What a season the Nuggets had in 2016-17.
The Nuggets drafted three players in the first round, returning most of the same roster from the previous season, but discovered a star in Nikola Jokic.
There were some things I’ll remember for a while (Jamal Murray winning Player of the Game in the Rising Stars Game at All-Star Weekend, the London game, Jokic’s over the shoulder dimes) and some things I’m trying to forget (Nurkic, the Jurkic lineup, Portland making the playoffs).
This is a long article, and I’ll be honest, the only person I expect to read it all is my Mom. Hey Mom! Love you!
Let’s get to it.
The Nuggets had the best offense (in terms of offensive rating) in the league after the All-Star break. They finished tied with the Los Angeles Clippers with a 112.6 rating over that time span.
If you’ve listened to any Nuggets podcast or read any material on the Internet, you probably heard/saw a variation of “The Nuggets have had the best offense in the league since December 15 (when Nikola Jokic became the starter).” That’s fine and dandy, but for the season, they finished fifth, with an offensive rating of 110, according to NBA Stats. That’s really good, and just behind the Warriors, Rockets, Cavaliers, and Clippers. They had a better offense this season than the Spurs, Raptors, Celtics, everyone else. The 76ers were the worst offense in the league.
The Nuggets offensive rating this season was the second-highest in franchise history, behind the 1981-82 Nuggets. That Nuggets team in ‘81-’82 scored 126.5 points per game (and gave up 126), and had three players average over 20 points per game (Alex English, Kiki Vandeweghe, and Dan Issel). If the McNichols Sports Arena nets could have caught fire, they would have.
The Nuggets were held under 100 points 13 times this season - and lost every single one of those games.
In contrast, the Nuggets scored 125 or more 16 times - and won every game except for one (they lost in overtime).
The Nuggets scored the fewest points off turnovers in the league, with just 14 points per game coming after an opponent turnover. The Nuggets defensive scheme was very conservative, and defenders hardly ever gambled for steals, so this isn’t too surprising.
The Nuggets were monsters in the paint however, finishing second in the league in points in the paint. They just barely finished behind the Thunder (this is a theme) with 49.8 points compared to the Thunder’s 49.9 points per game.
The Nuggets liked getting points on 3-pointers, with 32.9 percent of their field goal attempts coming from distance. They finished eleventh in the league in converting those shots into points, shooting 36.8 percent on those attempts. Their offense is great, but pushing that team 3-point percentage up higher with a better season, including more attempts, from players like Jamal Murray, Juancho Hernangomez, and Malik Beasley.
One of my favorite team stats are the speed and distance stats that are tracked by NBA Stats. The Nuggets ran 16.53 miles this season, with 9.09 miles ran on offense and 7.33 miles ran on defense.
The Nuggets were the 20th-fastest team in the league, with an average speed of 4.14 miles per hour. That was tied with the Sacramento Kings and Boston Celtics - gone are the days of Ty Lawson rocketing past the defense to score in transition.
The Nuggets 2016 draft class had small contributions this season, but they lead the team in average speed. Jamal Murray (4.54 MPH), Juancho Hernangomez (4.40 MPH), and Malik Beasley (4.37 MPH) were the three fastest players on the team. I’m going to guess this is part youth, part element of their game, and part “Oh crap I’ve made a mistake on defense and I have to hustle back into position.”
The three slowest players? Jameer Nelson (3.91 MPH), Wilson Chandler (3.96 MPH), and Darrell Arthur (3.97 MPH) took home the title for slowest players on the team. Nelson I understand (old), Arthur I understand (knee injury), but Chandler? Put a little scoot in your step, grandpa!
On the flip side to their stellar offense, the Nuggets finished with the second worst defense in the league, with a defensive rating of 110.5. That’s barely ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers, who were blatantly trying to lose games at points in the season to help increase their odds of retaining their draft pick, who finished with a defensive rating of 110.6.
Part of the Nuggets defensive woes is the fact that the Nuggets opponents shot 47.7 percent on field goal attempts, the second-worst mark in the league, just ahead of the Lakers.
On top of that, the Nuggets had the third-worst 3-point defense in the league, with opponents shooting 37.5 percent on 3-point attempts.
In their defense, on the season, opponents attempted only 26.3 3-point shots per game against the Nuggets. That’s the 10th-lowest mark in the league.
The Nuggets finished 61.5 percent of their possessions with an assist, the seventh-best rate in the league. It’s a testament to everyone’s willingness to share the ball, and hopefully a trend that continues as the Nuggets continue to improve as shooters as well as playmakers.
The Nuggets were the second best rebounding team in the league, with impressive showings on both the offensive and defensive glass. They grabbed 53.2 percent of all available rebounds on the season, with only Oklahoma City Thunder ahead of them at 53.4 percent.
Pace does not always equal success, but it’s always been an element of success for Mile High Basketball, where they’re able to take advantage of the altitude to tire out opponents. The Nuggets averaged 100.7 possessions per game, the seventh-highest rate in the league.
Nikola Jokic has played in 153 games over his first two seasons. As a comparison to a fellow offensive center, DeMarcus Cousins played in 145 games over his first two seasons. The Nuggets have a 68-85 record in games Jokic has played in, and the Kings had a 43-102 record in games Cousins played in over his first two seasons.
This is a stat special for Jeff Morton - Jokic had the highest PER for a player in Denver Nuggets history. His PER of 26.2 edges out Alex English in 1982-83, Kiki Vandeweghe in 1983-84, David Thompson in 1977-78, and Dan Issel in 1981-82.
This is a stat special for Ryan Blackburn - Jokic had the sixth-highest Real Plus-Minus in the NBA at 6.70. He was just behind Rudy Gobert (6.71), but ahead of Draymond Green, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, and Kyle Lowry, who round out the top 10.
ESPN also has a stat that measures RPM Wins, and Jokic finished 10th in the league in that stat as well, at 13.14. He’s sandwich between Chris Paul and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Al Horford is one of the best passing big men in the NBA. The 10-year veteran set a career high in total assists in his first season with the Celtics, with 337 assists in 2,193 minutes. Jokic had 358 assists in 2,038 minutes.
The last time a center had over 350 assists in a season was Joakim Noah, who had 431 assists in the 2013-14 season (that was a great season). It’s only been done two other times in the last 20 years, according to Basketball Reference, and the list of players to reach that mark include guys like Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Also, Tom Boerwinkle, a player I have literally no clue existed before looking this stat up.
Jokic finished the season averaging 16.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 4.9 assists, with an effective field goal percentage of 60.3 percent. The last player to do that? Wilt Chamberlain in 1966-67. Michael Malone was born four years after that, in 1971.
Jokic is third in Nuggets history for career triple-doubles, with six. The two players ahead of him? Fat Lever and Dikembe Mutombo.
Jokic was drinking three liters of Coca-Cola PER DAY before he was drafted by the Nuggets. Assuming he did that 300 days a year (I gave him a few days off for his Coke regimen), and knowing that there are 108 grams of sugar in one liter of Coca-Cola, Jokic was drinking 214 pounds of sugar a year. None - zero - of the Nuggets guard weigh 214 pounds, with Jamal Murray and Gary Harris the closest at about 210 pounds. He was literally drinking Gary Harris’ bodyweight in sugar a year. If he drank 3 liters every single day, he was drinking 260 pounds of sugar a year. God bless Steve Hess.
Jokic is a skilled 3-point shooter, but there was another 21-year-old on the team that finished with more made 3-point shots this season. That’s right, Juancho Hernangomez, with 1196 fewer minutes, made one more 3-point shot (46 to 45) than Jokic did.
Juancho has a beautiful jumper, and shot 41 percent on 112 3-point attempts. There were 20 rookies that had more 3-point attempts this season than Juancho - none of them converted those attempts into makes at a higher percentage than Hernangomez.
Juancho and his brother Willy both started playing in the NBA this season, with Willy getting minutes at center for the Knicks. Willy outscored Juancho, 587 to 305, but I have a feeling I know which team they’d rather be playing together on.
Juancho had the most win shares of all the rookie class, with 1.8 win shares. That’s good for 14th all time in Nuggets history, behind Danny Fortson (1.9) and ahead of Jusuf Nurkic (1.6).
He wasn’t a rookie this year, but Darrell Arthur continued to expand his range. The Dallas, Texas native shot 45 percent on 117 3-point attempts, one of the best marks in the league for his position.
If history is an indicator, Arthur should play over 1000 minutes next season. So far in his career, every year he’s reached that plateau, he’s followed it up with less than 1000 minutes played. For the 2016-17 season, Arthur played in 639 minutes.
Arthur wasn’t much of a distributor this season, finishing with 42 assists, just over one per game. He had 10 assists to Jamal Murray, his most productive target for sharing the ball.
The rookie with the second-most 3-point attempts this season was the Nuggets first pick, Jamal Murray. Murray made 115 of his 344 attempts from behind the arc, shooting what he probably considers a disappointment of 33.4 percent.
Murray was the only Nuggets player to appear in all 82 games this season. For a team full of players plagued by injury concerns, Murray’s durability is something to be really excited about.
The Nuggets player with the second-highest number of games played? That would be 35-year-old veteran Jameer Nelson, who took over as the starting point guard this season. Nelson started 39 games, played in 75, and had 2,045 minutes of court action this year.
Nelson lead the team in assists per game and in total, barely edging out Jokic in both.
Not only did Nelson lead the team in assists, but he lead the NBA in assists - well, for players 34 and older.
The NBA tracks points created off assists, and Nelson lead the Nuggets in that stat as well. Nelson’s 5.1 assists per game translated into 12.3 points per game for the Nuggets.
Nikola Jokic was second on the team in points created off assists with 11.4 - the guy that finished third? That would be Emmanuel Mudiay, who dished out 3.9 assists per game for 8.8 points.
The Nuggets were happier with Mudiay passing the ball to his teammates than pulling up to shoot the basketball. The Nuggets first round pick in 2015 pulled up off the dribble for a jump shot 154 times for an effective field goal percentage of 28.2, the worst mark on the team.
That’s a discouraging stat. But a more encouraging stat for Mudiay was his catch and shoot numbers, where he was middle of the pack on the team. Mudiay had a 53 percent effective field goal rate on catch and shoot jumpers, better than Will Barton and Wilson Chandler (52.2, 51.1 respectively) and just behind Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray (56.1, 54.9 respectively).
Mudiay was better on catch and shoot 3-point attempts than Jokic, and just behind Murray (Murray 36.9, Mudiay 35.8, Jokic 35.2). That’s a good rate for him - he should be able to get more of those attempts if the Nuggets run more offense through their big men next season.
Back to bad news for Mudiay - he lead the team in turnovers in the clutch this season, despite only appearing in 17 games where the game was close in the fourth quarter.
The player Michael Malone went to the most in the clutch this season? That would be Danilo Gallinari, who was on the court for 100 minutes in clutch moments.
Gallinari was the leading per game scorer for the Nuggets this season (No. 1 was, of course, Jokic) with 18.2 points per season.
The Nuggets haven’t had a player average more than 20 points per game since the 2010-11 season, when Carmelo Anthony was here before his trade to the New York Knicks. Since then, Gallinari has lead the team in per game scoring twice.
This was Gallinari’s best season from the 3-point line in eight years, since his first season in the league as a member of the Knicks. He made 38.8 percent of his 325 attempts this season.
Gallo played in 63 games this season, and scored in single digits — once.
If this was Gallinari’s final season in Denver (he has a player option for next season), he went out in fine fashion, scoring 34 points against Oklahoma City.
Gary Harris played in 57 games this season, and scored in single digits nine times (I’m not counting one game where he played 3 minutes).
Gary Harris - wow. Talk about taking a jump this season. He missed time due to injury, but when he was on the court, he was efficient on offense. Harris shot over 40 percent the whole season on 3-point attempts, and averaged 16.8 points per game after the All-Star break.
One way that Harris was able to get buckets was by being on the receiving end of Jokic’s passes when Harris would cut to the basket. No guard cut to the basket more than Harris, and he averaged 1.39 points every time he got the ball on a cut.
Harris’s field goal percentage and 3-point percentage has increased each season he’s been in the NBA. For his 3-point percentage, there was a 15 percentage point increase from his rookie to sophomore year, and a seven percentage point increase from his sophomore to junior year. Obviously this means that for his fourth year in the league, he’s going to shoot 45 percent on 3-point attempts.
One player that struggled this season was the Nuggets starting power forward, Kenneth Faried. In his sixth season, Faried played the fewest per game minutes of his career, at 21.2 minutes.
Perhaps in large part to his limited minutes, Faried attempted 6.8 field goals per game, just edging out his rookie season which was his worst season in that area.
So much of Faried’s contributions to the game come from his ability to rebound the basketball, on offense and defense. Faried averaged 3.0 offensive rebounds and 4.6 defensive rebounds per game - add those together, and this was the worst season of his career in that area.
Faried struggled with injuries, and was limited to 61 games. Let’s just say it wasn’t a great year for Faried, and move on.
A player that had a (mostly) healthy season, Wilson Chandler, set a new career-high in points per game, with 15.7 points.
Chandler also set a career-high in rebounds per game, with 6.5 boards. Chandler spent a good portion of the season as a small-ball power forward for Coach Malone, and his effort rebounding helped that work.
Only two players on the team ran isolation plays on offense on more than 10 percent of their possessions - Chandler and Gallinari (12.8 and 11.8 percent). Gallinari scored 124 points off of isolation plays, and Chandler scored 117 points for the season.
It shouldn’t be too surprising to find out that Will Barton was next on the team in isolation plays - but he continues to be great when he goes one on one. Barton averaged 1.29 points per possession when he went iso, putting him in the 98th percentile in the league.
Barton continues to show off a good 3-point shot as a member of the Denver Nuggets. Last year he shot a surprising 34.5 percent, and he got better this season, shooting 37 percent on 235 3-point attempts.
Barton’s rebounds per game were down from last season, but he can thank Nikola Jokic for that. His assists per game were up from last season, and he can thank Nikola Jokic for that. According to NBA Stats, 30 of Barton’s assists came off of passes to Jokic. 25 assists came off of passes to Gary Harris, and 22 assists came off of passes to Jamal Murray.
Let’s go back to Jokic for a bit. According to NBA Stats, the player who helped Jokic get the most assists was Gary Harris, who scored on 79 passes from Jokic. In 20 games this season, Jokic had just 3 assists to Jusuf Nurkic - the Jurkic lineup was a disaster.
No player scored more points in a game this season for the Nuggets than Nikola Jokic, who dropped 40 points against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden.
Wilson Chandler scored the second most points in a game, with 36 against Sacramento in March. Will Barton took bronze in this category, with 35 points against the Clippers.
Six players scored 40 points or more against the Nuggets this season - Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Eric Bledsoe, James Harden, Damian Lillard, and Andrew Wiggins.
I’m not sure which triple-double was the most impressive by an opponent against the Nuggets this season. Davis had 50 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals, and 4 blocks in a loss in October. Westbrook made history with a 50 point, 16 rebound, and 10 assist performance to eliminate the Nuggets from playoff contention. Harden had a 40 point, 10 rebound, 10 assist, and 8 turnover night in March. Westbrook messed around again and had a 36 point, 17 assist, and 10 rebound night against the Nuggets in November.
Not to pile on with Westbrook stat love, but the Thunder point guard averaged 30 points, 12 rebounds, and 11.5 assists per game against the Nuggets. It could be worse - he averaged 49-12-13 against the Magic. Could have been much, much worse.
The Nuggets mid-season acquisition, Mason Plumlee, had an up-and-down stretch. The 27-year-old center scored in double digits three games in a row once - his first three games with the team.
Plumlee had five double-doubles as a member of the Nuggets - they went 4-1 in those five games.
Plumlee lead the team in blocks per game, and finished fifth on the team in total blocks with 29.
Jameer Nelson and Mike Miller were the only two players (I’m not counting Roy Hibbert and Jarnell Stokes) that didn’t finish the season with a single dunk.
Kenneth Faried lead the Nuggets in dunks this year with 57. It’s the fewest dunks he’s had in any season of his career. He finished 46th in the league in total dunks, ahead of Brook Lopez (55) and behind Lucas Nogiera and Andre Roberson (59).
Mason Plumlee only played in 632 minutes with the Nuggets, and finished third in dunks on the team with 41 dunks.
The Nuggets had 347 dunks this season - they had 356 last year. Sad!
The Denver Nuggets finished 30th out of 30 teams in attendance this season. With a reported attendance of 605,585 for the season, that’s an average of 14,770 fans per home game. Those who did attend might argue the actual attendance (attendance is tracked by ticket sales) was much lower. The Pepsi Center has a capacity of 19,155 for basketball games, which means it was filled to about 75 percent capacity on average.
The Nuggets (as of now) will have two players over the age of 30 when the season begins next year. Jameer Nelson is 35 years old, and Wilson Chandler will celebrate his 30th birthday on May 10.
Danilo Gallinari’s birthday is August 8, 1988, he wears No. 8 on his jersey as a reference to his birthday, and he is 28 years old. Crazy eights this year for Gallinari.