The Denver Nuggets are led by Nikola Jokic, whose all-around game has him near the front of the pack of MVP candidates. His basketball accomplice most nights is Jamal Murray, a high-scoring guard who can get buckets in waves off the dribble, in catch-and-shoot situations or at the rim.

But when it comes to what will move the Nuggets from contenders to potential champions, one name comes to mind for rival executives: Michael Porter Jr.

"It's Jokic and Jamal's team, obviously," a Western Conference executive said. "But the Porter kid ... he's really confident. We all know he's a really good player, a good scorer. But lately, he's backing up that confidence with some really strong play that's gonna pay off for both him and the Nuggets."

That strong play continued Tuesday night with 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting (3-of-4 from three) and seven rebounds in a 134-119 win over the Detroit Pistons. Porter Jr.'s play has been a major factor in Denver's recent run of late and has catapulted the Nuggets into the top tier of the Western Conference with the Jazz, Suns, Clippers and defending champion Lakers.

Porter Jr., a 6'10" forward, is delivering the kind of production that made him one of the top high school prospects a few years ago, who as a teenager had gained the admiration of already established NBA stars such as Stephen Curry.