It’s probably the oldest storyline in the history of the Nuggets; they need to run if they are going to win, especially at home. This isn’t true anymore. The Nuggets were 16th in pace last season and currently sit at 26th in pace, and they are still winning.
The logic of a fast-paced team in Denver still holds true, the faster you run the tighter the grip of altitude gets on the opponent’s throat. The interesting thing about this Nuggets team is that they are still finding ways to wear out their opponents. They play an offensive style that requires constant movement from both the players and the ball. They may not be running their opponents up and down the court, but they are certainly running them side to side.
Does this mean the Nuggets shouldn’t push the pace when the opportunity presents itself? Absolutely not, if you have a chance for a break you take it, but if it’s not there pull it out and set up your offense. Fastbreaking is the most efficient way to put up buckets, but it can also lead to mistakes and those mistakes often lead to easy points on the other end.
Fastbreak buckets are easy points and in the past, many Nuggets teams needed these easy points because they couldn’t execute well in the half court (aka every team under George Karl). This just isn’t the case anymore. Nikola Jokic is a wizard in the half court and when the offense runs through him, Denver is one of the best half-court teams in the league.
Minimizing possessions and fastbreaks may give the Nuggets fewer opportunities for easy points, but it also limits their opponent’s chances on the break. With Jokic, Murray, Harris, Barton, Millsap, et al on our side, I like our chances to outscore other teams in the half court. Maybe it’s time to put to bed the theory that the Nuggets have to push the pace to be successful, in most cases they’re better off slowing things down and just outplaying the other teams.
Monte Morris might just be the best backup point guard in the league. His assist to turnover ratio is sitting at 8:1 and he’s the main reason the second unit has been so good this year. Morris taking care of the ball is nothing new, he’s the NCAA record holder for career assist to turnover ratio, so this is basically just more of the same.
What’s been most surprising about his impressive season has been the improved shot and his solid defense. Monte is not a particularly tall player and his size makes it tough for him to be a good defender, but he’s such a smart player he finds ways to have a positive impact on that end, whether it’s drawing a charge, or generating steals with his quick hands. Oh and he’s shooting over 40% from 3 point range. His per-minute impact ranks among the best in the league, he’s currently sitting at 15th among all guards in total win shares. I think it’s time to start talking about him as an elite back up.
The Plumlee finger wag
I’ve always been a Mason Plumlee fan. Even before he was a Nugget I liked Plumlee’s game and was thrilled when we managed to get him in exchange for the disgruntled Nurkic. He had a bit of a down year last year, but what went unnoticed were a lot of the little things he did, including improving significantly on defense.
It turns out that Plumlee was just hurt last season and we’re now finally seeing the fully realized version of Mason Plumlee. He’s an absolute terror for opposing offenses with his quick hands to disrupt passing lanes and his elite athleticism to block shots. It’s becoming routine for the former Duke center to get highlight blocks and in a couple of recent games,` he pulled out the Dikembe finger wag and let me tell you, I’m here for it. I’m pretty sure Mt. Mutombo approves.
This team is really good
This Nuggets group is one of 3 teams sitting in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive rating and currently sits at 3rd in net rating. They also have one of the best win profiles in the league. Basketball Reference has a stat called SRS which factors in opponent strength and margin of victory, the Nuggets sit at 2nd in this stat.
I say all this to say that the Denver Nuggets have played like the 3rd best team in the NBA and are only just starting to scratch the surface of their potential. They’re also down a starter, a former all-star, and a lottery pick due to injury (Vanderbilt hasn’t played due to injury either). They’ve played basically all season with 4 injured players and have still had one of the best benches in the league. I can’t wait to see how this team wins when it’s fully healthy. Watch out.