The Denver Nuggets might not even make the playoffs this season, but they have a lot of young talent, led by Nikola Jokic, and should be a force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference in the not-too-distant future. They already have been good to bettors.
It's widely accepted around the NBA the most talented young roster in the league belongs to the Minnesota Timberwolves with the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. KAT and Wiggins are the past two Rookie of the Year Award winners and were both No. 1 overall picks. I'm not here to argue that.
The second-most talented young roster in the league? Look no further than the Nuggets, and they are outperforming Minnesota despite not having any Top-5 picks on the roster. The Nuggets also have been good to their backers of late in winning seven of nine and with a 25-20-1 ATS mark overall on NBA odds.
If you were to redo the 2014 NBA Draft, Philadelphia's Joel Embiid was certainly go No. 1 overall ahead of Wiggins. Who would go No. 2? That would be Denver center Nikola Jokic, all due respect to Wiggins. Jokic was an absolute steal at No. 41 overall. He stayed in Europe until last season. Jokic has been one of the NBA's best players in the New Year, averaging 23.9 points on 60.6 percent shooting along with 11.1 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.4 blocks per game.
In a win over Phoenix last Thursday, Jokic put up a line of 29 points, 14 rebounds, and eight assists. Since the 2005-06 season, only two other starting centers matched each of those totals in a game: former Knick David Lee in 2010 and Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins in 2014 & '15. The "Joker" has had at least five assists in 16 games this season and ranks fifth in the NBA among all centers in assists per game (4.0). Jokic also averages a whopping 43.3 passes per game.
Hall of Fame point guard Isiah Thomas recently compared Jokic to Magic Johnson for his passing ability. In large part due to that, the Nuggets have scored 120 points or more 13 times this season, which is five more than they had in the previous two seasons combined. No team has a better "over/under" record than the Nuggets at 32-13-1 on NBA picks. The Denver offense has been on fire of late, scoring at least 120 points in six of the past nine games (winning those six) while shooting better than 50 percent from the field in those same six.
Denver nearly saw disaster hit when Jokic went down without contact in that Suns win on Thursday, but fortunately for the team it was diagnosed as only a hip strain. Jokic didn't play Saturday and won't Tuesday at the Lakers but could return Wednesday vs. Memphis. The Nuggets also have played their past four without starting point guard Emmanuel Mudiay due to a back injury and it's not clear if he will be able to go this week. Veteran Jameer Nelson has played well in his spot, though. So well that Nelson could be traded as the team is more focused on the long term.
The Nuggets (21-25) enter the week holding down the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They are quite capable of hanging on to that if they can stay healthy -- obviously the sooner the better that Jokic and Mudiay return. Starting shooting guard Gary Harris has been limited to 22 games due to injury. Will Barton has missed a handful as well. Leading scorer Danilo Gallinari and power forward Kenneth Faried (also a trade candidate) also have missed multiple games.
Regardless of what happens the rest of this season, the future is bright in Denver.