The Nuggets’ win over Toronto this last week was significant in many different ways. It’s an understatement to say that everyone is relieved to see that this team still has the offensive strength they had last season. Players are beginning to gel as they settle into their roles, and we’ve seen a (nearly) ideal example of what they can be when things are running smoothly.
I will continue to opine about how important it will remain to run the offense through Nikola Jokic, but as Jamal Murray adjusts to his new role, I’m comfortable seeing a balance of touches between he and Jokic, and possibly Mudiay (we will talk about this more in a moment).
I’m going to digress briefly, and explain my reasoning for having such a staunch attitude about Jokic being the focus of the offense. His effectiveness isn’t best suited for just bringing in a high number of points per game. For example, when the Nuggets lost to the Knicks last week, Jokic pulled in 28 points, but only contributed 2 assists. Accordingly, Jokic scored 16 points with ZERO assists in the Nuggets’ loss to Charlotte. On the flip side, Denver’s win over Sacramento at home saw Jokic bring in zero points, and 7 assists. And, against Toronto, Jokic tallied just 8 points while contributing 10 assists that lead to a blowout win.
As my fellow Stiff Gordon Gross so eloquently put it in last week’s episode of the Pickaxe Show now airing on Dash Radio, Jokic’s magic dust doesn’t just make things go better if he’s not actually facilitating. As we saw on Wednesday, everyone plays better when Jokic is doing Jokic.
But, let’s get back to the topic at hand. It’s important to keep in mind that while this win against Toronto was significant, it’s just one win. The season will continue for another 6 months with games every couple of days, laced with grueling travel schedules and limited opportunities to rest. So how can the Nuggets take what they’ve done in this one game and expand that over the entire season?
In my opinion, it’s going to come down to every player’s “why”.
All of us have a why. We get up and go to work every day because we have a house to maintain, bills to pay, and families to feed. We put in our best effort at work because we are fulfilled when we’re able to change a client’s life for the better, and we work to be the best family member we can be so that our loved ones feel love and support from us.
However, the day to day whys often get overlooked when we get busy and distracted. Our why has to be big—so big that it kind of scares us to think about it. Some people’s why is a negative-type of motivation: fear of failure or mediocrity. Others get excited thinking about saving up enough money to retire and buy a dream house to live in with their loved ones.
Everyone’s why is different, but one thing is universal: it needs to be a constant focus every day, especially to get through difficult times when giving 100% seems impossible, and giving up is easy.
Right now, Mudiay has a big why that’s helping him play better as of late. His starting role has been revoked, he’s frequently in trade discussions, and there’s regular talk about how he hasn’t really improved from one season to the next. He still isn’t playing as well as he should be, but I like the effort we’ve seen from him in recent games. But, what happens when that why fades away? We’ve seen moments of brilliance from Mudiay before, followed by long periods of slump and what appears to be pouting to me.
Champions approach every game with the same tenacity. Their brilliance comes through when it’s late into an extended road trip, when they’re tired, they’ve been traveling, and they choose to continue to give 100% anyway.
While the Nuggets still have a long way to go to be champions, it’s important to begin the practice now. If they want a shot at the playoffs, let alone making it past round 1, they’ll need dig deep and focus in on what motivates them from within.
Inconsistency is a symptom of young players and a new rotation getting used to one another so we may still see ebbs and flows, but overall it’s time for us to expect more consistent games out of the Nuggets. They’ve shown us, and themselves what they can do this year so now it’s time to get serious—half a game could make or break a playoff slot.