You may not have heard much about the Denver Nuggets in seasons past, but this year they could be a legitimate force in the playoffs. With a record of 21-9, the Nuggets are having one of the best seasons in franchise history – it’s their best start since the 1976-1977 season. They’re on top of the Western Conference, leading stellar teams like the Golden State Warriors and the hyped-up LA Lakers (who have Lebron). So are the Denver Nuggets really on the rise? Here’s what we know about the team this season.
And just FYI, Charles Barkley said, “I told you, I’m all in on the Denver Nuggets, I told you that a month ago.”
The Nuggets Roster
Despite injuries and lacking three key starters right now, the Nuggets keep winning. With the most wins in the West, they’re rolling. While they started the season hot with a record of 9-1, they then lost a disappointing four games in a row. But as of December, they’re back on top.
Star player Nikola Jokic, known as “The Joker” to fans, is a playmaker who has been indispensable to the team’s success thus far. (In fact, Charles Barkley thinks Jokic should be considered an MVP frontrunner.) The 7″ tall Serbian has versatility and intelligence, acting as a center and a point guard when needed. Even with his dad bod, he’s great at ball handling, passing, and throwing opposing defenders off balance. His role involves facilitating buckets for other players rather than seeking out points for himself. Although, saying that, this center still averages about 18 points per game (and 23 in December games so far). The Serbian Sensation has proven to be an impact player for the Nuggets and he performs especially well when paired up with the newly awesome Jamal Murray.
Murray is another driving force behind the Denver Nuggets’ recent success. The Canadian point guard has filled a big role, averaging 18 points per game and playing a stingy defense. Murray is also important because, with about 10 of his points coming during the fourth quarter, he’s willing to be the guy that takes those last-minute shots to win the game. Whether those shots are jumpers, layups, or the occasional three-pointer, he’s the perfect complement to the assist-happy Jokic. The duo rank number one and number two in the NBA in assists during clutch game moments. It’s clear that – despite not being the team’s first options – they are the future of the Nuggets.
According to Coach Michael Malone, “A lot of it is about confidence. A lot of it is about our defense, but what I see is a very confident team. So even when we are down and not playing well, we have a confidence about us. We know we can get back in the game. We know we can execute late.”
What about those early season losses? Malone credits to failures of defense and confidence. “We lost those game because we weren’t disciplined on defense… The difference now is you can see the confidence. Whether it’s Jamal, who’s become Mr. Fourth Quarter for us, or Nikola, who we play through on almost every possession trusting he’s going to make the right play. Other guys have come through, too. Monte Morris is making some big, big shots for us.”
Another sneaky important player lately, Monte Morris has started to make a name for himself as a solid backup point guard. While he’s been averaging just around 10 points this season (13 in December!) and 15 to 20 minutes per game, Morris’s skill set and performance have led some to suggest he’s wildly underpaid and a great deal for the Nuggets. He turns the ball over less than any other point guard in the league. As a second-round pick in 2017, Morris is proving to be a real asset, protecting the ball and shooting threes (and making them over 40% of the time).
The Nuggets are not without their issues though. Gary Harris is out with a hip injury for several weeks, Paul Millsap is week-to-week with a broken toe, and Will Barton still hasn’t recovered from hip surgery (though he could return this month). Each of them is being assessed to see if they can handle an increased workload as their rehab continues. As for players like Jarred Vanderbilt, Michael Porter Jr, and Isaiah Thomas, there’s no timetable for their return yet.
However, the Nuggets have more young guys like Malik Beasley and Trey Lyles who may get the chance to step up in the face of these injuries. Along with The Joker and Murray, the Nuggets have been able to get it done and overcome these setbacks so far. No doubt their status as a top-five team defensively has been a key factor in their success through adversity, but based on how many star players are hurt, their performance so far has been nothing short of remarkable.
Can the Nuggets keep it up as the season progresses? What happens when these starters come back? Guess we’ll have to keep watching!