After 5 quick games, the Denver Nuggets have completed their preseason schedule with a record of 4-1. As we all know, they took the first two wins against the Lakers in Los Angeles, beat the Perth Wildcats at Pepsi Center, dropped the third game against the Clippers, and went on to win the fourth against the Chicago Bulls.
There will always be some room for growth, but overall the preseason was a success giving us all hope for a successful 2018-2019 season.
Let’s recap some of the standout performances of the week.
The force is strong with the bench.
Although the Nuggets lost their match-up against the Los Angeles Clippers this week, it’s encouraging to see them not get blown out given that the bench carried most of the minutes. Nuggets’ starters Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap, Will Barton, Gary Harris, and Jamal Murray only saw 12 minutes each that game with players like Trey Lyles, Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez taking center stage for over 20 minutes per game.
Denver’s bench had four players in double figures with Barton contributing 11 points in nearly as many minutes. The Nuggets ultimately lost 109-103, but I’m confident they would have won had the starters carried more minutes. Typically I don’t care for Coach Michael Malone’s mixology madness with the lineup, but this particular experiment really helped us see how strong the Nuggets bench will be this season.
Relying on the back-up unit will allow the starters to be able to remain healthy for longer, so perhaps this strategy will keep Millsap active for the duration of the regular season and beyond.
I’m still excited about Juancho.
I wanted to title this section “Juancho is en fuego”, but that’s a bit of a stretch at this point. I will keep that catchy title in my back pocket for a little while longer, but I don’t think it will be long before I’ll be able to use it. Juancho’s performance in the last few games has been inconsistent, but coming back from a long time off, I expect some rusty performances out of the gate.
However, what I’m most excited about is his defense. Losing Kenneth Faried opened up a rebounding gap for the Nuggets, and Juancho has done a fair job of attempting to fill that void so far. With 12 rebounds against the Clippers, I’m hopeful that Juancho will soon become the defensive forward with shooting abilities that neither Faried or Danilo Gallinari could completely be.
Millsap’s contribution can’t be measured just by his stat line.
Millsap’s numbers in preseason are respectable, but nothing earth-shattering. At first, this concerned me and I was a little disappointed to not see him coming out with more noteable performances. But, looking at the situation a little more critically, he adds so much more than points and rebounds. While the Nuggets will continually need to focus and improve on defense, I think they’ve done a better job in preseason with Millsap in the game that they did when he was injured last season.
His leadership on the defensive end of the court brings a balance to the Nuggets’ game that they sorely miss when he wasn’t playing. From what I can see, the up and comers place much more of a focus on D when they see Millsap leading the way. As I’ve said many times before, I see Millsap as the Nuggets’ defensive pace car. Maybe he won’t be bringing in 30 points per game, but his presence on the court has to take the intangibles into account in order to get the full picture of his value.
Turnovers look to be an early problem.
Watching the Nuggets beat the Lakers twice in LA was elating, but 20+ turnovers in a game is completely unacceptable. Okay, it’s preseason, but it’s important that the Nuggets focus on protecting the ball or they’ll cost themselves wins regardless of how great their offense performs. High turnover rates belong to the rookies, and the Nuggets can no longer rely on the youth excuse so it’s time to get better.
Overall the Nuggets look great heading into the regular season.
Now, I expect there will be some bumps along the way, but the Nuggets are in a much better place than they were just one year ago. My motto for the team this year is “Prove It”, and that’s exactly what they did in preseason. Sure, there are things they need to improve upon, and they’ll never go anywhere in the Western Conference unless they continue to make defensive improvement a #1 priority, but they’ve shown us that they’re ready for the next chapter. Hopefully, that means the playoffs.
Like I mentioned last week, leave a comment with what stood out to you most this week, and what your top takeaway is now that preseason is a wrap!
Next stop, regular season. Here’s where the rubber meets the road.