Denver Nuggets: 4 Thoughts Entering 2020
New year, new thoughts!
When last we spoke, I had just determined that the Nuggets were actually a good team, having reeled off victories over the Rockets, Celtics, Suns, and Wizards. Despite a middling 4-3 record since (and including) their dismal loss to the Pelicans on Christmas Day, the Nuggets still find themselves the 2-seed out West as they near the halfway point of the season -- there are far worse places to be! How’d they get there?
They’re healthy. None of their opening-game starters has played fewer than 32 of their 36 games so far this season, so the Nuggets have had great consistency in their starting five. Moreover, in this age of Load Management, Denver’s best two players, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray have each started and played in every game. When your best players lead by example, winning becomes ingrained in the culture. Furthermore, they are sharing the load in an extremely egalitarian fashion: no starter averages fewer than 11 or more than 19 points per game. If Denver went on a serious, calendar-month-long run like Paul Millsap’s Hawks did in January of 2005 (a historic 17-0) you could see all of these Nuggets sharing the Player of the Month award as the Hawks once did.
Their offense is rising up to hide their defense. After the defense carried the Nuggets through early-season offensive woes, the offense has arrived just in time to counter a defensive regression. After topping 120 points only 5 times in 33 tries in 2019, they’ve hit that mark 2 times in 3 tries in 2020 thus far. Against the Hawks, Jokic literally set fire to the Atlanta franchise (fine, figuratively) and in Indiana, Michael Porter Jr. showed the NBA just how much promise he really has with a near-perfect 11-12 from the field performance. These were rare before the New Year -- Nuggets fans hope that they’ll be a bit more frequent moving forward.
Michael Porter Jr. has removed himself from trade talks. After that flat Christmas Day performance, MPJ started getting 10+ minutes per game; in that stretch he’s scored in double digits three of the six games, after only hitting that mark once beforehand. He’s averaging a solid-to-impressive 12.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, while hitting on over 43% of his threes. I’d be hard-pressed to think about the return the Nuggets would need to part with the promising 21-year old. Earlier on I opined that the Nuggets needed to see Jerami Grant get some time with the starting five to see if he was the future of the power forward position in the Mile High City. It looks like that mantle belongs to Porter Jr.
Bench mob whack-a-mole. It’s very rarely the same player, but the Nuggets bench spits out at least one excellent performance a game to support that starting five. Against the Pacers, the Porter supernova. Days before, Mason Plumlee scores 15 points on 3-4 shooting and 9-10 from the line. A week before that, Malik Beasley drops 16 in a Lakers beatdown. And sprinkled all throughout are double-digit performances of less note, but not less important. The deep, varied Nuggets roster is living up to its billing as the schedule hits the long road to All-Star Weekend. They’ll need it to.
After wrapping up a five-game road trip in Dallas, Denver will have a little home-cooking to look forward to, with a tough game from the Clippers sandwiched between two very winnable games against Cleveland and Charlotte. Nine of their next thirteen after that will be on the road, so the Nuggets would be wise to get some momentum before charging into one of their toughest stretches of the 2019-20 season. We’ll see if they can!