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The Denver Nuggets and the one percent

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How small shifts could pay huge dividends for your favorite basketball team

“We only made one percent on the test.”

I was explaining to my dad a recent test my company had run, where we were hoping for big results. I was saving the punchline for the guy who taught me how to tell a story. He expressed his disappointment that the experiment had gone so poorly. What I’d not shared was that the test impacted every dollar the company made, across all departments, in perpetuity. I dropped that little nugget next. His ears perked a bit.

“How much did you say your company made last year?”

“3.1 billion dollars.”

He sat silent for a second, widgeting. Finally...

“OK, math whiz. You’ll have to...”

“31. Million. In one change.”

He let out a low whistle, drinking it in.

“Well, I hope you got a gold star or something”

“Yeah, something, for sure.”

Sometimes, you don’t need to make a big change to have it make a big difference. Your Denver Nuggets might be sitting in a very similar position this upcoming season, after having missed the playoffs the last two seasons by what amounted to a whistle and a whisker. One scant point kept them from playing their 83rd game last year.

But most of Nuggets Nation isn’t really looking to slide in under the wire at this point, are they? They’re hoping to take a bit of a juggernaut as far into the 2019 playoffs as they can. Why? Well, though the Carmelo Anthony era ushered in a lengthy series of playoff appearances, your Denver Nuggets have made it past the first round once in the last 24 seasons. For a team with 51 seasons under its belt, that’s nearly the second half of their history on the outside looking in, or on the inside getting to sit at the kid’s table. With all of that pent-up playoff predilection, it’s no wonder fans of the team would prefer to see a 10 percent leap across the board. Hell, why not 100 percent? Well, hold up just a second. What would a one percent improvement do for the Nuggets this upcoming season? Here’s a few slices of that pie.

Scoring surely wasn’t the problem for one of the hottest offenses in the league last season, was it? What would a measly one percent lift in shooting percentage do for a team like that? Last year’s Nuggets shot an even 47% from the floor in total, good for 10th best in the league, with eight of the nine teams ahead of them reaching the playoffs. Bumping that average to 48% would have been good for third place, right behind the Warriors (.503) and Pelicans (.483).

What about from behind the arc? Denver was even hotter from further back, in terms of league positioning. Their 37.1% shooting touch was seventh-best in the NBA, but a .381 puts them clearly in second place, behind only (surprise) Golden State.

Where another one percent bump really gives them a lift is from the free throw line. A .767 average was only good for 18th place last season, where a .777 would at least land them in the upper half of the league at 13th. I’d mention which team was at the top of this list as well, but feel you may already have a good idea after the last two paragraphs. For Denver, Mason Plumlee (.458) may be able to lift the entire Denver average that full one percent all by himself, if only he could find a shot doctor... more on that in a sec.

How realistic would upping all of these numbers by one percent be? If it was easy, then wouldn’t 28 other teams in the league be doing it? Absolutely, but with the recent addition of shot whisperer Mark Price to the coaching staff, Denver may have given itself a real chance at bumping their numbers, after Price has made a habit of helping other league squads with their shooting. Zach Mikash’s coverage of Price’s signing wisely mentions Price and Plumlee being barricaded in a room until Mark can Meeseeks Mason’s maligned charity shot.

What about other categories? It’s a mixed bag, to be sure. A one percent lift in total rebounds would have only moved them from seventh (3650) to sixth (3687), assists only from fifth (2059) to fourth (2080), steals from 17th (627) to 13th (633), and blocks from 12th (404) to, uh... 12th (408).

On the defensive side of the ball, simply bumping their Defensive Rating that one percent could pay some pretty large dividends, as their 111.0 score lands them squarely in 26th place, a real albatross for Denver the past few years. Shaving one percent off of that score would land them at 109.9, good for 17th in the league last season, which would be their highest DRtg mark since the 2012-13 57-25 season (11th).

Simple to see, some minuscule nudges could actually make for some sizable shifts in the overall fortunes of these Denver Nuggets. It doesn’t always take a seismic shift to move a few mountains.

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together”

-Vincent Van Gogh

—-

“What did you say?”

-Vincent Van Gogh

Poll

Where do you think the Denver Nuggets are most likely to improve this season?

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    Overall shooting
    (124 votes)
  • 10%
    3-point shooting
    (39 votes)
  • 2%
    Rebounds
    (8 votes)
  • 2%
    Steals
    (8 votes)
  • 0%
    Blocks
    (2 votes)
  • 44%
    Defense
    (159 votes)
  • 1%
    Something else
    (6 votes)
  • 3%
    I don’t think they will improve this season
    (12 votes)
358 votes total Vote Now