I am here to tell you that the Denver Nuggets are a compelling team.
One minute they’re cruising along at 3-0, up five heading into the 4th quarter at home, where they’ve been pretty unbeatable the last two seasons. The next thing you know, they’ve been fondued by Slovenian Chocolate Luka Doncic to drop their first game, and sleepwalk through a god-awful loss to the Pelicans, who haven’t won any of their six other tries, to fall to 3-2. Mike Malone uses both hands while tearing them a new one afterwards, and lo and behold, after an uninspiring win in Orlando, they asphyxiate Miami in the thin air back home: voila, they’re back in the 2-seed out West.
What a week! Looking under the hood:
1.The scoring is balanced. In seven games, the Nuggets have just seven 20-point scoring outings, and not a single Nugget has touched 30 on the season thus far. That’s wild. Contrast that with fellow 5-2 squad Phoenix (also wild - my fingers almost wouldn’t type that, like they wanted to write my brain a note and ask if someone had taken it hostage), who has nine 20-point outings, two 30s and a 40. This is also taking place as multiple Nuggets are seeing scoring downturns from last year, including superduperstar Nikola Jokic. I’m all for moving the ball around, but Denver’s gonna need an alpha it can count on in the clutch, and while Jamal Murray is First Citizen, he ain’t Emperor yet.
2. The Michael Porter Jr. Show has come to town! What a debut he made, scoring fifteen points on 5-8 shooting, to go with four rebounds and an assist. For one glorious game, he emerged from the doldrums shackling his teammates to gleam in the Louisiana night -- the only thing remotely positive in Denver’s aimless loss to the Pelicans. Then, when the Nuggets resumed their winning ways, he resumed his place on the bench, logging just seven points and five rebounds in ten minutes in the two games combined. Methinks he’s going to have to have some slightly more significant and regular playing time to really impact this season in Denver. Perhaps he helps their cause more as a trade chip.
3. Perhaps he gets those extra minutes coming off the bench though, because the bench has been awful so far. The depth that was supposed to set the Nuggets apart has not shown itself. When Denver goes with the full hockey shift and has its second five on the floor, there is a huge swing in the wrong direction. The starting five, predictably, is one of the best in the league, and in nearly 100 minutes of the young season, has a positively juicy 15.9 net rating (Lakers starters, by comparison have a negative 1.9 net rating, despite their league-leading record). That tumbles all the way down to negative 8.9 net rating for the back-ups. YIIIIIIIKES. I’d put more I’s. You get it. OOF.
4. Mike Malone’s a good coach; he runs a good team. I don’t understand his rotations. And I’m sorry for continually roasting Torrey Craig, who played at a small school and had to overcome with a capital ‘O’ to be a rotation player in the Association, but I frankly do not understand the obsession. The Nuggets made a leap last year when they got Juancho Hernangomez minutes at the ‘3’ -- he’s logged just 19 total minutes this season. Give Malik Beasley more; he’s down four minutes per game compared to last year, and he’s a player that does more with more and less with less. Just send Torrey to the pine.
It’s a big week for Denver. They’ve got a big, why-isn’t-this-game-nationally-televised match-up with Philly on Friday, a big intra-divisional match-up with Minnesota, and some young Atlanta Hawks coming to town. Can they capitalize on John Collins absence the way they definitely did not overcome the Zion-less-ness of New Orleans? Is this mini-turnaround after their two losses real? We’ll find out next time!