Role Players Just as Vital for Nuggets’ First-Ever NBA Finals


The Denver Nuggets aren’t just Nikola Jokic. They aren’t just Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.

The superstar duo has been superb in the playoffs for sure. Joker averaged a monster 28-14-12 in the Western Conference Finals and Murray looks back in pre torn-ACL form, draining big shot after big shot.

However, the other Nuggets and a pair of offseason moves are pivotal reasons why Denver has reached the first NBA Finals in franchise history. Jokic and Murray have been fantastic for Denver head coach Michael Malone, but Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon (I wrote about him earlier this season), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown have given the Nuggets a dynamic, well-rounded squad.

The unselfishness of its star Jokic and efficiency of other players around him led Denver to a top-five regular-season offense. It is also easily the best offense in the postseason, as well.

Two unsung offseason moves have Denver at Mile High

Two offseason moves in particular may be the biggest reason the Nuggets have made it the furthest they’ve ever been. The Nuggets were stymied in the postseason in past years, seemingly hitting a bit of a ceiling for the team as constructed. Denver didn’t stand pat, though. The two aforementioned offseason moves to get a proven winner on the wing and a versatile free agent have proved vital to their success.

Denver acquired Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who is the only current Nugget to have ever gone to and won an NBA Finals previously (Lakers, 2020). The Nuggets also may have signed the free-agent steal of the offseason in Bruce Brown.

Caldwell-Pope a steady, experienced hand

The Nuggets acquired Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in a trade with the Washington Wizards on July 6 with Ish Smith for Will Barton and Monte Morris. The experienced wing-shooter has put in the work on his shot and he has become a consistent shotmaker. He also has come up big when needed for Denver including his memorable Game 6 performance in the series-clinching blowout win over Phoenix.

Caldwell-Pope is the NBA’s prototypical 3-and-D wing. He has been knocking down shots and has provided shotmaking when teams hard hedge on Murray or double Jokic in the post. Denver’s unselfish ball movement particularly from its star allows others to get great shots. Caldwell-Pope buries those looks regularly. The Nuggets have scored 119.7 points per 100 possessions over their 15 playoff games and while it starts with Jokic, the Nuggets’ role players continue to can shots.

He has delivered timely shooting and improved on a solid season in the playoffs. In the regular season, KCP averaged 10.8 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game on 46.2% shooting and a stellar 42.3% from deep on over four attempts per game. In the postseason, the 30-year-old is averaging 11.7 points and 3.2 rebounds per game.

KCP has also stepped up in big games. In the closeout game against Phoenix, he scored 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting and added five rebounds.

In a Game 1 sweep of the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, KCP scored 21 points again and for the series, averaged nearly 14.8 points per game. It seems likely KCP will also deliver in the Finals.

Brown a Swiss-army knife for Nuggets

Bruce Brown may be the bargain free agent of the offseason. The Nuggets signed Brown to a two-year, 13+ million contract. Coach Malone has unlocked and allowed Brown to his expand his game in the Mile High city. Brown was basically a roller in Brooklyn’s pick and roll. He does a bit of everything and is the Nuggets’ Swiss-army knife. Brown brings the ball up the court as a pseudo backup point guard. He has expanded his game to shoot 3s. He’s still is a very good slasher. What an offseason addition he has proven to be.

Brown put together a strong regular season, averaging 11.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game on 48.3% shooting and just south of 36% from deep. In the postseason, Brown has increased his scoring to 12.2 points on north of 53% shooting. He’s also done a bit of everything from canning timely shots, coming up with a key defensive play or bringing the ball up the court as Denver doesn’t have a prototypical point guard.

The 26-year-old is critical for the Nuggets and he’s delivered in the regular and postseason. Brown’s biggest performance in the playoffs was a 25-point, five-rebound performance in 27 minutes in a 118-102 Game 5 win over the Suns in the West Semifinals.

In the playoffs, Brown owns the seventh-best offensive rating and sixth-best defensive rating. Denver’s top players litter the offensive rankings, but Brown is bringing the all-around game the Nuggets need.

Nuggets set for first NBA Finals

Being a two-time MVP, of course Jokic is going to get props. Murray is looking like bubble Jamal Murray. Regardless, the Nuggets have proven they are much more than a one- or two-man band. The role players like Brown, KCP, Gordon and Porter often get overlooked for what they provide the Nuggets, especially KCP and Brown. They are showing they are more than your typical “role players”. Brown and KCP haven’t just been role players but pivotal pieces, have had defining moments and put together stellar performances keying Nuggets’ victories in the playoffs.

Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray deserve their flowers, but so do Bruce Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

Nikola Jokic Bighead Bobblehead!

Denver Nuggets Nikola Jokic bobblehead

It’s time to draw The Joker from your deck. Play with a full hand and the Nikola Jokic Denver Nuggets Bighead Bobblehead by your side. Shop here today and take 15% off when you use THELEADSM15.

About Mitchell Skurzewski

    Recommended for you

    Powered by