One week down, twenty-four to go, and there’s lots to like a Mile High, despite crumbling down the stretch at home to Dallas last night. But first, something’s bothering me.
1. Where did all of the assists go? Last year’s team was a ball-moving ballet, and the team averaged 27.4 per game, good for second in the league. Through four games, that number has dropped to 22.0 per game, good for just 11th in the league, and a drop of nearly 20%. Everyone’s numbers are down. Nikola Jokic, legendary passing big, is down almost a full assist per game; Jamal Murray, an assist and a half. The only other player averaging as many as 3.0 per game? Mason Plumlee! For a team that basically ran it back, the familiarity should mean players can anticipate each other, and pass them open -- this has not happened. No Mike Conley to the Jazz excuses. The passing has to improve.
2. In better news, they’re taking and making more threes. Gary Harris looks like he’s regained his stroke from downtown, hitting 42.9% of his treys. Will Barton has an identical 42.9% success rate. Both are shooting better on threes than on twos in the young campaign -- the Denver faithful have to hope they learn from this and take another step or two back before letting fly. If and when Jamal Murray finds his stroke -- he’s managing to lead the team in scoring despite making less than two of his five and a half attempts per game -- the Nuggets may have something here.
3.Gosh are they killing it on the offensive glass. That’s in part due to Jokic making up for his relative dearth of assists by hitting the offensive glass like an all-you-can-eat buffet (maybe his favorite one from the offseason, cause Joker look THICC), but it’s a team effort. Thirteen offensive boards a game is 2nd in the league, which has led to the 4th most shots taken in the league -- 3.5 more per game than their opponents. Since the Nuggets have yet to really blow any of their foes out yet, and have outscored opponents by just 3.3 points on average, those extra shots have gone a long way, certainly.
4. Can they gain separation in a crowded Northwest? Minnesota is one of just three teams to have not taken an L; Utah is winning despite the aforementioned troubles of Conley; Portland is not going quietly into the night, and Oklahoma City took out all the frustration they had on Golden State for stealing away Durant in a 120-92 shellacking -- this might be the top-to-bottom best division in basketball. Not that divisions matter at all. But last year’s edition jumped out to a 9-1 start, and more or less front-ran the length of the season; 3-1 is a good start, but Denver has some tough match-ups coming up.
After trips to New Orleans and Orlando, Miami comes to town; all are winnable games, and Denver is lucky to catch the Pelicans without Zion Williamson in tomorrow’s nationally-televised match-up. 5-2 or 6-1 after two weeks will be crucial for a team trying to signal its arrival as one of the Association’s true elites.