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Denver Nuggets: The changing of the guard

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Buckingham Palace has nothing on your Nuggets the last three years, with the entire backcourt reset

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Detroit Pistons
Young guards Will Barton and Gary Harris have a Nuggets ghost in their background in Detroit. Photo from 2016.
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

It just can’t go smoothly every time, not even for the best in the business.

You can change so much in three years. Three years and two days, to be exact. On November 14th, 2014, rookie guard Gary Harris got his first playing time in a regular season game, with 18 minutes on the floor. Harris acquitted himself nicely, with 13 points, three rebounds, two assists, two steals, and a block while only committing a single turnover and a single foul. He even had a dunk that blew everyone away but his mom (who looked away at the least opportune moment).

He was pretty damned efficient, as well, at least from up close. Gary went five-for-five on shots he kept inside the arc, though hit only one of the five treys he took, and missed his sole free throw. Harris got the time in a 21-point Nuggets pasting of the Pacers in his home state of Indiana, and some of the crowd was cheering their native son, mom included. His backcourt mates that night were starters Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo and fellow backup Nate Robinson. Lawson had six seasons with the Nuggets, Afflalo four.

Things have changed a little bit since then.

Harris saw floor time again two nights later, in a loss to the Knicks. He had no points and no assists in ten minutes. It can be a bumpy ride for a first-timer in the NBA, and Harris (and those who followed him into the Nuggets backcourt) leapt onto a moving train, competing against what may be the most talented collective set of players at their position in the history of the league, an idea which blows the mind of a guy who idolized Magic and MJ. That’s sheer hypothesis, if anyone can quantify or not.

February of that same season, Will Barton joined the club from Portland in a trade for Afflalo. He provided instant offense off the bench for Denver in his last 28 games, playing in every one. Will the Thrill cracked double-digit scoring in 16 of those games, and didn’t go scoreless once.

You know how the rest goes, with Lawson gone not long after, and the Nuggets resting their hopes on a teenage Emmanuel Mudiay, and Jamal Murray coming with similarly high expectations a season after. Each has had their highs and lows, with examples of both in the last ten days, let alone 233 games. Yep, less than 250 games combined. Murray is sneaking up on his hundredth.

Three of the four have had multiple 30-point games, with the most consistent, Harris, having a career high of 28. Each is a distributor and willing defender, though Harris is also the best of the four on the defensive end, and Barton shows more and more presence there as well. Mudiay and Murray are putting forth the effort now to be plus defenders down the road, with coach Michael Malone preaching consistency to them all along the way.

Moreover, each is rooting for the other guy when he’s the one on the floor. They’re not interchangeable, but they can certainly fill in when the other guy goes down. They’ve not only bought into the team concept when on the floor, but off it, from all appearances. It’s certainly not always been perfect, as the quartet has also produced a few dogs along the way.

For what it may be worth, I’m a fan of admitting an internal bias so the person on the other end can take those thoughts with whatever grain of salt they think they should. You’ll not be surprised to learn that I like all four of these guys as players at their ages, and will even ‘fess up to Gary Harris being my favorite player on the team. I see very good things coming for the Denver backcourt if they hold onto at least three (if not four) of these players for the next couple seasons and beyond. You may utterly disagree, but...

The front office has committed to this quartet for the foreseeable future, Nuggets Nation. When at their best, they are amongst the finest the league has to offer. At their worst, they open a gaping hole at a position filled with talented guys on nearly every team. Either way, they are the full complement of the arsenal we currently bring to bear. An optimist might see this as a refiner’s fire. A gauntlet these guys run nightly, and the only way to improve, when you weren’t going to be able to run with the elite nightly, anyway. A pessimist might see this as a sign of the future, with far too many inconsistent cogs to ask to line up on a nightly basis for any hope of late-season dreams.

As always, the lion’s share lands in the middle. Been a time of upheaval at the onesy-twosy for your Denver Nuggets. Is it settling into something you’re excited about, or settling into something unsettling?

Poll

Hits and misses: Gary Harris, Will Barton, Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    four hits, no misses
    (194 votes)
  • 25%
    three hits, one miss
    (144 votes)
  • 12%
    two hits, two misses
    (72 votes)
  • 1%
    one hit, three misses
    (7 votes)
  • 0%
    no hits, four misses
    (4 votes)
  • 25%
    too early to tell to answer fairly
    (141 votes)
562 votes total Vote Now