The current Denver Nuggets are, for the most part, an afterthought to most basketball fans but possess a few intriguing players. Looking back at their history, the organization has played to a similar tune for 50 years now.
You won’t find any championship banners hanging in the Pepsi Center. That doesn’t mean great players never put on one of the many Nuggets uniforms over the years.
Though the NBA Finals have been a foreign land to the city of Denver ever since 1976, it sure didn’t lack the star power to make it back.
From the 1978-79 season until 1981-82, the Nuggets never had less than three Hall of Famers on the team at once. Unfortunately, this somehow only amounted to a pair of first round playoff exits.
Let’s take a look at the stars of the 1979-80 team that technically contained four members of the Hall, but no playoff birth.
Something helping their case is that one of its’ Hall of Famers was traded for another mid season, only giving them three at one time. Scoring machine, Alex English, was traded to the team for George McGinnis and only played 24 games as a Nugget that year. The prime of his career started as soon as he hit Denver and it didn’t end until he was 35 years old, still averaging over 25 points per game for the eighth season in a row. The term “scoring machine” isn’t used loosely on the league’s former scoring champ.
Next up is the man traded for English. McGinnis was the former MVP of the ABA. Though he spent just a season and a half in the Mile High City, he made his final All-Star appearance as a Nugget the year prior to English joining the team. He averaged 22.6 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. In his MVP season in 1974-75, he would terrorize the ABA with league high 29.8 points per game and 14.3 rebounds.
Now if you really want to hear a good mystery without watching Law & Order, take a look at our next Hall of Famer on that team. Big man Dan Issel started off by enjoying a rewarding ABA career. He won Rookie of the Year. He was an All-Star in all of his six ABA seasons, and even won an ABA Finals. Issel transitioned into the NBA for his seventh pro season by being named to another All-Star team.
From then on, it’s not that he fell off because he was far from that. He must have fallen out of favor with the basketball gods. Or maybe, it was just whoever was picking those All-Star teams because he was never named one again. This is despite averaging a collective 21.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 2.7 assists on 50.9% shooting over his next seven years with the Nuggets. He was the upgraded Paul Millsap of the league before Millsap was born.
Last but not least we have David Thompson. The “Skywalker” is tied for the fourth most points ever scored in an NBA game with 73 points. That outburst came in effort to win the closest scoring title race in NBA history. His 73 points in the Nuggets final regular season game would be in vain though. George “Ice Man” Gervin would put up 63 points just hours later to hold onto the title by 0.07 points.
Standing at 6’4″ and undersized compared to 6’7″ Alex English, Thompson was a scoring machine in his own right. Five of his first six years in the league would all be spent scoring over 24 points per game on over 50% shooting.
It’s crazy to think that only one NBA finals appearance came from this talented Nuggets era. Even crazier, it was before Issel or Thompson had a third superstar with them. Nonetheless, these great players give Denver good history to build on and remember.