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Denver Nuggets Fact or Fiction: Juancho, Jimmy Butler, and more

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Talking with Nuggets Nation about their hot takes.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Good afternoon, Nuggets Nation! Let’s play some more FACT or FICTION today.

In these articles, I ask Nuggets fans for general statements about the ball club and determine whether they are factual or fictitious. Some of the statements are reasonable. Some of the statements are #HOTTAKEZZZ. Let’s find out which are which.


I can understand this point of view, so let’s explore the facts:

At 9-2, the Nuggets possess a pythagorean win-loss mark of 8-3, meaning they are slightly outperforming their record. With the 10th ranked Offensive Rating and 2nd ranked Defensive Rating, Denver is one of just five teams to possess top 10 ratings on both ends. The other teams are Portland, Toronto, Milwaukee, and the LA Clippers. The biggest indictment is that Denver’s Simple Rating System (SRS) of 8.02 would rank second in the NBA in 2017-18 to the Houston Rockets, who won 65 games. SRS takes into account point differential and strength of schedule, so right now, it would seem that mathematically, Denver’s performance is right in line with a 9-2 record.

Denver’s offense isn’t where it needs to be. There are fundamental problems with the sets in the starting lineup, and Nikola Jokic is acting differently on offense in that the ratio of passes to shots has recently gone through the roof. Despite that, Denver has earned the wins they have accumulated through excellent defensive play. They haven’t faced many of the top offenses yet, so their record will eventually go down.

That said, is it factual that the Nuggets are playing worse than their record? Not when taking into account the defense holding six of their first 11 opponents under 100 points.

Verdict: FICTION


This is perhaps the most important lineup decision until Will Barton returns.

Zach Lowe made note in his Friday column that Juancho has excelled this season, noting that Juancho with the starters (Murray, Harris, Millsap, Jokic) earned a plus-minus of +14 in 17 minutes. This is important, as the lineup experiences added spacing and offensive dynamism when the Spanish forward is on the floor. In addition, Juancho averages a similar number of offensive rebounds as Craig, creating just as many extra opportunities.

The difference between Juancho and Craig on defense is palpable in which styles of player they can guard. While Craig has matched up against the best offensive players on the opposing team, from Devin Booker, to Kevin Durant, to Mike Conley, Juancho doesn’t have the same versatility and impact.

Still, it’s becoming clear that Denver needs Juancho’s spacing more than they need Craig’s defense. Adding the best shooter on the team will only help the offense get back on track. With Harris and Millsap in the starting lineup, Denver has bookend defenders to assist Juancho with tougher players as well.

Verdict: FACT


Western Conference Standings
ESPN

Verdict: FACT


Mason Plumlee has been excellent in his role this year. Averaging 7.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.4 assists in just over 17 minutes per game, the Duke product has found his niche as a lob catcher, post passer, and defensive captain on Denver’s second unit. When he’s on the floor, the Nuggets yield an absurdly low 92.5 points per 100 possessions defensively, the second lowest mark among all NBA players playing at least 15 minutes per game.

But let’s slow down a bit. There have been some excellent big man reserves in the NBA thus far. Domantas Sabonis is destroying opposing benches for the Indiana Pacers, averaging 14.1 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game on 70.4% True Shooting. Montrezl Harrell and Zach Collins have been massively efficient bench scorers while Collins is averaging 1.3 blocks per game with a 97.3 Defensive Rating. Julius Randle has been extremely productive in New Orleans too, averaging 17.6 points.

I love what Ma$e has done. He’s probably a top five bench big man right now, but putting him ahead of those guys and one of Serge Ibaka or Jonas Valanciunas is short sighted. Still, Plumlee is earning his contract, a point of contention for Nuggets fans in the past.

Verdict: FICTION


This is an important point to make. The Nuggets have earned the trust of their fans by taking care of business early. With a 6-0 record at home and a 3-2 record on the road, Denver has outperformed expectations, regardless of how things look or feel right now. The offense is clunky, but the defense is spectacular. That’s not something anybody could have predicted going into the year, least of all me.

One caveat though: the answers to why exactly the offense is disjointed and slow are more complex than one might think. Simply swapping Hernangomez in for Craig to add more spacing won’t solve all of the problems. Denver still lacks a canny ball handler in the starting unit that can be trusted consistently. Murray, for all of his scoring prowess on some nights, needs to step up as a creator and facilitator for others with Will Barton sidelined. That hasn’t happened, and as Denver gets into the thick of a playoff minefield of opponents, things could spiral quickly if the defense doesn’t maintain elite play.

There are concerns, yes, but to overreact after 11 games when Denver is tied for the third best record in the NBA? That would be crazy.

Verdict: FACT


Let’s get this out of the way: the THEORY of Jimmy Butler solves all Nuggets problems.

On one hand, Hugo’s right. Butler is a versatile scorer and wing defender. An All-Star caliber player, he can space the floor and facilitate from the small forward position in a way that none of Torrey Craig, Juancho Hernangomez, and even Will Barton can. His presence allows Murray and Harris to focus more on their spacing and scoring without the ball in their hands. Let Butler make the decisions, right?

Well, that’s the theory.

In reality, there’s no way of knowing whether Butler would suit up for the Nuggets. Ask Minnesota. Butler has randomly sat out certain games to protect his body for a large contract offer next summer, and while he’s generally playing well when he does suit up, how can the Nuggets count on him any more than the Timberwolves?

In addition, we have seen how Karl-Anthony Towns has reacted to Butler’s presence during the last 15 months. Can it be assumed that Nikola Jokic, Denver’s future and $148 million investment, will react in a better way?

There are too many factors here, on and off the court, that have flipped my psyche when it comes to Butler. He’s talented, fits the archetype of player Denver needs for its long term future, but he will also be 30 soon, has attitude problems, and couldn’t be bothered to try and fit in anywhere.

The Nuggets shouldn’t go anywhere near him.

Verdict: FICTION