OTG Team Awards: Denver Nuggets
What a year it’s been in Denver! After five years of watching the playoffs on television, the Nuggets broke their skid in style. Not content to sneak into the postseason after losing a play-in game with Minnesota last year, Denver charged to the top of the West early in the season and kept their perch all year long. The final dominoes haven’t all fallen, but the Nuggets control their own destiny when it comes to the 2-seed, and have the inside track at hosting the first game of both the first round and the Western Conference semifinals. Let’s take a look at the players who led them there.
6th Man of the Year: Malik Beasley
After averaging under 10 minutes per game in both his first and second seasons, and facing an uphill climb on one of the deeper rosters in the league, Beasley showed his mettle when he finally saw the floor. When injuries to primary wings Will Barton and Gary Harris opened the door, Beasley charged through, leading the team in bench scoring, free throw percentage, and jaw-droppingly athletic plays. There was a real question of whether or not Malik Beasley had the ability to be a significant NBA player entering the season; the big question now is which team is going to throw the biggest bucks at him when he becomes a restricted free agent in 2020.
Most Improved Player: Jamal Murray
Seemingly forever ago, I had pegged The Blue Arrow as Denver’s breakout player. While he didn’t make the leap to superstardom, he continued to show steady improvement and posted the best per-game numbers of his career as Nikola Jokic’s primary sidekick. The two have gained recognition and appreciation among the cognoscenti for their inverted pick-and-roll which features Murray as the screener -- the most efficient two-man game in basketball. If Denver is to continue its upward trajectory, this season cannot represent Murray’s ceiling: just another stop on his climb to greatness.
Rookie of the Year: Monte Morris
This is cheating a little, since Morris isn’t a rookie -- he did play all of 25 minutes last year -- but I’ll let me off with a warning. Morris has truly been a revelation this year. With Jokic as the center of the offense, the Nuggets don’t need a traditional point guard, but someone needs to play those lead-guard minutes. And with Isaiah Thomas slow to return from injury, that someone became the first (okay second) year player out of Iowa State. He led the team in appearances as teammates fell injured left and right, and put up a 10.3-2.4-3.6 that serves notice that he’ll be a big piece of the Nuggets’ success in the future.
Defensive Player of the Year: Mason Plumlee
This isn’t the first time Plumlee has had his praises sung in this space; the back-up big-man is crucial to the Nuggets’ play on the defensive end of the court. Despite being sixth on the team in minutes played, he leads the team in blocks, is first in defensive rating amongst qualifying Nuggets, and second in Defensive Real Plus-Minus. He can’t replace what Nikola Jokic does on the offense, but when the Nuggets’ lynchpin leaves the floor, Denver can count on Plumlee to keep the defense humming.
Most Valuable Player: Nikola Jokic
Who else? His 20.2-10.8-7.4 points-rebounds-assists per game statline all represent career highs: only Wilt Chamberlain has ever averaged more assists per game in a season in NBA history. It was a bold prediction at the beginning of the season to say that Jokic would make any All-NBA team -- now the question is if he’ll make the first team. It’s easy to say that he’s the Nuggets’ MVP -- now the question is how many league-wide MVP votes he’ll garner. Jokic is a truly unique player in the league, and at just 23 years of age, he hasn’t reached his ceiling. Nuggets fans can look forward to many years of success with their Serbian Unicorn leading the way.