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Don’t fall victim to small sample size

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Be careful not to overreact to the first few games of the season. Life changes way too quickly for that.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics suited up for their regular season opener with excitement in the air. Playing the Cleveland Cavaliers on opening night was a big deal, and the shamrock-colored crew wanted to showcase their new look squad, most notably former Cavalier Kyrie Irving.

That excitement came crashing down just six minutes into the first quarter. The moment I turned on my TV, I saw Gordon Hayward fracture his tibia and turn his ankle 90 degrees, changing the entire outlook of the Celtics season basically before it began.

Through three games, the Denver Nuggets are not in nearly as altered a position as the Celtics, but they are in the early stages of a season and have only played 3.66% of their total games on the year. So much of the story is unwritten, and though the Nuggets have a 1-2 record and have looked up and down so far, it’s still too early to make sweeping judgments.

To push this point further, let’s go back to the first three games of the season last year. The Nuggets were 1-2 in games against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Portland Trail Blazers, and the Toronto Raptors. For each of the points made, the verdict “fact” or “fiction” will be made due to the benefit of hindsight and more sample size.

New Orleans Pelicans

Jusuf Nurkic was the best player on the Nuggets.

The Bosnian Beast started off the season well last year, putting up 23 points and nine rebounds on 9/13 from the field. He only played 26 minutes, but the Nuggets continually went to him for interior offense, and it worked. Nikola Jokic was consistently matched up with Anthony Davis during his minutes which made it difficult for him.

Obviously, this is not how things turned out. Jokic proved to be one of the up-and-coming stars in the NBA. Nurkic proved to be a impact player in Portland, but not before forcing his way out of Denver.

Verdict: definitely fiction

Will Barton’s scoring would prove extremely helpful

Will the Thrill made his mark early in the season for Denver (just like he’s doing this season) by scoring 22 points on just 12 shots, making 2/3 three-pointers. He squared off opposite E’Twaun Moore, and the new Pelicans guard at the time just couldn’t contain him. Barton would go on to improve his scoring, facilitating, and efficiency in the Nuggets new offense, and he won Denver games by being a spark off the bench once Gary Harris returned.

Verdict: definitely fact

The Nuggets defense was in line to struggle

It’s always hard to judge defensive schemes on opening night, but the Nuggets couldn’t stop Anthony Davis even if they wanted. Neither Jokic, Nurkic, nor Kenneth Faried could impede him in any way on his way to 50 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals, and 4 blocks. The only thing stopping Davis was time, as he simply ran out of opportunities to bring a listless Pelicans squad back. The only major threat on the Pelicans was the Brow, and Denver couldn’t force them into a Plan B.

Verdict: definitely fact

Portland Trail Blazers

Guard defense was the biggest issue

Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combined for 60 points on 52 shots. It wasn’t a problem that Denver allowed 60 points, but more so that they allowed 52 attempts to the two best players on the floor at the time. That came back to bite Denver, as 10 of the 13 field goals made by the Blazers in the fourth quarter and overtime were by the dynamic guard duo.

Verdict: definitely fact

Emmanuel Mudiay would still be the featured prospect

Well, that didn’t age well. Against the Trail Blazers, Mudiay attempted 20 shots, generated 21 points, and posted five turnovers. The Nuggets decided to ride with him though, playing him over 38 minutes and through the ups and downs. This continued into January, but after that, the Nuggets committed fully to a Jokic centric attack.

Verdict: fiction

Late game situations make the Nuggets crumble

No need to hash this out again. This one was completely true.

Verdict: definitely fact

Toronto Raptors

Danilo Gallinari was completely unreliable late in games

Through three games, Gallo put up stat lines of 15 points (5/11 from the field), 17 points (4/16), and 16 points (3/11). What the story doesn’t tell was that Gallo scored a combined six points in the three fourth quarters and one overtime period, going 3/15 from the field during those minutes. He missed every attempt in the last minute of each period, and all of the games were close.

He was failing the Nuggets late in games, but as it turned out, the Nuggets all struggled in crunch time throughout the season. Gallo was one of the only players competent enough to create his own shot in clutch situations. He was 0/5 in the first three games, but in every other game, he went 2/4. In the last five minutes of clutch situations after those first three games, he was 11/26 from the field and 15/18 from the free throw line, a much different player than in the first three contests.

Verdict: fiction

Jamal Murray might never make a shot in the NBA

Not only did Murray not make a field goal attempt through his first three games, he started the season 0/18 from the field before finally making his first shot, an unassisted three-pointer in his fifth game against the Detroit Pistons. Most weren’t worrying, but many fans wavered in their faith that Murra would be a good basketball player. Since then, he has shown potential as a floor spacer and tough shot maker, one the Nuggets will need in their next evolution as a playoff team.

Verdict: absurd fiction


In three games so far in 2017-18, many sweeping conclusions can be drawn that aren’t necessarily true. One could say that neither Murray nor Mudiay are ready to play point guard for a playoff contender, but either player may turn around and have an incredible three game stretch to balance things out. One might say that Wilson Chandler has lost a step on both ends and is hurting the team; however, he’s in a contract year and adjusting to the starting role next to some new pieces. It’s not easy to go from the focal point as a sixth man to the player in the starting lineup potentially designated to take the fewest shots. In the first two games, Jokic was averaging 3.5 points. After game three? He’s averaging 12 points, 10 rebounds, and 6.7 assists. Really struggling out there.

The Nuggets have 79 games to go. They might make trades. They might sustain injuries. Paul Millsap is still getting adjusted on both ends. Jokic is doing his best to make everything work. Michael Malone has had great rotations so far this year, and while it didn’t manifest in a win against Washington, the Nuggets are going to turn the ball over 24 times a night. At some point, things will click.

In the mean time, it’s been three games. Enjoy the process. The Nuggets are still fun, and they aren’t going anywhere.

Poll

On a scale of 1-10, how worried are you about the first three games?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    1 or 2 - very minor concerns
    (61 votes)
  • 36%
    3 or 4 - one or two problems stick out
    (172 votes)
  • 37%
    5 or 6 - there are a few issues
    (178 votes)
  • 9%
    7 or 8 - moves need to be made now
    (46 votes)
  • 3%
    9 or 10 - the season is already over
    (18 votes)
475 votes total Vote Now