The current Nuggets team is arguably the best in franchise history. They were the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference a year ago and were competing for that spot again this season. Many believe Michael Malone’s team has a legitimate chance of competing for a title.
This year, those plans got derailed by COVID-19, at least temporarily. But with a young core, the Nuggets window of opportunity isn’t going to close any time soon.
That’s what makes the fact that no member of the current roster was selected for the franchise’s all-time starting five, as selected by ESPN. No Jamal Murray. No Gary Harris. And perhaps most surprisingly, no Nikola Jokic.
Last season, Denver’s big man became the first Nuggets player to be selected first-team All-NBA in four decades. That puts him in some rarified air when it comes to franchise history.
But it wasn’t enough for him to crack the all-time team. Here’s who ESPN selected:
G: Fat Lever
G: David Thompson
F: Alex English
F: Carmelo Anthony
C: Dikembe Mutombo
The guards and forwards are pretty difficult to argue. Although, there is a chance that Murray could supplant Lever in the coming years.
The Mutombo vs. Jokic debate is an interesting one, however. Here’s how ESPN explained their decision:
You’re probably asking yourself the same question I debated for roughly 48 hours: Wait, no Nikola Jokic? There’s a good chance Jokic eventually becomes the greatest player in franchise history, but he’s just 25 years old. Mutombo, on the other hand, is a Hall of Famer and produced probably the most iconic image in franchise history, celebrating the historic upset of the top-seeded Seattle SuperSonics in the 1994 playoffs. Mutombo is the defensive anchor behind a pure scoring lineup that could outgun just about anybody.
It’s a valid argument. As much as Nuggets fans love “The Joker,” and for good reason, he still has to prove that he can produce like he has the past couple of seasons over the long haul.
But the numbers suggest he’s already better than Mutombo. Here’s how they stack up:
Seasons in Denver = 5
Points per Game = 12.9
Rebounds per Game = 12.3
Assists per Game = 1.7
Blocks per Game = 3.8
All-Star Appearances = 3
Honors = Defensive Player of the Year (1994-95)
Seasons in Denver = 5
Points per Game = 16.9
Rebounds per Game = 9.7
Assists per Game = 5.4
Blocks per Game = 0.7
All-Star Appearances = 2
Honors = First-team All-NBA (2019-20)
Mutombo was a slightly better rebounder than Jokic, as well as a vastly better defender. On the other hand, The Joker is a far superior scorer and passer.
Ultimately, it comes down to what a team wants from their center. The classic approach is a rim protector and someone to clear the boards. The new style is a facilitator on offense, someone who can rack up points and assists.
Jokic is a modern-day big man. And he’s getting better and better with each season, a trend that bodes well for the Nuggets.
Who’s better, Mutombo or Jokic? Right now, that question can be answered with a coin flip.
But in the future, it could become a landslide. The Joker is on pace to become not only the Nuggets best center ever, but the best player in franchise history.
If he does, Denver’s all-time team will look a lot different. And more importantly, they’ll be competing with the best in the West for a trip to the NBA Finals.
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