Earlier this week, ESPN wrote a cool infographic-heavy piece with "72 reasons to love the Warriors". The Golden State Warriors, that is, as they were at 72 wins, and were shooting their way towards a new regular-season wins record last night.
This is not that article.
But it's close. You don't get infographics, as I'm not cracking Photoshop or Illustrator open this evening. We also have a shorter list, as the Nuggets only got to 33 wins this season, which has Nuggets Nation a bit more muted in their postseason sense of celebration. All of that said, had a lot of things to love. Here are 33 of them, in no particular order.
#1 - Surprise, Honey... I'm home
"Big Honey" Nikola Jokic appeared from out of nowhere this season, exceeding even his early proponent's expectations, and is the Nuggets version of Betamax in this year's Rookie of the Year vote.
#2 - Measured Mike
Michael Malone was passionate and straightforward throughout the season, both about successes and failures on everyone's part, but approached the team positively on both counts, and seems to have reaped the benefits with a pretty close and cohesive crew of young and talented players. Malone may grow as much as his young team when all is said and done, and he's starting from an encouraging place.
#3 -White Gold
No, seriously, that's what they're called. I list these because they are damned cool, and also because if I make all 33 of these about players, I am going to be jumping a few sharks by the end. I like this jersey so much, I may grab one... if ever the NBA decides to drop it below that nearly 3 Benjamin price tag.
#4 - A bit of damned luck
Injuries and setbacks plagued the Nuggets a bit this season, and Denver has had some tough luck on the long-term draft position side as well. It may not be this next season, but statistically these cycles will shift to the positive as well, and hopefully as the team is in position to take a step forward.
#5 - The Three Spot
Speaking of luck and injury, Danilo Gallinari looks to be returning from where he left off next season, and not need the sort of time he'd required from a much larger previous injury. Wilson Chandler came back stronger from his first torn labrum, here's to hoping he's as successful on the other side. To shore up the small forward slot with that sort of talent and surround it with a young core that was forced to mature quickly this year... signs point to improvement next year.
#6 - A Fairer Point
The steady improvement of Emmanuel Mudiay in time spent on and off the court during injury showed his desire to be humble in learning the game. That humility was paying off by season's end in vastly improved performances. Even better, watch Mudiay play. He knows and sees the game, chastising himself for mistakes long before anyone else needs to. As long as he stays hungry and continues to look for help when he's stuck, Mudiay's ceiling may turn out to be very high indeed.
#7 - Personal bets, personnel bests, personal bests
One bet the Nuggets made paid off in spades this season in deciding to go high-character with the veteran crew. From the moment Jameer Nelson gathered the team for a pre-season adventure, each of the veterans with the team this year were supportive and effortful guys who were able to teach a group of young pros how to play and prepare for the NBA grind.
#8 - King of the jungle
OK, he's a mountain lion instead of a lion, but Rocky is still the class of the league.
#9 - Juka-juvenation
Jusuf Nurkic had the equivalent of a lost season with the Nuggets, in that he's just now coming back to the form that had Nuggets Nation so excited last year. With an offseason this year that's focused on growth instead of rehab, Nurkic can be a Bosnian Beast yet. Really happy to see Nurkic discovering his game again the latter part of the year, he worked hard to get back.
#10 - The Dynamic Duo
Having come from broadcast radio several years back, I'm unfortunately critical of announcers and broadcast teams, a condition that can be exacerbated by my own loyalties and biases. That said, Scott Hastings and Chris Marlowe continue to improve as a team year after year. I've been a Hastings fan for years, and especially appreciate his ability to exhort the Nuggets from his commentary while calling things exactly as he sees them, whether he's impressed with what the team is doing or not. His ability to get a laugh often diffuses some of the more difficult things he has to say when occasionally criticizing the team's play. His genuine appreciation for their positives is even easier on the ears.
Chris Marlowe has grown on me over the years as he's continually improving both his broadcast skills and knowledge of the game. That lift has allowed his own personality to come through more on the calls, and he's developed the ability to lead and follow with Hastings, making much of their call as much a game conversation as a game call, with Marlowe the skillful facilitator of that conversation. As someone who's given Marlowe a bit of a tough time on these pages, it's also nice to be able to turn around and offer kudos when the effort has paid off.
#11 - More Cowbell
I couldn't actually knock Chandler and Gallinari off in a single bullet point, as Gallo spent the first 60% of the season setting new bars for himself and his level of play. If Gallo is able to return where he left off, it will be interesting to see if his expanded game can elevate the growth of the team that filled in his void post-injury.
#12 - The Spark
Will Barton revolved around many Sixth Man conversations this year with his impressive play off the Nuggets bench. If the Nuggets bench is as deep as it looks like it could be this next year, Barton's chaotic game could create good opportunities for the guys around him.
#14 - Manimalistic Tendencies
Kenneth Faried enjoyed a resurgence in the Nuggets new system, and utilized an expanded toolset to have one of his better seasons of late.
#15 - The Air Up There
This year's Nuggets didn't take advantage of the altitude and home court the way we're used to, but... The altitude isn't going anywhere, either. Another offseason of conditioning can only help leverage the natural advantage somehow, right?
#16 - D.J. in the House
D.J. Augustin came in to spell the injured Nelson in the second half of the year, and put his own spin on things, helping the Nuggets by shoring up the work and scoring loads when things were going dry.
#17 - Halftime Shows
On occasion, the NBA will leave the arena feed on for halftime via League Pass. Watching everything from the aging to the odd to the drama of peewee basketball leaves one missing home and Colorado's local television commercials. OK, all but that last part is true. Good thing we're talking about halftime, as this is our halfway marker to 33...
#18 - Sean Connery
Er, Tim Connelly, who has made a habit of doing good things with draft picks when given the chance. That he may have a few with which to wheel and deal or select could make for an interesting offseason. Hopefully the newly exploding cap won't blunt his ability to be effective too much.
#19 - The Two is not Number Two
Gary Harris entered a couple of late chats I saw for Most Improved Player, and was lauded by Michael Malone as the Nuggets "most consistent player all season" in Malone's post-game presser to wrap up the 82nd game. Harris has plenty of room to grow, and to have him at this level this early is encouraging.
#20 - The Pickup Artist
Speaking of Connelly, his quick pocketing of JaKarr Sampson when the Sixers were simply trying to stash him was a slick one. Sampson didn't set the world on fire, but performed admirably in yeoman's minutes, and was so immediately well-liked in the locker room as to have the entire bench cheering him on when he put up 16 in the win against the Spurs last week.
#21 - Huh?
All of the players sitting nearest Micah Nori have got to have good audiology tabs racked up. Listen for the yells from the Nuggets bench, and you'll have Nori picked out in no time. The guy's got some pipes on him.
#22 - The Force is Strong with Him
Darrell Arthur, aka "Darth" has been asked to be a number of things in his two seasons with the Nuggets organization, and unfailingly gives his best efforts to accommodate the shift and do his part? Defensive cog? Will do that. 3-point shooter? Will try to do that. Facilitator and cutter? Will shoot for that too. Rare to have a guy who will try to be whatever the team needs to succeed.
Two-thirds of the way home, my friends...
#23 - A Little Defensive
To a man, the Nuggets will tell you that Malone is not happy unless their successes are coming from a foundation of solid defense. If you're going to build a culture there are worse things to hang your hat on.
#24 - Twin Towers
There had been little to no sightings of Jokic and Nurkic on the floor together until the end of the season, but those early failed experiments have already begun to improve and bear fruit, and if their progress continues, you can see Denver having some tough decisions to make in the frontcourt this offseason.
#25 - French Connection
Axel Toupane and Geoffrey Lauvergne each brought a lot of frontcourt stability in the times they were asked to fill the gaps. Lauvergne started the season at the top of the depth chart, and was still a willing and enthusiastic participant all season after that role fell away. Lauvergne still shows flashes of touch and maneuverability that could make him a steal in a couple years.
#26 - Back from the Break
Begging forgiveness in advance, but there always a few trips back from the breaks on Altitude which involve the Denver Nuggets Dancers. And this article is 33 reasons to love the Nuggets. ‘Nuff said. If you never hear from me again, my wife is still reading my articles.
#27 - Silly Putty
Resilient. Malleable. Picks up whatever you stick it to. Bounces back. Can ball. Not the worst metaphor for this young team.
#28 - Three above 20
As it currently stands, the Nuggets have three more draft picks in the top 20, and that can be used or traded in a variety of ways. Flexibility is a powerful tool in the next few seasons as we grow.
#29 - The Tech Crew
Just as in show business, there's a large staff "behind the scenes" with the Nuggets organization, and to a person I've found them to be engaged and excited about what the future brings.
#30 - Move Up or Move Out
Most of the teams in Denver's current NBA stratosphere and below are far worse of in the upcoming plans phase. With several teams above them hitting a solid age curve, the Nuggets may be poised to step into a void at the right moment.
#31 - The Miller's Tale
Mike Miller has been a friendly and consummate pro who does every last thing that's asked, and would probably even sell tickets, a la Juwan Howard, if only asked to do so.
#32 - Muscle Memory
Whenever I'd go skiing, I was always amazed at how much I'd improved day over day, strictly due to a dearth of practice time giving me a lot of immeadiate progress in next to no time. Your Nuggets should come back from an exhausting season to a bit better recall of what was working before the season ended.
#33 - A Blank Slate
This season is in the book, boys and girls, and even with the disappointments in comparison to seasons past, the team is on an upswing headed into yet another new year. All possibility before the next campaign is engaged. We're back to square one for 2016-2017.
What did I miss, Nuggets Nation? What else is there to love about your Denver Nuggets? And what are you doing in the offseason?