So close, Bruuuuuce. So close.
Thankfully, the Denver Nuggets math was a little more to the positive this season. Here’s a look at the progress (and lack thereof) the good guys made this season.
Let’s start off with the obvious one. The Nuggets saw a six-game improvement in the win column, finding themselves north of the win-loss Mason-Dixon for the first time since 2012-13. Should Denver be able to take another step forward next season (even of half the size), they ought to find themselves back in the postseason.
A bit of a double-edged sword here, as the Denver offense was slightly less shiny this season (more on that on a sec), and put up 9,020 points on the season. Last year the hot-rod offense put up another 141 on the year (9161). It got more interesting when it boiled down to points differential. Last season’s team was only able to outscore the opponents by 42 points over the entire year (9161 to 9119). This season’s squad was able to widen that gap a bit, outscoring others by 121 (9020 to 8899). While it certainly matters how much you score, it matters even more that you score more than the other guy.
By the way, that glossy 9161 season high from last season? Nothing in comparison to the league record for team points scored in an 82-game season. Do you know who that record belongs to? Well, it’s your Denver Nuggets, of the 1981-82 vintage. That team scored 10,371 points, for an average of 126.5 a game. 1,210 more than last year’s Nuggets squad. The Ace-of-pace Chief Stiff himself was in charge that year, in Coach Doug Moe. Alex English, Dan Issel, David Thompson, Kiki Vandeweghe, T.R. Dunn formed a 46-36 jet-powered run-and-gun squad that had two more league records involving the year. That crazy 126.5 point average came during a season where the Nuggets broke the 100-point century mark in EVERY SINGLE GAME of the campaign, a record. That season was actually the center of a streak that had started the season prior, and wrapped in the season after it, part of an astounding 136-game streak in which Denver scored 100 points or more.
Denver threw a regular block party compared to last season, tacking on a 25% bump, with 404 blocks in 2017-18 compared to 323 the year prior. Led by Mason Plumlee’s 81, Nikola Jokic (61) and Paul Millsap (44 in 38 games) round out what could be a real boon for the Nuggets for next year and beyond.
If only the Nuggets could have had one less turnover in the 2017-18 season, they could have had one stat stay staggeringly flat, with 1227 this year, and 1226 last. Here’s one category in which a massive dropoff would be welcome.
If sharing is caring, Denver cared a little less this year, most probably in correlation with an ever-shifting offense during the year. This season’s 2058 assists dropped the Nuggets to fifth-best in the league, where last year’s 2077 ranked them third.
Another incredibly flat stat for Denver this year from a percentage perspective, with last season’s .368 average bumping up to .371. What was more heartening was that the average stayed so static in the face of more contested shots and a much higher usage rate, with the Nuggets attempting 171 more treys this season, 2536 to 2365, a 7.2% bump. All of that translated to a 8.0% lift in three-pointers made, 940 to 870 (70 more). Even at that rate, the Nuggets are still only shooting the eighth-most threes in the league.
The Nuggets were regular thieves in 2017-18, seeing a 10.4% lift in the category, with 59 more steals than the season prior (627 to 568). Leading the way by a wide margin was Gary Harris, with 122 on the year in 67 games played, good for the sixth-best per-game average in the league.
It took me a second to understand how Denver could have possibly played 125 more minutes this season than last, but the glut of overtime games this season bumped that stat quickly. Denver had seven contests that saw extra time this year, including one double overtime. The results of those OT’s? Three wins, and four losses, including the dagger at season’s end.
Even the drop in offensive stats across the board had a negligible effect on the team’s status amongst the league. This season’s 109.6 O-rating had the Nuggets at sixth in the league, where last year’s 110.0 brought them in at fifth. Should Denver have a more consistent offensive methodology and roster, it seems more than possible that Denver can push back into that top-five next season.
While team defense is still a sore spot for the Nuggets and coach Michael Malone, Denver did see a bump from 29th in the league to 26th. The team’s ranking seems to rise and fall on the presence of Paul Millsap, which pushes them much closer to the league average.
It’s almost all a game of baby steps, Nuggets Nation. While there were a few categories that took a dip, the stats that translated to wins all saw bumps where the team needed them. Where did you see the biggest changes for last season’s team, and where do you think we’ll see the biggest shifts next year?
What was the most impressive step forward for the Nuggets this season?
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None of the above
What was the least impressive step back for the Nuggets this season?
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None of the above