The Denver Nuggets were just dealt a brutal blow when Jamal Murray suffered a torn ACL on Monday night against the Golden State Warriors. The Nuggets recently won eight straight games and looked like title contenders in the wake of the Aaron Gordon trade, even with Murray missing some time with a knee issue.
Now, though, Murray is done for the season, leaving Denver without one of its star players for the stretch run. This would seem to be a death knell for the Nuggets' championship hopes, especially given the nature of the loaded Western Conference.
While this is likely true, don't count out Denver just yet from making a run. Even if it's not a championship run, the fourth-place Nuggets can still make some noise.
Here are three reasons why Denver isn't completely toast after Jamal Murray's torn ACL.
3. The Aaron Gordon insurance
The Nuggets acquired Aaron Gordon to help replace the departed Jerami Grant and be the final key piece to a championship puzzle. It turns out that getting Gordon is a sort of insurance with Jamal Murray sidelined.
Gordon hasn't been putting up prolific numbers in Denver, but he has been efficient with his scoring inside the arc and will now take on a bigger scoring and playmaking role. He's obviously not the scorer and outside shooter Murray is, but his passing ability should help keep the Nuggets' offense humming.
Denver's ceiling obviously isn't as high with Murray out, but the arrival of Gordon should help mitigate this injury to a degree.
2. Michael Porter Jr. is becoming a star
With Jamal Murray now out, there will be even more pressure on Michael Porter Jr. to step up. He was already doing that of late, breaking out in March with 20.3 points and 9.1 rebounds per game while shooting an absurd 59.4% from the field and 53.2% from 3-point range. His outside shooting has since cooled in April, but he's still putting up 21.6 points and 9.0 rebounds per game and shooting 53.5% this month.
It remains to be seen how Porter handles becoming the legit No. 2 option. It's a bit easier to score efficiently as the third option behind stars such as Jokic and Murray. Still, Porter certainly doesn't lack confidence on the offensive end, and this will give him an opportunity to really put his stamp on this franchise and establish himself as a legitimate star.
There will surely be more growing pains on both ends of the floor, but it should be fun to watch Porter continue to develop his dynamic game.
1. MVP Nikola Jokic
Nikola Jokic is having one of the best seasons in NBA history and should be the frontrunner for MVP. The 26-year-old Serbian is putting up a whopping 26.2 points, 10.9 rebounds and 8.8 assists while shooting 56.5% from the field and 41.8% from 3-point range. All of these numbers are career-high marks, and they all add up to a 30.9 PER that's historically great.
Jokic controls the game like a maestro with his ability to score inside and out while also dropping sick dimes all over the place. His offensive orchestration has Denver boasting one of the most efficient units of all time.
Now, it's true that Jamal Murray plays a big part in this. The Nuggets scored over 122 points per 100 possessions with both Jokic and Murray together on the court this season, per NBA.com, and that number dips to around 111 when it's just Jokic without Murray.
But as Denver gets used to playing without Murray for the long haul, expect them to get better with The Joker leading the way. At the very least, Michael Malone's Nuggets should still be a feisty out in the playoffs.