Denver Nuggets

Who Are the Denver Nuggets?

  • denver
  • Denver Nuggets
  • Gary Harris
  • Giannis
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • Greek Freak
  • Jamal Murray
  • Mike Malone
  • MVP
  • NBA
  • Nikola Jokic
  • Nuggets
  • Paul Millsap
  • RJ Hampton
  • The Joker
  • Western Conference
  • Zeke Nnaji
By Seth Ward March 5, 2021 1 Comment
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Are the Denver Nuggets a 17-15 team flailing against a bottom feeder? Or a 20-15 team crushing Giannis and Milwaukee’s defensive length?

On February 25th, the Denver Nuggets fell 110-112 to perennial bottom-feeders Washington Wizards. It included an ugly end-of-game sequence that made the rounds on ESPN and NBA Twitter alike. Enough has been made of the mental errors made in that singular vital possession so debating it even further seems trivial at best. However, it did represent a microcosm of their season as a whole.

Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray had outstanding performances but were held back by the inexperience and sloppiness of their supporting cast. How has the team fared since? A three-game win streak including a blowout over Oklahoma City, a back and forth battle won on a clutch play in Chicago, and a defensive stifling of Milwaukee on the second half of a back-to-back. The fair question then would be, which team are they? A 17-15 team with defensive assets missing at every turn? Or a 20-15 team whose offensive performances and unrelenting defensive effort turns the tide?

Defense Lost and Found?

Until this week, it would have been fair to question the Denver Nuggets’ ability to stop an opposing team from making a run in the second half. In a seven-game series, the team we had witnessed previously would not have survived solely on matching every team score for score any given night.

But after two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo got everything he tried in the early-going Tuesday night, Coach Malone did something he had been criticized for failing to execute in the past. He made a key adjustment. It didn’t work immediately either. With Denver giving a traditional 2-3 zone look, Giannis continued to give them work inside for three dunks in a row. But that would be the best Milwaukee could muster offensively for the rest of the night.

From that point, the Bucks fell apart offensively and couldn’t piece together one of those trademark runs that Nuggets opponents so often have. This, paired with Jamal Murray’s newfound deterrence on the perimeter, have this Nuggets squad ready to make a run. Murray is forcing shooters to miss 28.8% of shots 15 feet or more from the rim (down from their normal accuracy of 37.7%) at an average of 6.8 closeouts a game, per Steve Aschburner of NBA.com.

Young Depth

This recent streak has not only presented opportunities for the Denver Nuggets team at present. The Nuggets are giving minutes to players they otherwise wouldn’t. I can’t remember the last time Coach Malone took a proactive approach to a rookie. Ask yourself, would Coach Malone give R.J. Hampton (COVID-19 absence aside) or Zeke Nnaji the minutes they have received if Gary Harris and Paul Millsap are available? They have both impressed with defensive effort in smaller roles. Potential then emerges with a developmentally minded coach for a rookie to emerge as a rising star. This brings a positive outlook for future teams while making the small yet necessary contributions in the present.

The MVP. Period.

Nikola Jokic is putting the team on his back when he needs to, and it’s creating a beautiful storyline. Should Denver continue to work its way up the Western Conference standings, the Joker stands more than a fair chance of bringing the MVP home to Colorado. Consider his assist numbers would be tied for the highest for a post player in an MVP season ever, with Wilt Chamberlain. If you are in a statistical conversation that involves Wilt, you are doing something right.

This, along with a strong probability of joining the 50-40-90 club (again, a Center for goodness sake) and better than credited individual defense, makes him the mathematically Most Valuable Player in the NBA. Yes, I said defense. Don’t look now, but Jokic is second in the league in steals at the season’s halfway mark. Actually, yes, go check. I’ll be here waiting for you to get back. While not an impactful shot-blocker by any means, he deters enough action on the inside and pick-and-rolls to be a net positive in these situations too.

NBA Math credits Jokic with 310.61 TPA (Total Points Added), which is to say he is worth 310.61 points more than an average player with the same minutes would be. Or 241.87 Offensive Points Added and 68.74 Defensive Points Saved, to be exact. The next best player by this metric? Giannis Antetokounmpo. With a TPA of 197.29. In other words, the second-best player this season is trailing by over 113 points! If you prefer a more traditional advanced statistic, he also leads the league with a 32.1 PER (Player Efficiency Rating). That number would be the highest in NBA history. How is that for numbers don’t lie?

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Final Verdict

While I do not believe this is the Conference Finals-worthy team that showed itself last year, I am more inclined to think the Denver Nuggets will end the season as a top-five seed in the Western Conference. This group carries the potential to win two playoff series again, however unlikely that may be. The offensive firepower of Denver’s “Big Three” (we’ll see) is too great to underachieve in such an offensive-minded league.

My thoughts wander to the more optimistic lobe of my brain when watching a potential MVP and scalding hot guard play two-man games that confound some of the best defenses from just one season prior. Although Jamal Murray may be due for a shooting regression, don’t expect it too soon. Fans from around the NBA may have forgotten what he looked like, but it appears Bubble Murray has made his reappearance. Stay tuned to see how long his cameo lasts.

Upcoming Schedule for next week:

3/12 @Memphis

3/13 vs. Dallas

3/15 vs. Indiana

All statistics courtesy of basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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1 Comments

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James vigil

March 5, 2021

AWESOME ARTICLE MR . WARD! GO LAKERS!!!!!

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