Nuggets Destroy the Suns and Advance to Western Conference Finals–Is Jokic the Best Basketball Player in the World?

I feel partially vindicated here. On the one hand, I look like an idiot for picking the Timberwolves to beat the Nuggets in the first round. After two games of that series I immediately recognized the error of my ways and changed my thinking on the Nuggets.

But on the other hand, I have been right about the Suns the whole time. I wrote back on April 10 that their ceiling in the playoffs was winning one maybe two series, but that they were not championship contenders because they are not a playoff roster. Their team revolves around two jump shooters, they have ZERO toughness or grit outside of maybe Jock Landale, they don’t apply good rim pressure, Chris Paul is old and washed is a certainty to get hurt at some point in the playoffs (surprise–he did again!), Deandre Ayton is weak sauce, and the Suns simply do not have a bench. There was zero chance that KD and Booker could midrange jump shoot their way to a Championship, and we see they flamed out in the second round.

If the Clippers were healthy, they absolutely would’ve sent Phoenix home in the first round.

I said the only way the Suns would be able to win games was by having Booker and Durant combine for 80+ points efficiently. Lo and behold, the two games they were able to win against Denver (both of which were in Phoenix) saw Booker and KD combine for 86 points on 32/56 shooting, and 72 points on a whopping 25/37 shooting. That Game 4 Phoenix won was also the game where Landry Shamet added a shockingly unexpected 19 points on 5/8 three point shooting (Landry Shamet averaged just 4.3 points a game during this postseason run).

That was Phoenix’s only viable path to victory: either have Booker and KD combine for an efficient 80+, or have then combine for an efficient 70+ and pray that some role player steps up and punches way above his weight class.

There was no way Phoenix was doing that four times in this series against Denver. You just can’t win a series when your fourth leading scorer is Landry Shamet.

But give credit to the Nuggets. They’re a deep roster with lots of quality players. I loved KCP back when he was with the Lakers during the bubble. He’s a quality 3&D wing who hit some big time shots for the Lakers during that Championship run. Bruce Brown is a solid player, Christian Braun brings energy and hustle off the bench and I think he was really giving KD some problems in this series bumping him off his spots and stuff. Aaron Gordon is a really underrated player–big and physical. And then you’ve got to love what Jeff Green brings off the bench, even as old as he is.

Jamal Murray was inconsistent in the series, as was MPJ, and if Denver is going to actually go the distance in these playoffs, it’s on those guys’ shoulders. Those are the guys I worry about when it comes to Denver. See, in Game 1 against Phoenix, Jamal Murray had 34 points on better than 50% shooting.

In Game 2, also a Denver win, he had just 10 points on a horrific 3/15 shooting. He then followed it up with 32 points on 13/29 shooting.

Michael Porter, I don’t know if they’re going to get 10 from him or 25. It could be either or on any given night. He’s just an inconsistent player with a tendency to disappear at times.

Jokic, however, I don’t worry about at all. He is, quite simply, the best basketball player in the world right now. It’s time to face the facts, people. He may not look like it, he may not have the play style that screams out “Best Basketball Player Alive,” because we are all still in that MJ/Kobe/LeBron/KD/Steph wing mindset where you can’t be the best player in the world as a big.

But Jokic is the best basketball player in the world. He is a walking 30 point triple double–and a real triple double, not a Westbrook Triple double. Jokic’s triple doubles actually make his team better.

Nikola Jokic averaged 34-13-10 on better than 65% true shooting in the 6 games against Phoenix.

Those are mind-blowing numbers.

He is carrying the Nuggets at a LeBron James level, scoring or assisting on more than half of his team’s total made field goals in the series.

He had 53 points and 11 assists on 20/30 shooting in the Game 4 loss. Are you kidding me? That is sheer insanity. Those are ludicrous numbers. (Somehow he only had 4 rebounds in the game, but whatever).

Jokic is just on another level. I don’t think there’s another player in the league capable of doing what he does on a consistent basis. He’s just so complete, so efficient, and so smart–he really is the best basketball player in the world right now.

So, does that mean Denver is the favorite to win the whole thing? Does that mean they are going to beat whoever wins the Lakers/Warriors series and then go on to beat the Eastern Conference Champion?

I don’t know if I’d go that far.

Because here’s the thing: as impressive as he was against Phoenix, we should not expect him to play at that level consistently going forward.

Jokic’s numbers were worse against the Timberwolves in the first round–and the Timberwolves were a team that could actually play some semblance of defense. Jokic averaged 26-12-9, still great numbers, but on 57.5% true shooting.

In the Conference Finals, Jokic will have to go up against either AD or Draymond Green. That is, to say the least, a massive step up in competition vs. what he was dealing with in this series against Deandre Ayton, Bismack Biyombo and Jock Landale. It’s night and day.

Denver as a whole will have another thing coming for them against either the Lakers or Golden State. Those two teams–the Lakers especially–play defense.

Phoenix had no grit, no toughness, no real size, and they don’t play defense. They probably were the worst defensive team in the playoffs.

And again, as I’ve been saying, Phoenix isn’t even a real roster. It’s KD, Booker and a bunch of nobodies. Chris Paul is washed, then got hurt and missed the last 4 games of the series, and Deandre Ayton is nothing without Chris Paul.

When the Suns traded for KD, they absolutely gutted their roster. Losing Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson was massively detrimental because those two guys were the best 3&D wings Phoenix had.

Phoenix was already severely lacking in interior size and rim protection, but then in order to get KD they had to sacrifice their best wing defenders.

So then they just had nothing on defense, really. They were all-in on midrange jump shooting.

Again, as I’d been saying all along, Phoenix’s problem was a simple math problem: you are not going to hold anybody under 115-120 with any consistent regularity, and you have no one on your bench you can trust, so you’re going to need 80+ out of Booker and KD consistently.

The math wasn’t mathin’ with Phoenix. It never was.

And so because of how flawed and deficient Phoenix was, I’m not comfortable in saying the Nuggets should be the favorites to win the Championship. I’m comfortable saying Jokic is the best player in the world, but I can’t say Denver is the favorite to win the whole thing. I just can’t.

There is no team left in the playoffs anywhere near as bad as Phoenix is on defense. Not any of the teams remaining. I think Denver would have a lot of success against Golden State, but even Golden State is way better than Phoenix defensively.

I’m just saying that we should maybe not take too much from this Nuggets victory over Phoenix.

I never thought Phoenix was anywhere near as good as the media–and Vegas, who, and I can’t even type this without laughing, installed them as the favorites to win the Western Conference–hyped them up to be.

That’s what Denver proved in this series. They proved the Suns were completely fraudulent.

Yes, they also proved they are a pretty damn good basketball team, but I’m telling you, don’t take too much from this series victory over the Suns. Any of the other teams in the playoffs would’ve done this to Phoenix other than maybe the Knicks.

I heard people in the Twitter spaces last night talking about how Joker is unstoppable, they’re going to run through the Lakers (they were saying the Warriors might give them more trouble than the Lakers will), etc.

I don’t know if that is the case. I think Denver looked a lot better in this series than they actually are. They were on easy street offensively all series long. Even in the games they lost they still scored 114 and 129 (although they did win a game scoring 97).

All I’m saying is please do not expect the Nuggets to look like this for the remainder of the playoffs.

We need to wait until we see them against a real defense.

We need to see how Jokic holds up against Anthony Davis–and against the only player in the league who is on his level (probably above it) in terms of basketball IQ, LeBron James.

They say Jokic is a basketball supercomputer, well so is LeBron. Jokic gets more dangerous as the series goes on because he starts to figure out the other team’s tendencies and plays and gameplans. LeBron is arguably the best ever at doing that.

Of course the Lakers still have to close out Golden State, which I think they will do tonight. But if the Lakers do advance to play Denver, I don’t think that’s a good matchup for Denver.

I do think Denver has that altitude advantage and will probably win Game 1 no matter who they play in the Conference Finals, but it’s going to be a heavy lift for them no matter who it is–Lakers or Warriors.

One thing I do have to add: a lot of people look really stupid right now given all the Jokic hate they’ve spewed over the past few years.

Wow, it turns out advanced stats aren’t just a fugazi and they do actually provide worthwhile insights. They’re not perfect, but the people who threw them out entirely just because the advanced stats showed Jokic was an incredible player, that was dumb.

And the people who destroyed Jokic for not winning in the playoffs the past few years even though he didn’t have Murray or Porter–yeah, those people look like idiots as well. They look like hatin’ ass idiots.

Wow, it turns out that if you give Jokic his second and third best players, he can go on a deep playoff run!

Maybe the advanced stats were right!

Pay this man Jokic his respect.

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