Nuggets Midterm Report Card
This has been a season to celebrate in Denver. After five years in the lottery, the Nuggets are poised to play postseason basketball again, having spent the majority of the season in the 1st or 2nd seed out West. Let's take a look at what each member of the team has contributed to success in the Mile High City. By number of minutes played:
What hasn't the Joker done for Denver this season? He's averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, and steals per game. He's made his first All-Star game, looks on track for All-NBA recognition, and, as previously noted, has his team in line to host more than one round of the playoffs. Jokic has declared himself a bona fide star, the best-passing big man of his generation, and a franchise cornerstone.
Midterm Grade: A+
I identified the Blue Arrow as Denver's breakout star [HYPERLINK] earlier in the season, and he's definitely having a career year, even if he hasn't gone supernova quite yet. He's still averaging career highs in points, rebounds, and assists per game, and has continued to improve his game every year he's in the league. It remains to be seen if true stardom is on the horizon, but the second-leading scorer for the second best team in the West gets the second best grade on his team.
Midterm Grade: A
Believe me, I'm just as surprised as you are to find Monte Morris having played the third-most of any Nugget thus far, but that's what a slew of major injuries will do to you. Morris, who only played 25 minutes TOTAL last season, is averaging 25 minutes PER GAME this year, so it goes without saying that all of his numbers are career highs. Morris is just one of many mid-first through second-round picks the Nuggets have hit on in building their deep and versatile roster, but has distinguished himself this year as one of the best.
Midterm Grade: A
If you had told Nuggets fans that the third-and-fourth-leading minutes men for Denver at the break were Morris and Beasley, they would have assumed the worst for the campaign, but the success of Beasley was instead another win for the front office. By literally every per-game metric, Beasley is having the season of his career, and his performance on the wing has been crucial to overcoming a season's worth of injuries to Will Barton and Gary Harris. Denver is not where it is this year without The Mutant showing out.
Midterm Grade: A
After injuries shortened his 2017-8 campaign, there was hope that Millsap would come back strong and start to justify his $30 million per year contract; he has not. Millsap is still a consummate professional, undoubtedly a positive influence in a young locker room -- he's the only player over 30 on the team, and lends strong defense and team play. But injuries have sidelined him again, and his numbers are down across the board. The Nuggets will almost certainly be declining his club option for next year; it'll be interesting to see if they welcome him back on a smaller deal.
Midterm Grade: C
Juancho had played the fifth most minutes on the team until Millsap passed him by in the win over the Clippers. He, like Morris and Beasley, is averaging career highs across the board, and turned the tide in the young season, when a mini-slump had threatened to undo the Nuggets' white-hot start. When Juancho was elevated to the starting line-up, his strong play turned Denver back to its winning ways, which has certainly not been forgotten by this writer. But where Morris and Beasley's play has necessitated bigger minutes moving forward, Juancho's have receded as the team has gotten healthy, so we'll mark his season as good, but not great.
Midterm Grade: B
Show of hands for the people who thought that three players to suit up for the Nuggets in every game this season would be Morris, Beasley, and Plumlee? I thought not. He's no star, but he's a good big off the bench, has been available every game for 20 efficient minutes, and doesn't need the ball to make positive contributions. That's a very worthwhile piece of a winning team.
Midterm Grade: B-
I just have not been on the Torrey Craig train. You'd think that someone who has started almost two thirds of the season for the two-seed in the West would be well thought of, but I have consistently looked at his contributions and thought that there were five other guys on the roster who were better candidates to start. With the level of succcess the Nuggets have had, it's hard to argue with the way Mike Malone has structured his rotations, but if we're just evaluating player by player, the team has succeeded, but Craig has been the worst of the players getting regular minutes.
Midterm Grade: C-
Another disappointment has been Trey Lyles. He's certainly had the opportunity, with both injuries and the decline of Paul Millsap, to carve out a larger role for himself than the one he has, and signal that he was the power forward of the future. He has not done so. The Nuggets have a lot of good pieces for the future, but Lyles' failure to elevate his game means they have a hole at power forward that needs filling.
Midterm Grade: D+
If he doesn't watch out, Gary Harris is going to get a real reputation as fragile. After topping out at 76 games in his second year, Harris has missed 25, 15, and 25 games the past three years -- and that last 25 is this year, which still has a good quarter of the season to go. He's a strong two-way player, and had been trending upwards in every season up until this one, where he's taken a decided step back. Since this is a first half grade, that's about all that matters, for better or worse.
Midterm Grade: C+
Another player who has seen an upward trend derailed by injury, Barton is surely frustrated by his 2018-19 campaign. He came out like gangbusters, got injured in his second game, and then missed the next thirty-seven. He's been up and down since he returned, and the Nuggets will need both him and Harris to get right if they want to make noise in the Western playoffs.
Midterm Grade: C
Anyone else on the Nuggets, be they Tyler Lowdon, Brandon Goodwin, Isaiah Thomas, or otherwise, have yet to play even 100 minutes for the Nuggets this season -- though a healthy Thomas is likely to pass that mark soon enough -- so we don't really have enough to go on. Until further notice, the bottom of the roster receives no letter grade.
Midterm Grades: Incomplete
It has been a great season in Denver thus far, and a lot of players have some very good grades to show for it. The silver lining to the panoply of injuries is that some young players have gotten a chance to shine, and if some expected more-veteran contributors can heal and resume their previous forms, this season has the potential for real success in the Rockies.