After winning the 2023 NBA title, the Denver Nuggets faced some difficult choices. Bruce Brown, a key rotation player, was a free agent, and would probably be too expensive to bring back. Head coach Michael Malone said the team would definitely keep him around, but he was wearing a flat-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and a girthy chain at a championship parade at the time, and slurring his AAVE-inflected words. Weeks later, Brown signed a big deal with the Indiana Pacers.

It wasn’t a matter of great concern for Calvin Booth, the Nuggets’ GM. There was a 20-year-old on the roster keeping his eyes wide, named Peyton Watson. ““Peyton’s bigger,” he said. “He’s longer. He’s more athletic. He guards better. He passes better. He doesn’t have the experience, and he’s not as good offensively yet, but we need defense more than we need offense on our team.” He wasn’t worried about losing crucial journeyman bench wing Jeff Green, either.

Those who watched the Nuggets’ victory over the Boston Celtics Thursday night, a potential preview of the 2024 Finals, are starting to understand Booth’s excitement. A freewheeling defensive menace with a longer wingspan than many centers, he had two show-stopping blocks that will last for a while in the minds of anyone who saw the game. For one of them, he leapt all the way over Nikola Jokic. Tune into the Nuggets regularly, and you’ll realize that this is regular stuff for Watson, and that his poise on offense is already advanced enough that he can easily attack mismatches in tight spots. He only recently stopped growing, and will be adding muscle going forward.

In a broader sense, the Nuggets’ 115-109 win gave a lot of casual fans a look into what the team’s been up to since their run last June, and a chance for them to quiet down any lingering skepticism about their championship being flukey in any way. Jokic has, somehow, gotten even better. After their horse-rich summer in Serbia together, he and Aaron Gordon have fine-tuned their chemistry up to revelatory heights, collaborating on a reinvention of the dunker spot. This is especially true late in games, when all the horse-training pays off in the form of a masterful sense of competitive pacing and the Jokic-Gordon alley break the opponent’s back, just when they thought they had momentum.

That Jokic now has one of the better two-man games with multiple teammates—his pick-and-roll with Jamal Murray remains the most unguardable crunch-time action in the sport—can mean only one thing: we are witnessing a historically dynamic team. Only Steph Curry and Draymond Green, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, or Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker can really speak definitively about this strata of teamwork, in the 21st century of basketball.

Defensively, too, Denver has reached new heights. They create turnovers seemingly at will late in close games, boasting a predator mode that they can turn on and off when necessary. The Celtics, who are breaking offensive efficiency records this season, couldn’t get into their usual clean looks from three or find mismatches to reliably hunt, and all but Jaylen Brown had their handles and passes gunked up when they tried to operate inside the arc.

On paper, Jokic’s triple-double marks are galling, but little else is. The Nuggets are ranked just seventh in offense, and tenth in defense. In point differential, they’re seventh. You have to watch them closely, and dig into the qualitative, to understand their confident collective prodigy. A team molded in the image of their two-time MVP—who could be on the verge of a third—they are unworried about doing more than they have to, and aware of exactly what each moment needs. They won’t rack up a lot of blowouts, but they don’t have to fret much to win games, either. Pressure, for them, is a bathhouse; the heat of it relaxes them. This is just the second year of the Nuggets’ undeniability, but it’s going to be like this for a while to come.