As we all know, the Nuggets’ first few games have gone over like a lead balloon, and it’s getting a little tough to stay positive. This team is so packed with talent it’s frustrating to watch them struggle. While the issues at hand are complex, there are three things they can do to start winning games now.
Move back to a Nikola Jokic centered offense.
Look, it’s tough for all of us to admit when we’ve made a mistake. However, the worst thing to do in a situation like that is cling to that mistake and try to make it, well, not a mistake. Everyone who watched the Nuggets for any length of time from January on last season knew that what worked was Jokic controlling the offense and finding players open for shots. This is the entire reason Jokic is so beneficial for the Nuggets. For some crazy reason, they’ve “de-emphasized” Jokic running the offense and they’re now resting that responsibility on the shoulders of two very inexperienced point guards who simply aren’t ready.
I’m going to say something you’ll hate, but if the Nuggets aren’t going to utilize Jokic in the way he is meant to be utilized then they really should trade him. Jokic’s skill set transcends positions, and playing him in a traditional role is an absolute waste of his talent. The Nuggets’ current abysmal shooting percentages are a far cry from the top 5 offense they worked so hard for last season. This situation is a direct result of confusion in my mind. Every player is trying to be a hero in isolation and nothing is cohesive.
If the Nuggets aren’t careful, they will get to December with a terrible record, change back to being centered around Jokic, and barely miss the playoffs blowing the chance for a high-ranking draft pick.
Seek more experience at the point guard position.
When the Nuggets first drafted Emmanuel Mudiay, they thrust him into the spotlight and into a leadership position far too quickly. Mudiay has failed to develop on his own accord, but the Nuggets also have some accountability there. It’s been said that it takes many years for a point guard to truly learn how to run an offense, and right now the Nuggets are putting all of that pressure on Murray who is only in his second year, and Mudiay who has proven he’s not capable at this time. While I wasn’t necessarily a fan of Jameer Nelson last season, his experience running the offense proved crucial in times where the Nuggets really needed to rely upon some seasoned expertise.
The Nuggets need to go get Eric Bledsoe, and in order to do that, they need to get serious about making an offer for him. An even exchange for Mudiay is not realistic, so they’ll have to consider throwing in Darrell Arthur or Kenneth Faried to make that deal happen. Unfortunately, I think parting with Faried is not a good idea right now so DA may be the best bet.
Murray is really a shooting guard, and I was so excited to see him get the point position with the expectation that Jokic would run the offense allowing Murray and Gary Harris to do what they do best—score the ball. Bledsoe would play second fiddle to Murray, but their combined scoring ability and experience would likely be an instant boost for the Nuggets’ struggling offense.
Keep improving on defense.
Coach Mike Malone has made defense a priority for the Nuggets ever since he came on board with the organization, and although it has taken quite a while, we are starting to see slight improvements as the team responds to his coaching. From my perspective, the Nuggets struggle to get back on defense in transition and that causes them to get caught off guard regularly. They also appear to be fairly uncomfortable with a more physical style of play which causes them to give too much room to their opponents.
On the flip side, their offense doesn’t respond well when another team plays physical defense. This usually results in reluctant shots from distance that were ill-fated before they ever left the player’s hands. We saw an example of this in the Nuggets’ preseason game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Albeit old-fashioned, the idea that defense wins championships remains true even in this super-team filled league.
Nuggets fans cannot take another near-miss in the playoffs this year. Denver needs to make some immediate changes, because simply demanding that the players show up to compete won’t cut it. I’m nervously optimistic that the Nuggets will recognize the need for change, and I hope they do so quickly before it’s too late.