There’s no nice way to say this - the Nuggets have been a bad basketball team on the road this season.
Fresh off a tough loss to the Indiana Pacers on the road, the Nuggets struggles away from Pepsi Center are at the front of fans’ minds. The team is missing their two best players in Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap, but it seems like even the games they have great odds of winning, they manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
However, it feels like there needs to be some context applied to the Nuggets road struggles. As a reconstruction expert, allow me to help you (and myself) through this stage of grief.
First, there are four teams in the NBA that have played more road games than the Denver Nuggets. They are, from highest winning percentage to lowest, the Golden State Warriors (13-3), the Washington Wizards (8-7), the Orlando Magic (5-11), and the Sacramento Kings (4-11).
There are seven teams in the NBA that have played 14 road games so far this season. They are, from highest winning percentage to lowest, the Boston Celtics (11-3), the Toronto Raptors (8-6), the Minnesota Timberwolves (7-7), the Miami Heat (7-7), the Detroit Pistons (6-8), the Atlanta Hawks (3-11), and the Chicago Bulls (2-12).
So while the Nuggets have been about the equivalent of the Orlando Magic on the road, the Magic have been 6-6 at home while the Nuggets have been 10-2. There are only two teams that have a higher winning percentage at home than the Nuggets - the Boston Celtics (12-2) and the Toronto Raptors (9-1).
Second, the Nuggets are losing on the road, but so is the rest of their division. The Nuggets main competition, in my opinion, during the regular season are the Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder. If the Nuggets are better than those two teams at the end of the year, I have a feeling they’ll be a lock for the postseason. Both those teams have played over 25 games this year, and the Jazz are 2-9 on the road while the Thunder are 3-10. Eventually the Jazz will have to leave Salt Lake City to play games, and once they do, they’ll have to deal with road trip woes as well.
Early in the season, the Nuggets were getting blown away on the road. Losses on the road to the Lakers, Jazz, Rockets, and Trail Blazers were no doubters for the Nuggets. But losses on the road to teams like the Wizards, Knicks, and Pacers are good ones for the team to learn from. Keep things close, compete on defense, and then execute in the clutch.
Third, this is a young team. Look at the players the Nuggets have in their rotation - Gary Harris is the oldest of the young players at 23, Jokic, Trey Lyles and Juancho Hernangomez are 22, Emmanuel Mudiay and Malik Beasley are 21, and Jamal Murray is 20 years old. That’s an average of 21.6 years old for seven of the 12 players that have been a part of the rotation for team with the fifth-best team in the Western Conference. Young guys are going to make mistakes, and it’s irrational to expect them to be perfect.
It’s going to be a problem if the Nuggets don’t start winning games eventually on the road, or at least being more consistent in their effort on the road. That points to a failure at player development by the coaching staff, or a failure of the front office to provide playing time for the young players. But for now, I’m not expecting the Nuggets to be a dominant road team - children have to walk before they run.
Six of the Nuggets next nine games are on the road, which means the pain isn’t quite over yet. But all this suffering will hopefully not be for naught, and if the team is able to identify mistakes now, as fans we should hope they’ll be able to wrinkle them out so they are corrected in time for all the home games that will eventually occur.
This is a fun team, if you take a step back and try to look at the bigger picture. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself while screaming into my Denver Nuggets scarf. I know I’m going to try to enjoy what I can.