In Defence of Denver
Coming into the season the Denver Nuggets were touted as a team with one of the brightest futures in the NBA. With the uprising of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, the reliable contributions of Gary Harris and the wealth of veteran leadership from guys like Paul Millsap many saw the Nuggets taking the necessary leaps sooner rather than later. At the beginning of this young season it felt as if their time had come, starting the season 9-1 and looking like an absolute powerhouse on both ends of the floor. This came as a surprise. It wasn't surprising that they had a hot start, it was their defence that was most striking. Denver was absolutely horrible on the defensive end last season and allowed opponents to score an average of 108.5 points per game, enough for the 25th ranked defence in the league. Fast forward to a quarter way through the 2018-19 season and the script has been flipped. Denver now boasts the 5th best defence in the league to pair with the 7th best offence. They currently have a net rating of 6.84 meaning they outscore their opponents by as many points per 100 possessions. Only two teams are better. So what changed?
When we take a look at this Nuggets roster we see a depth that most teams should envy. Denver has 6 players averaging over 10 points a night and the team averages the 4th most assists per game in the league. Factor in that they have the leagues 26th ranked pace and without watching a second of gameplay you can begin to understand that this team really knows how to pass the ball. If you're not convinced, their center notched 17 assists in a single game, his name is Nikola Jokic, he's amazing. In fact, Jokic embodies almost everything aspect of this team. He's slow, has remarkable vision and can shoot from deep, a true unicorn if I ever saw one. Compared to last year this roster looks much the same. Sure, they acquired some new guys (Thomas, Porter Jr.) but their contributions have been almost non existent. The real source of their improved play comes from experience, chemistry and the empowerment that comes with stars being realized. The team is engaged on defence likely as a result of being given even more freedom on offence and when you put the ball in the basket you have a little more time for your lumbering "rim protector" to waddle back and set up your defence. That certainly helps.
Do I think this team makes the playoffs? Undoubtedly. The conference finals? Unlikely. But after missing the post season by a single overtime period last season, this team doesn't need to move mountains. They're young and only getting better. A first or second round exit sounds right to me but the outlook beyond this season is more positive than it's been since the days of Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets have plenty to be excited about. Who knows, maybe the summer of 2019 brings them a free agent that takes the mile high city to new heights. Until then, sit back and enjoy this budding team of ball moving beauties.