The Denver Nuggets development mirrors that of the Golden State Warriors dynasty

Watching the 2020 Denver Nuggets play had me thinking; I’ve seen this playoff leap before. It was the Golden State Warriors, pre dynasty.

The Warriors, who began their leap to relevance, and eventually a dynasty, back in the first round of the 2013 playoffs, against the Nuggets, of all teams. Back then, the Warriors were led by Mark Jackson, whose lead assistant coach was current Denver coach Michael Malone. So if you are looking to a similar culture, look no further than that connection.

The 2013 Golden State Warriors have been forgotten about by the masses, and for good reason. Their dynasty from 2015-2019 was historic and deserves the limelight. But that 2013 team was the building block for that dynasty to occur.

The unproven sixth-seed Warriors overcoming the third-seed Nuggets qualified as a legitimate upset back in 2013. It wasn’t just the series that revealed the Warriors’ playoff mettle. It’s also the series that enticed Andre Iguodala to join up. It set the Warriors on the fast track to legitimacy and beyond.

I’m not here to say the 2020 Denver Nuggets are the next coming of the Warriors, but the 2020 Nuggets seem awfully similar to the 2013 Warriors.

“History doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme.”

The 2020 Nuggets, who narrowed the Lakers’ Western Conference finals lead to 2-1 after a victory in the NBA bubble on Tuesday, are on a slightly different track, but they’re making a similar leap.

Questions remain about whether this is all quite real or just a bubble mirage. While those questions remain, the Nuggets gain respect with each passing day. More and more people believe they’re seeing a new power emerge. I am a believer too.

The reason for me believing that is the parallels between the last NBA dynasty and the league’s current cinderella story.

Built Not Bought

The Denver Nuggets are such an easy team to root for because they grew organically into a contender.

There’s nothing morally superior about developing your own draft picks into contention, but it is, generally, a more gratifying fan experience. It is also a key role in teams rising to the occasion unexpectedly, catching the basketball world off guard.

If young players suddenly make the leap, all at once, a team can shoot way past projections like the early Dynasty Warriors did and as the current Nuggets are doing. Which brings us to the next comparison.

These Nuggets Came Out Of Nowhere

Like the 2014-2019 Warriors, we were not promised or prepared for these Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets have not developed on a predictable trajectory like that old Kevin Durant Thunder team or the modern Dallas Mavericks, led by a hyped superstar.

These Nuggets are not headed up by top-five picks or super-athletic wings. They are their own invention and for that reason, nobody really saw them coming.

Denver has their “Steph Curry”

Jamal Murray, who three point shooting and fearlessness to pull up from 30 with the game on the line, is who you would expect me to compare to Steph Curry. But Murray is not Denver’s Curry.

It’s Nikola Jokic.

Nikola Jokic reminds me of Steph, even though we are talking completely different body types. Here is why.

Both players have been underestimated on the basis of appearance and both players boast a unique, dominating skill.

For Curry, it’s shooting, on ball and off. For Jokic, it’s passing, from the perimeter and from the post.

The perimeter passing is what sets Jokic apart and completely inverts the game. Just as defenses were not initially set up for guarding what Curry could do out of the pick-and-roll (during the 2013 playoff run, Curry completely broke years of established pick-and-roll coverage rules), defenses are also not constructed to deal with a 7-footer who passes like a more creative Jason Kidd.

Defenses are trained on certain assumptions. They assume that a big man wants to score at the rim, or maybe, in this day and age, pop out and hit the 3-pointer. But Jokic makes defenses scatter for help, never knowing how to exactly attack him.

Jokic takes typically stout big-man defenders like Steven Adams and Rudy Gobert, away from the basket, making them guard the perimeter as they tap dance and flail their arms.

For the short bigs who enjoy small ball, like Montrezl Harrell, Jokic simply turns his big frame and backs them down straight to the rim, finishing with a baby hook shot.

Sending a double team or a trap? Good luck. Jokic will dissect the defense as if he is prime Steve Nash.

Jokic simply strikes fear in opposing defenses, despite being the last athletic superstar the game has ever seen.

But the comparisons continue.

A Supporting Cast

The Warriors had Curry but also so much more, especially after Iguodala joined the team in summer of 2013. Beyond the All-Star turns for Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, the dynastic Warriors had solid contributions from veteran helpers. The Nuggets have a younger supporting cast, one that’s growing alongside their stars.

The wild card for the potential Nuggets dynasty is Michael Porter Jr. The Warriors didn’t have a true comparison for Porter Jr. But if I were to make one it would be Draymond Green.

Green is almost the antithesis of Porter in that he always was a defensive-minded grinder instead of a touted future star, but there is a comparison here.

The Warriors were set with the Splash Brothers for the next decade, but they were never going to reach the levels they did without the rise of Draymond Green.

As I look at the Nuggets, the same can be said. They got their dynamic duo of Jokic and Murray in place for the foreseeable future. But for their wishes of becoming a dynasty and winning titles to come true, they need Porter Jr. to ascend.

I think he can.

These Nuggets are arguably deeper than those early-stage Warriors, who would regularly get outscored whenever Curry sat. When Murray and Jokic are off the floor, the Nuggets are able to hold their own. Given the supplementary help from Jerami Grant, Gary Harris, Monte Morris and Paul Millsap, the Nuggets could adopt the Warriors slogan of “Strength in Numbers.”

Final Thoughts

In sports, we can’t help but make comparisons, even if nothing is entirely the same as something else. There are similarities, though, and patterns that repeat across time.

We often set the stage for the next great power, relying on name cachet and our own assumptions of what works. Then an unconventional team comes along and changes the sport’s entire paradigm out of nowhere. The Warriors did this and in so doing became one of the greatest teams we ever saw.

The Denver Nuggets have much to prove before even coming close to that status. Maybe they’ll never get there, but it’s getting harder to deny that they have a significant shot at greatness, in the immediate present and long into the future.

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