.0
Michael Porter, Jr. 62 29.0 48.7 41.4 80.0 1.0 4.5 5.5 1.0 1.1 0.6 0.5 1.9 17.4
Aaron Gordon 68 30.2 56.4 34.7 60.8 2.4 4.1 6.6 3.0 1.4 0.8 0.8 1.9 16.3
Bones Hyland 42 19.5 39.9 37.8 86.6 0.2 1.8 2.0 3.0 1.6 0.7 0.3 1.6 12.1
Bruce Brown, Jr. 80 28.5 48.3 35.8 75.8 0.8 3.3 4.1 3.4 1.5 1.1 0.6 2.4 11.5
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 76 31.3 46.2 42.3 82.4 0.5 2.3 2.7 2.4 1.1 1.5 0.5 1.9 10.8
Reggie Jackson 16 19.9 38.3 27.9 83.3 0.2 1.6 1.8 3.1 1.2 0.6 0.1 1.4 7.9
Jeff Green 56 19.5 48.8 28.8 74.4 0.7 1.9 2.6 1.2 0.8 0.3 0.3 1.8 7.8
Zeke Nnaji 53 13.7 56.1 26.2 64.5 1.2 1.4 2.6 0.3 0.6 0.3 0.4 2.0 5.2
Deandre Jordan 39 15.0 76.5 100.0 45.8 1.3 3.8 5.2 0.9 1.2 0.3 0.6 1.8 5.1
Vlatko Cancar 60 14.8 47.6 37.4 92.7 0.4 1.7 2.1 1.3 0.6 0.4 0.2 1.4 5.0
Christian Brown 76 15.5 49.5 35.4 62.5 0.6 1.8 2.4 0.8 0.5 0.5 0.2 1.3 4.7
Thomas Bryant 18 11.3 48.5 44.4 72.2 1.1 2.3 3.3 0.1 0.6 0.1 0.4 1.4 4.6
peyton watson 23 8.1 49.2 42.9 55.0 0.3 1.3 1.6 0.5 0.3 0.1 0.5 0.6 3.3
Ish Smith 43 9.3 39.7 16.7 50.0 0.1 1.1 1.3 2.3 1.0 0.2 0.2 0.8 2.5
davon reed 35 9.0 31.3 36.4 75.0 0.3 1.3 1.6 0.5 0.6 0.4 0.1 1.0 2.3
Jack White 17 3.9 42.1 33.3 66.7 0.4 0.6 1.0 0.2 0.1 0.2 0.1 0.5 1.2

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