What grade would you give the Denver Nuggets through the first 5 games of the season?
Adam Mares: I’d give them an A-. The sting of the first loss of the year only hurts because perfection was so close, but once you step back and look at the week they had, the Nuggets are in great shape and have shown some flashes of improvement in some key areas.
Ashley Douglas: I will agree with Adam and give them a solid A. I’m really impressed with their focus on defense, and I’m happy to see them rely on that part of their game when the offense is struggling. They have a few kinks to work out with some new guys in the rotation, but given the level they’re playing at despite those issues, I’m hopeful that they’ll figure it out soon.
Gordon Gross: I’ll go B+, though it should probably get bumped up because they’ve survived Will Barton’s injury thus far. But they had some lapses against weaker teams before they found their stride in those games, and those lapses hurt against the Lakers. 4-1 is as good of a start as I could have hoped for to the season, especially as they resolve their rotation issues.
Jeremy Poley: A- on a curve. Let’s get real, folks! Before the Lakers this would’ve been an A+! I’m not dropping them significantly after a hard-fought game against LeBron that came down to the last minute. They’ve put together the best five game string of defense that maybe I’ve ever seen out of them. The “curve” is because even though their offense has been clunky, this group has two seasons under their belt to convince us that they’ll right the ship.
What is the most encouraging thing about the Nuggets right now?
Mares: That they appear to be driven and focused. More than anything, the Nuggets struggled last season with their focus, routinely blowing big leads or losing to bad teams on random weekday nights. This year the team appears to have a greater sense of urgency and that more than anything has helped them get off to this hot start.
Douglas: Overall they look to be a much more poised and mature team than they were just a few months ago. They’re bringing a more consistent effort and when things get sticky, they lock down instead of throwing in the towel. That’s exactly the type of thing you see from a playoff team.
Gross: Excuse me while I break out Monte Morris for this part. The bench desperately needed a viable point guard during each of the last two brutal playoff misses, and Morris appears to be that point guard now. He fit in next to the starting lineup last night, has a steady hand for the bench, and has turned Mason Plumlee back into the best backup center in the NBA (although him being healthy probably helps too). Having a PG who can settle the bench down and grind out decently-productive possessions is very helpful long-term, and will be crucial to Denver’s success this year.
Poley: Jokic starting right where he left off last season. “Jokic” is always the answer to any important question about the Nuggets. For him to come out and prove that the step he took during the last few months of the previous season wasn’t just a glitch, makes me confident that the Nuggets floor is higher than it’s ever been in this era.
What is the most concerning thing about the Nuggets right now?
Mares: It’s a little early in the year for health to be such a big issue. Isaiah Thomas might take awhile to get back on the court and Will Barton’s injury just 60 minutes into the season will prove even more costly if Denver can’t find a replacement who can keep the starting unit from becoming pedestrian. Jamal Murray also looks to be less than 100%. I think Denver can stay afloat for a couple of months until everyone gets healthy but the team seems incomplete at the moment, in ways that might hurt more than we realize.
Douglas: My favorite thing about the Nuggets right now is also my biggest concern. Tougher defense sometimes brings more injuries so I worry about them keeping players around for the duration of the season. Denver has a very special team right now, and I’d love to see them be able to keep that together heading into the post season.
Gross: I second those injury concerns, but I’ll also go with spacing (which ties in). Removing Barton from the lineup for Torrey Craig hurts Denver’s spacing right now in the same way that Andre Roberson hurts the Oklahoma City Thunder’s spacing (or did when he was playing last year). He’s a good defender but not Roberson-level to make up for that either. The Nuggets are next-to-last in the NBA in three-point percentage at the moment, and that defeats the purpose of the open looks they’re getting. If those open threes don’t fall it will make a lot of Denver’s other offensive strategies harder to execute.
Poley: Jamal Murray needs to show improvement as a point guard - ball handling, court awareness, playmaking for other guys. The Nuggets core is still a young group with their best basketball in front of them. Even if Murray continues to improve as a player, if he doesn’t improve as a point guard then the ceiling of this core might never be enough to challenge for a championship.
The next four games includes home games against the Pelicans and Jazz at road games against the Bulls and Cavaliers. What will Denver’s record be in that stretch?
Mares: The Bulls game should be a win but the other four games are all going to be tough. The Cavs are awful right now but that is a road back-to-back so it will be a dogfight. The Jazz come to Denver on the second night of a back-to-back on their end so Denver should be slight favorites in that one. Lastly, the Pelicans look like an unstoppable force right now and Anthony Davis is a really tough matchup for the Nuggets. I’ll predict that the Nuggets go 2-2 over this stretch for a respectable overall record of 6-3.
Douglas: I’ll be optimistic and say that the Nuggets will take wins over the Pelicans, Bulls and Cavaliers, but I think they might have a tough time beating the Jazz. The Pelicans might be stiff competition, but because I’m just not a big fan of Anthony Davis’s game I’ll predict a win for Denver putting them at 7-2.
Gross: Ashley out here with the AD slander. Denver should take the Jazz in their current offensive state, the Bulls despite Zach LaVine’s renewed hops, and the Cavaliers even on a back-to-back (they’re just bad right now). The Pelicans will be tough but is also doable, I just think Denver will fall short there. I’ll go 3-1 in that series of games for a 7-2 start as well. I’m happy with the Nuggets going 3-1 every 4 games the rest of the way, thanks.
Poley: Their record better have at least two wins in it! The Cavs and the Bulls are without question two of the worst teams in the league. And the Nuggets have stated that they’re on a mission to prove they can play consistently against the NBA’s dregs. I’ll toss in one win and one loss (they’re at home for both) against the very comparable New Orleans and Utah squads. 3-1.