The long winter of the Denver Nuggets offseason is nearing its completion, Nuggets fans, with your hometown team opening their season in New Orleans next Wednesday night. Six of the seven Nuggets preseason games have been on the road, and a casual onlooker might see a 3-4 preseason record and think, "here we go again…"
But before you infer too much from that record, know that it’s been a preseason that saw a lot of bodies play. Denver played 15 guys in their opening win against Toronto, none less than six minutes. Though the roster has narrowed, there’s still been a number of rotations in play, and coach Michael Malone has been liberal in his combinations. That approach often places learnings above victories. Looking at the numbers and threads that make up the last two-and-a-half weeks, here are a few of the positives and negatives rising above the noise of a jumbled preseason.
The three-point line. Denver left last season knowing it needed to shore up their game on both sides of the three-point line, ranking near the bottom of the league in offensive and defensive categories alike. This preseason shows those needs are still in full force, with Denver losing the three-point battle in six of the seven contests played, hilariously only besting a team known for their long-distance prowess in the Golden State Warriors. The offensive percentages from three thus far:
30.4, 22.2, 27.3, 15.0, 41.4, 46.2, and 16.0. Good for a 28.35% average. Even with a few expected hiccups in the preseason, that’s a five-plus percent dip from last year, with two sub-twenty percent games already in the mix.
The defensive percentages don’t tell a much more appealing tale, with Nuggets opponents putting up long-distance numbers like this:
31.8, 33.3, 50.0, 47.4, 40.5, 46.9, and 21.4. A 38.75% average, and a 10.4 point difference from the Nuggets offensive number above. It could be a long season if that delta holds up. Thank goodness seven games is a small sample size, and the rotations will be a little more static as the season begins.
Turnovers. Denver has also lost the turnover battle in six of their seven preseason contests, with none more embarrassing than coughing the ball up 25 times against the Minnesota Timberwolves in a 17-point loss. Denver is averaging 17.7 turnovers a game, a number that should also tighten up once players all familiar with one another share the floor. Even so, the Nuggets tied for the twelfth-highest ranking in turnovers last year at 14.2 a game. Room to improve here by a lot.
Injuries. Gary Harris, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Darrell Arthur are already currently sitting a few out due to early-season dings, and Denver has only lost a few more games to a sore something-or-other thus far. Let’s hope that list stays a lot clearer this season than last, as
Rebounding. Denver’s frontcourt is working hard on the glass, led by Balkan Buddy Ball combo Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic this preaseason. With the guards also looking to sweep up loose boards, the team has won five of the seven games in the rebounding category, helping keep them in many games already. Speaking of those names.
Jurkic. There are still some wrinkles to iron out, such as Nikola Jokic’s three-point defense while at the four, but the tandem of Nurkic and Jokic has proven to be formidable this preseason, adding a scoring and distribution punch to the rebounding lauded above. If you want a much more in-depth look at how that pair is coalescing, check out Jeff Morton’s excellent read on the possible sighting of twin towers basketball, back in the NBA.
Gallo and the stripe. Danilo Gallinari has played in every other game leading into the season, and has already found his midseason form in getting to the line and succeeding. In game one, nine of Gallo’s 14 points were from the free throw line, having missed only one. In game three, Danilo made 11 of his 12 free throws, scoring 19 points in total. Game five was the only time Gallo didn’t see the stripe much, and that in his only home preseason game thus far, versus the Warriors. Gallinari made one of his two total charity shots, but still managed a healthy 19 points for the game. In game seven, the Rooster was back to his pattern, going nine-for-11, and netting 18 on the night. Gallo is growing crafty for a still-young man, and those wiles are paying dividends.
Jamal Murray. Murray is not-so-quietly coming out of the gates in his rookie year, with clutch shots, double-digit scoring, assist and rebounding totals in separate games that show he may be a force to be reckoned with, and sooner than you might think.
After starting their preseason with six of eight contests on the road, the Nuggets keep that pattern rolling with six of their first seven regular season games away from home as well. I got a chance to ask Malone about how he messages that to his young squad, spending most of their first month on the road. The coach was smiling and frank all at the same time:
"It’s a case of ‘welcome to the NBA’. Everybody has to go through it at some point. The neat thing about getting away to the Omaha training camp early was having so many new players, new faces. It’s always good to get on the road to help you come together. I think that’s how you build chemistry, and from chemistry you build trust. To your point, the way we start our season is a very demanding schedule, but it is what it is, and we just hope to go out there and get off to a great start. That’s why it was imperative for us to have a great training camp, and right now we’re doing that."
That six-of-seven road trip doesn’t have many, if any pushovers on it, either, with the Hornets, Raptors, Timberwolves, Pistons, Celtics, and Grizzlies surrounding the one home game against a tough Portland Trail Blazers squad. That chemistry and trust will have plenty of opportunities to grow as the Nuggets will be tested early and often.
An intriguing Denver team faces a challenging start to kick off the 2016-2017 campaign, Nuggets fans. How will they fare in those early games, and how will they land at season’s end? If you’re not busy on Wednesday night, happen to be in Colorado, and want to see the Nuggets kick off the new season with a bang, may I recommend:
***Stiffs Night Out***
Denver Stiffs will be hosting SNO on opening night (October 26th) at our home sports bar, Jake's Sports & Spirits in Denver's vibrant RiNo neighborhood at 3800 Walnut Street, Denver CO. Located conveniently across the street from the new 38th and Blake Commuter Rail Station, and just five minutes (by car) from Coors Field. Jake's will extend happy hour for all Stiffs Night Out attendees.
The event is free to attend and all ages are welcome. It's a great way to meet fellow Nuggets fans and Stiffs readers in a fun and friendly environment. We look forward to seeing you there to get the season started!