When Denver Nuggets' guard Jamal Murray suffered a torn ACL, many within the basketball world considered that moment as the end of the Nuggets' championship hopes this season. Logically, there was no way to make up for the production that Murray provides, which just so happens to be career-high numbers this season (21.2 points, 4.8 assists, 4.0 rebounds) in a breakout year for the fifth-year guard.
Murray was putting up his most efficient scoring numbers from everywhere on the floor, including shooting over 40 percent from deep on six attempts per game. The Nuggets were playing some of their best basketball all season, and when Murray got hurt in the closing minutes of what ended up being a loss to the Golden State Warriors, it was as if all the excitement had ended.
However, regardless of what everyone else is saying about Denver's championship odds, the Nuggets aren't discouraged even after Murray's injury. Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon, who was acquired at the trade deadline back in March still likes this team's chances of making a run in the postseason.
"This year, we have high, high aspirations — championship aspirations," Gordon said via The Athletic. "We still feel like we have enough, especially with 'Joker' man. When you've got that guy on the floor, you have a chance to win every single night. So everybody's got to step up, everybody has to play their best. But if we're doing that, then I feel like we have a good chance to go as far as we want to."
While it's not a complete declaration that this team is going to the NBA Finals, Gordon's confidence speaks really to how great Nikola Jokic has been all season long. When Gordon says "you have a chance to win every single night" when Jokic is on the floor, that's not a completely ridiculous thing to say. He's leading in almost every advanced metric this season, while averaging near a triple-double (26.1 points, 11 rebounds 8.8 assists). With a teammate like that, it's no wonder Gordon is so confident in Denver's chances going forward.
"He's a genius, man," Gordon said. "He's a basketball genius. That's really what it comes down to. He's playing it like it's chess, seeing it three steps ahead. I'm starting to learn that you've always got to keep your eye on him when he has the ball because he'll find you. He'll find you. Even if you don't think you're open, you're open. He'll pass you open, which is dope. It's just amazing to play with somebody like that who can actually pass you open and sees the game (like that), and who likes to pass and enjoys passing."
Everything the Nuggets do is centered around Jokic, so much so that when he's off the floor Denver's offense takes a significant nosedive. When Jokic is on the court, the Nuggets have an offensive rating of 121.4, but when he goes to the bench it dips considerably to 102.2. As great as Jokic has been this season, though, he and the Nuggets will really be tested in the playoffs without Murray in the lineup.
That's where Gordon, Michael Porter Jr., Will Barton and Monte Morris can help. If other players around Jokic can step up on offense, notably Gordon and Porter Jr., then it would be silly to count Denver out in the postseason, especially after their surprising Western Conference finals run a season ago. However, it won't be an easy task without Murray on the floor.