That which does not kill us makes us stronger
- Friedrich Nietzsche
When I was singing a bit for a living, there was a moment in time where my professional group was losing our two best singers. Our ringers, and certainly our moneymakers. We three remaining had a choice. Get better quick, or find different lines of work. We chose the former, much to my pleasure. It's sad that sometimes it takes a bit of external pressure to force you into bigger things, but it's often the model for unexpected growth. The Denver Nuggets have had all sorts of opportunities to grow and grow stronger through a variety of losses over this season. Interestingly, they seem to be succeeding where their recent counterparts have not always been able to do so.
My friend and colleague Andrew Feinstein wrote a great piece on Monday detailing the immediate rise and subsequent long-term troubles that have followed the Denver Nuggets (and New York Knicks) since the now five-year-old-plus trade, and it had me reflecting all week on how many troubles have befallen your favorite team ever since, including this past season.
From the moment Danilo Gallinari injured his knee in April of 2013, your boys in blue (and yellow skylines) had seemed snakebitten by decisions, fortune, and misfortune. The list from that injury to the start of this season includes injuries, near mutinies, social meltdowns, and broad overhauls. Many of those buffeted the team into near-submission over those next two years, leading to shifts as wide as the front office and both ends of the bench.
And even so, there were signs of resilience throughout that deep abyss, and they're finally starting to show dividends this season, even though this team has also faced its share of challenges. A few examples of the resilient nature of this season's squad, each starting with their hurdle to overcome:
Wilson Chandler gets a little too hip
The terrible news that Wilson Chandler's torn labrum would cost him this season was a serious blow for the young Nuggets hopes this year. If an upside came out of that loss, it was more assured time for Will Barton, who has stepped up into the role nicely, with a number of impressive outings during the season, the first of his career in which he's been tasked with so many minutes and responsibilities.
The King falls early
Season-starting center Joffrey Lauvergne's early season injury came before Jusuf Nurkic was fully healed from a knee surgery, pressing rookie Nikola Jokic into play much earlier than anticipated. Jokic has been one of the surprises of the season in his mature and effective play.
Emmanuel Mudiay pops a wheel
Rookie Mudiay suffered an ankle sprain that kept him out for several games this season, at a time when the back court could ill afford his time away. But sitting and watching the game for several nights seemed to have an educational impact on Mudiay's play, as he returned with a game simultaneously more aggressive and controlled, and has been consistently improving ever since.
Jameer Nelson's bum wrist
Nelson had provided a steadying hand to the second team and in closing minutes through the season's start. But a wrist injury that lingered eventually forced the Nuggets hand into trading for new backup D.J. Augustin, who has provided another offensive spark in Gallinari's absence, speaking of which...
Gallo takes a seat
Danilo suffered a fairly severe ankle injury last week, tearing a couple of ligaments in the bargain. News of his quick recovery is exciting, but will come far too late to do much of any damage in what's left of this Nuggets season. Even so, Gallo's absence has forced the team to share the scoring load far more widely, and the team has responded with some of it's more impressive offensive play of the year in these last few games.
Growth need not only impact players
Michael Malone is a young coach, by his own admission, and is still learning in this league. Eagerly, I might add, if you watch him with others he admires in the game. Coach Mike gets a lot of love on Denver Stiffs, in stories and comments alike. But the very fair criticisms leveled on occasion at least seem to be areas Malone also tries to address, slowly shifting old habits like player rotation patterns to something a little more flexible. Malone does this while dealing with a constantly shifting roster. Malone has already shown growth, and it will be interesting to see how much more he will grow. One wonders if he could be just as special as the young team he's currently guiding.
The second half of a back-to-back is always a tough game, mentally and physically. After losing their first four tries at it this year, the Nuggets have turned their luck around, and are astonishingly good on the second game of back-to-backs this season. After those first four losses, a gut-check one-point win in Toronto has the Nuggets at 5-3 in the next eight back-to-back closers.
It's been another bumpy ride, Nuggets Nation. But the youngsters are showing a ton of growth, the return of Gallinari, Chandler, and others next season only deepens the talent pool in Denver, and we're sitting on a fair number of assets in the bargain. This new never-say-die attitude that keeps the team playing for four quarters is starting to show dividends. It sure hasn't killed us. Am I imagining things, or is it making us stronger?