The Denver Nuggets have had a heck of a week. First, they got a much-needed road win against a division opponent in the Minnesota Timberwolves. They followed it up with a blowout win over the surprisingly good Orlando Magic. Went back on the road to get another divisional win in Oklahoma City against the Thunder and closed out with another blowout win, this time against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. Along the way, there have been big performances, great quotes, and a lot of optimism.
Let’s rehash some of the week’s biggest story lines with a Stiffs Roundtable.
Which Nuggets player, coach or executive is most likely to win an end of season award (6MOY, COY, EOY, MIP, MVP, DPOY)?
Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares): There are actually a surprising number of Nuggets players who should be in the conversation for end of season awards but I think Michael Malone probably has the best chance of actually winning. Nobody saw the Nuggets turning into a top 5 defensive team and few people would’ve guessed that they’d get off to such a great start through 21 games, especially when you factor in that they lost a starter in the first week of the season. Add in a couple of phenomenal quotes and the fact that this Nuggets team seems to be growing together, void of any unnecessary locker room drama and you’ve got a solid claim toward being coach of the year.
Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan): I don’t think Plumlee is going to even be considered for 6MOY, so I guess I’ll go with Malone. He’s got as good of a chance as I do though, in my opinion.
Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): I think far and away it’s coach. The tough part is there’s a couple of guys who are giving him serious competition right now. Doc Rivers, J.B. Bickerstaff and Nick Nurse all deserve major consideration at this point and honestly if the Los Angeles Clippers or Memphis Grizzlies maintain their position within a seed or two throughout the year then I think you have to give it to Bickerstaff or Rivers. So, while I think Malone has the best chance of any member of the Nuggets, I’m not sure its actually that good of a chance.
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): I would also say Malone. The Nuggets share the ball to well that individual accolades are hard to come by, and Jokic is just doing what he does so MIP is not really within his grasp. If the Nuggets get home court after missing the playoffs the last several years, Malone’s name will be in there for COY for sure, as there won’t really be other awards Denver can nab.
Jeremy Poley (@JeremyPoley): Because awards are still given based on fantasy stats instead of advanced metrics, it’s hard seeing any of our players nailing an award. It would either be coach or executive. Because the Nuggets defense has turned around so sharply without much of an adjustment to the roster, I think Malone gets the nod here.
How would you grade Michael Malone’s “Take that L on the way out” speech?
Mares: It’s an A+. An all-timer. It’s silly but this will be a quote that we talk about all season long. The die-hards know how miserable it can be when our home arena gets overtaken by obnoxious Lakers fans, some of the most annoying fans on the planet. So Malone’s comical, pointed, and borderline cocky dismissal of them following a blowout win was his way of articulating what every Nuggets fan feels on nights like last night. It solidified his place in the Denver sports scene.
Lewis: I’ve never related to him more. I’m the first to line up to troll opposing teams’ fans, and for him to adopt that attitude is great. The Nuggets need someone with an edge, maybe they can get it in their head coach.
Mikash: Epic. In true blogger style I typically watch the games in an unfinished basement. After coach shot off that quote there was a serious 5-10 minute period of silent pacing and fist pumping in the basement while my family slept. You can tell coach is bringing some swagger after the hot start and it is infectious.
Gross: Definite A. Malone has always been a good quote - more so before games than after games, but that’s definitely one of his strengths. Malone is speaking to the fans there, but also to his team. Don’t worry about who comes into the building, just enjoy the atmosphere and defend the home court. This team gets up for the Lakers and the Boston Celtics and the Golden State Warriors, so his message seems to have gotten through to them. But I love him letting the fans in on the idea that the win is the important part. Bring your energy to match, and send a bunch of opposing fans home unhappy. As the Nuggets following grows it’s an important vibe to have.
Poley: A. Not an A+ - that’s for speeches that rival Braveheart or Independence Day. The best part about Malone’s speech is that since last night we’ve been seeing a lot of social comments about people consciously changing their minds about Malone towards the positive. Coaches (after kickers) are the easiest to blame, and it just flat out sucks when an entire city is against their coach. It’s nice to see him move into a healthy balance of optimism and criticism.
Now that the Nuggets are back on a 4-game winning streak, do you feel like they are officially out of their slump?
Mares: I do. There will be future slumps and hiccups along he way but I think whatever issues were plaguing the team a couple of weeks ago are now in the review mirror. In many ways, the team looks even better than they did through the first ten games of the season. The ball is poppin’ in the halfcourt and the defense hasn’t fallen off. They have a tough road trip ahead that will test them, but right now they look like a very good basketball team.
Lewis: it helps that they’re playing defense again. They’re going to battle with injuries all season, but players keep stepping up. They still need to start shooting better, but their defense can help them win some games for now. The game against Portland could sap these good vibes in an instant.
Mikash: Yes. I actually felt like they were out of their slump after the OKC game but losing to the Lakers following that win would have been a big letdown. Getting the win against L.A. gives the Nuggets a full head of steam, which they’ll need going into a road trip that starts out with some very tough competition.
Gross: Aren’t the Nuggets globe-trotting for the next few games? Let’s see what the road brings. Denver has solidified their offense, even without Gary Harris and Will Barton, and they’ve rediscovered their early-season defense as Dan says. This trip is a tough one though and a test for whether Denver can keep its momentum or crash back to earth. I’m not hand-waving them out of their execution woes just yet.
Poley: Yes. This question takes nothing more than math - yes, the 4-game winning streak means they’re out of their 1-6 slump. But it’s hardly the time for the Nuggets or the fans to think that they don’t have any problems they need to work through and to still play like the underdog.
When the Nuggets get Gary Harris, Will Barton, and Isaiah Thomas back, what player(s) do you think will be cut out of the rotation?
Mares: This is stating to become a concern. First, Monte Morris deserves to play. What more could the Nuggets ask of their second year point guard who is currently on pace to have the best assist to turnover ratio in NBA history? I think Juancho Hernangomez also needs to play and Malik Beasley has been making a strong case that he deserves minutes as well. So who does that leave out? Perhaps IT can spend a little bit longer rehabbing his hip?
Lewis: It’ll be Beasley. Thomas functions more as a shooting guard now, and his defense isn’t up to the same level as Craig’s. Thomas adds his own style of offense that is much different than Beasley, and they might miss that. But that’s who I think will see his minutes decline. I won’t be happy about it.
Mikash: This question gets tougher by the game. Torrey Craig you assume goes back to the bench despite his strong play these past couple games. Beyond that though? You can’t bench Monte, can’t do it (said in Mike Singeltary voice). Beasley seems like the odd man out because you know Barton is coming back to that starting SF role which pushes Juancho to the bench. Juancho’s just like Monte, can’t bench him, can’t do it. So if you’ve got a guard and a wing who need minutes and a guard and a wing coming off injury then someone who deserves time is going to have to sit. Feels like Beasley is the guy and then maybe even Trey Lyles will lose time because Juancho will need those minutes off the bench. It’s a shame because those guys are playing well themselves but It’s a good problem to have for coach Malone. However, it’s definitely going to test his coaching acumen.
Gross: So this is a January question then? Not sure all three will be back before the New Year, but eventually I would think Malik Beasley would be the one in trouble of losing playing time. Just too many guards (or swingmen who can play guard). Juancho can fill in at the 3 or the 4, and can play with Trey Lyles or in place of him, so I think he’ll still get minutes. Malik will have to break out his first-team all-benchie celebration mix tape again for a little while - although getting rest on back-to-backs and tough travel matchups for both Barton and Isaiah Thomas will give playing time opportunities.
Poley: Beasley. Barton isn’t a perfect fit at the 3. So there’s still going to be a need to switch players in and out of that spot depending on the matchup, and that’s good news for Juancho and even Craig & Lyles. But it’s hard to imagine that 96 minutes of guard play will ever slip outside of Murray, Harris, Morris & IT - there’s too many mix-n-match lineups that you can make out of those four to warrant any minutes for anyone else.