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Denver Nuggets: The Unsung

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Cleveland Cavaliers v Denver Nuggets
Just a little over two years ago...
Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

As soon as someone is identified as an unsung hero, he no longer is.

- George Carlin

The idea of a “hero” is such a unique concept. You might find someone a hero because of the deeds they do for others, or for the heights they achieve. It could be their generosity, courage, or hook shot. For my wife, it’s her grandparents, who were instrumental in how she was raised and who she is. They gave of themselves their entire lives, not only to her and their family, but to strangers on the street. They didn’t care if anyone knew who they were or what they’d done, they did it because they knew it the right thing to do.

For my dad, it’s the leaders of World War II, though when I mentioned them to him once as his heroes, he said, “they all are”. He reminded me that over 400,000 Americans lost their lives in the war, a total only surpassed by the Civil War, when (nearly) every life lost was an American. My dad told me those were the unsung heroes. A number so large you have a hard time wrapping your head around it, but who gave themselves utterly for a cause.

It’s hard to disagree with either of them. The phrase “unsung hero” has become ubiquitous across so many situations that I’ve heard it used to describe people who’d not been mentioned in the most trivial of situations. I admittedly use it to describe those who just aren’t getting the attention, but are doing good work as the underpinnings.

When it comes to your Denver Nuggets, a lot of guys get the singing. Boom or bust, somebody’s got something to say about your performance. Somebody is always making you the hero or the goat. All you need is time to prove them right or wrong. Just time. The ones who don’t get any attention are the guys who don’t see the floor when the cameras are on. Those are the guys putting in the reps and spending their time on the practice floor, but not seeing floor time. Of the guys who have seen less than 500 minutes of floor time over halfway into the season, many have gotten plenty of press time due to injury (Paul Millsap), illness (Juancho Hernangomez), trade rumor/nuclear reactor/fan favorite (Kenneth Faried). Of the few left under that 500-minute marker, Malik Beasley and Torrey Craig have seen plenty of notice for their positive-but-brief time on the floor. Even Monte Morris and Tyler Lydon see a bit of chatter, and they’ve seen five minutes on the floor. Combined.

But a couple of guys sit below 200 minutes, and are still pouring heart and soul into the outcome of Nuggets basketball. Oh, let me rephrase that. Less than 200 minutes combined.

Richard Jefferson has recently seen more floor time as coach Michael Malone looks for successful floor combos, and still has played 133 minutes of the 11355 the team has played this season. Jefferson occupies a similar role to the leadership and camaraderie that Mike Miller provided last season, and Jefferson has proven to be just as well liked by the squad. Richard is cheering and exhorting when riding the pine, grabbing guys coming off the floor to give pointers and encouragement when there’s one of a million teachable moments this season. As Scott Hastings is quick to point out, Jefferson was playing 20 minutes a game on a championship-level team last season. The season before that, he was on the floor for 25:30 of the Cavaliers game seven Finals win in Golden State, and he earned that ring. He knows a lot about what habits will be needed to make the next levels of success, and he’s the right combination of well-liked and well-respected by his team.

Echoing much of the same is Darrell Arthur. Darth has played some key moments in the last few seasons of Nuggets basketball, but finds himself largely riding the pine this year with 49 minutes of game time in the six games he’s even seen the floor. Arthur is a pro’s pro, often leading the team chants pre-game, and using practice time pressing the guys who are keeping him off the game floor in the first place.

And while you might argue there’s no nobility to be found in collecting a sizable paycheck for not doing much, I might chime back in your direction that I’ve seen a lot of guys make a mess of a locker room because their egos aren’t being stroked enough with floor time. Sometimes even right here on your Denver Nuggets. So while RJ and Darth aren’t pulling babies from a burning building today, let alone leaping it at a single bound, they are quietly and effectively helping to build the foundation of what the term “Nuggets Basketball” will mean over the course of the next decade or more.

These are the guys setting the example of what it means to be a part of a team. Not a ton being said about them, but quietly and effectively going about the groundwork. I look at how those two guys go about their business, and am glad to make them a little less unsung. (thank you, Mr. Carlin) I hope that the generation of Nuggets players coming up now pays attention to leadership examples in many places.