Nikola Jokic is the best center in the NBA and the Denver Nuggets are the second-best team in the Western Conference. If, that is, the league’s top front office executives are to be believed.
With NBA.com releasing its 18th annual survey of the league’s general managers today, it is clear that the Denver Nuggets as a team, and franchise cornerstone Nikola Jokic in particular, are now viewed as a force to be reckoned with.
And perhaps just as importantly to the Nuggets faithful who decry what they see as the team being perpetually underrated and disrespected, it appears Denver’s growing success is garnering a greater degree of admiration around the league.
Fans of the Denver Nuggets have long lamented the seeming lack of respect and recognition which their favorite team and players typically get on the national media stage. And they’ve often had a point, as with a tweet from ESPN following Jokic’s dominant performance in Denver’s opening win in their second-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers last April. Nuggets fans were quick to point out that not only did Damian Lillard – whose team lost the game – get top billing as the tweet’s main subject, but that ESPN hadn’t even mustered up the courtesy to update Denver’s old logo, which had been out of use for a full season.
Whether the perceived motivation for the national media dissing Denver has been viewed as click-driven prioritization of marquee player names, a general lack of awareness of what’s happening with a smaller-market “flyover country” team, or actual antipathy, Nuggets Nation has generally felt short-shrifted when it comes to their team getting its due.
But what a difference a successful season makes. Doubt was the conventional default position regarding the Nuggets a year ago, but clinching the second seed in the West and taking Portland to the brink of the conference finals helped convert most Denver skeptics into believers.
In last year’s GM survey, the most notable result for the Nuggets was Jamal Murray coming in first as most likely to have a breakout season. Beyond that, however, Denver’s representation was mostly nominal:
- Jokic was in the “also receiving votes” group for best center, and in a two-way tie for third place for best international player.
- Michael Porter Jr. was in a three-way tie for third place for biggest steal of the draft.
- Isaiah Thomas was in a three-way tie for sixth place for most underrated player acquisition.
- Will Barton was in the “also receiving votes” group for bench player who makes the biggest impact.
- The Nuggets came in third for best home court advantage and were clustered in the “also receiving votes” groups for both most promising young core and most fun team to watch.
For the most part, outside of Murray the Nuggets and their players got some slight recognition around the margins, but nothing really to write home about.
That lies in stark contrast to this season, where they have surged in some categories on the heels of exceeding expectations last year. Below we take a look at the details of where the Nuggets got votes in this year’s GM survey.
Denver Nuggets Results In The 2019-20 NBA GM Survey
Nikola Jokic: Best Center In The NBA
While Jokic’s selection as best center in the NBA may not be too surprising after he was named last season as center of the All-NBA First Team, the aspect of the voting which is getting the most buzz on social media is the margin by which le led second-place finisher Joel Embiid. The “Who’s better, Jokic or Embiid?” debate has been one of the most hotly contested on NBA Twitter for months now, and creates an overall impression that it’s a very close call. In this case, however, Embiid came in with 28% of the votes while Jokic got 48%, coming in first by a definitively wide margin.
Nikola Jokic: Second-Best International Player In The NBA
It might have been nice for Jokic to come in first in this category as well, but it’s hard to argue with reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo claiming the honors.
Denver Nuggets: Second-Best Team In Western Conference
The results here were interesting, and critics might push for an asterisk. When asked to vote for the top four teams in the West, GMs gave the highest percentage of second-place votes (28%) to Denver. Three teams which received fewer total votes, however, did get more first-place votes than the Nuggets: the Lakers, Rockets and Warriors.
Denver Nuggets: Most Fun Team To Watch
With Jokic at the nexus, Denver plays a legitimately beautiful brand of basketball that people, including GMs, truly enjoy watching. If Nuggets fans feel too-often dissed on the national NBA scene, they will hopefully feel the love here.
Denver Nuggets: Best Home-Court Advantage
As mentioned above, Denver was third in this category last season, but that was largely due to still-powerhouse Golden State skewing the results. Now that a modicum of parity has been restored in the NBA, the Nuggets’ altitude advantage is coming through more clearly in the voting.
Nikola Jokic: Second-Best Passer
It’s not surprising for Jokic to get accolades in this category with his extraordinary playmaking, but to come in second only after LeBron James is impressive. Even more so since James got 57% of the vote and Jokic received 32%, leaving guards Chris Paul (7%) and James Harden (4%) a distant third and fourth.
Nikola Jokic: Second-Highest Basketball IQ
Once again Jokic comes in second only after King James. This is one category Nuggets fans can really hang their hats on in terms of Jokic getting some genuine recognition for the nature of what he is accomplishing on the basketball court: a highly cerebral style of play which runs far deeper than “he’s just good at passing.”
Denver Nuggets: Second In Most Promising Young Core
Despite being a year older, Denver’s young core is now viewed as more promising than last year – likely because they finally delivered on that promise with a strong playoff performance.
Bol Bol: Two-way Tie For Fourth As Biggest Draft Steal
Bol slid to the 44th pick in the 2019 draft, far below projections which had him as high as the lottery. If he can fully rehabilitate from the injuries which caused him to slip and reach his potential, he should indeed be able to perform at a level which far exceeds his draft position.
Jamal Murray: Two-way Tie For Fourth As Most Likely To Have A Breakout Season
Interestingly, Murray makes an appearance in the same category where came in first last year. This may reveal something about how the progress he made last season is perceived around the league, essentially being that while he may have made progress, it was not the kind of leap which most would consider a real “breakout.”
Nikola Jokic: Fifth Most Likely To Win MVP
Despite coming in fourth in actual MVP voting last season, GMs predicted Jokic would be fifth in line to win the award this year, with Antetokounmpo heavily favored to win the award a second consecutive year.
Nikola Jokic: “Also Received Votes” For Most Versatile Player
Jokic was the only center to receive votes in this category, and although his share of the votes was slim, to be included in a group of only five players which included Antetokounmpo, James, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George is nothing to sneeze at.
Michael Malone: Three-Way Tie For Fifth As Head Coach Who Runs The Best Offense
Expect to see Malone come in higher in the voting here next year if the Nuggets stay healthy and deliver on their full offensive potential this season.
Michael Malone: “Also Received Votes” For Head Coach Who Makes The Best In-game Adjustments
Interestingly, Malone got votes in this coaching category but not for “best manager/motivator of people.” It seems fair to say that the latter is what he generally receives more recognition for as one of the main cultivators of the Nuggets’ hard-working, team-first, unselfish culture.
Categories Where The Nuggets Might Have Gotten Votes But Didn’t
Which team will win the 2020 NBA Finals?
Five teams were listed as vote-getters here, but Denver did not make the cut. Presumably they’ll need to make another leap this season before GMs buy in on the notion that they are legitimate title contenders.
If you were starting a franchise today and could sign any player in the NBA, who would it be?
While Jokic might seem to be a candidate to receive votes in this category, he did not get any, but that may be partly due to Antetokounmpo dominating the voting at 86%.
What was the most underrated player acquisition?
Perhaps the most surprising “snub” for the Nuggets was the fact that Jerami Grant did not even make the “also receiving votes” cut for most underrated player acquisition. Even through just three preseason games, it is clear that Grant is going to make a big impact for Denver this season (and, they hope, well into the future), and is a major upgrade over Trey Lyles.
Who will win the 2018-19 Rookie of the Year?/Which rookie will be the best player in five years?
Perhaps GMs are not viewing Porter as a rookie, or believe he simply won’t be able to make an impact on Denver’s crowed roster. But like Grant, Porter has impressed in his limited preseason playing time, and his growth curve looks to be ahead of schedule.