On pace for 57 wins this season, the Denver Nuggets have yet to slow down.
Despite injuries preventing the starting unit from ever becoming whole, the Nuggets have shown the resiliency of an elite franchise, consistently fighting through adversity and proving their legitimacy as a Western Conference contender. At 34-15, the Nuggets currently sit in second place in the conference, behind the 36-14 Golden State Warriors, keeping pace with the best team of all-time that’s currently on an 11-game win streak.
The fanfare behind the Nuggets season died a bit after the Warriors flexed their muscles in a blowout win over the Nuggets last week, but that hasn’t stopped Denver from performing admirably. Currently 10-4 in the month of January, Denver’s only losses have come versus the Warriors, the Utah Jazz on the road, the Houston Rockets on the road, and the Phoenix Suns on the road, the last being Will Barton’s first game back from injury.
The Nuggets have won nearly every game they are supposed to win, as well as some games they shouldn’t have. The last six games are a perfect example: four blowout wins against bad teams (one being Philadelphia without Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler), a loss to the Utah Jazz in a fluke performance that involved a number of ejections, and a huge come-from-behind victory on the road against the Memphis Grizzlies. This may have been the last game of both Marc Gasol and Mike Conley’s careers as a member of the Grizz, and the Nuggets found a way to win down 25 points.
Suffice to say, the Nuggets are legit. They will eventually find time to play their opening lineup starting five at some point. Jamal Murray is surely itching to get back on the floor after suffering an ankle injury. Gary Harris, Will Barton, and Paul Millsap have all dealt with injuries of their own.
At the center of it all (pun intended) is Nikola Jokic. Averaging 20.1 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 7.6 assists per game on 59.2% True Shooting, Jokic has made the leap from All-Star caliber to Top 10 player. His performance in the month of January show exactly that, save for an awful suspension.
Those are the numbers of an MVP. Full stop. When a team has an MVP caliber player on their roster, they tend to be a really good team unless the supporting cast is terrible. Denver’s cast of characters surrounding Jokic is good. Not great, but certainly good. Though they have gone through some issues defensively of late, the offense has finally started to take off. So much of it comes down to Jokic being the player he can be, and the offensive jump can really be seen from November 1st onward, despite Jokic’s struggles individually. Denver truly took off offensively to start the new year though.
The numbers reflect the varying dominance we are seeing from Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and the rest of the Nuggets on both sides of the ball. Though the defense has certainly slipped since November, the Nuggets have dealt with a multitude of injuries, namely to their two best defenders in Harris and Millsap. As everyone gets healthy, it’s fair to say that the Nuggets can rebound from the 111.8 Defensive Rating they have sustained in January thus far.
Only the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors, the two leading contenders to win the Eastern Conference this year, join the Nuggets in maintaining a top 10 offensive rating AND top 10 defensive rating. Only the Warriors and Boston Celtics attach to that trio when discussing the top 5 Net Ratings in the NBA. It’s fair to say that the Nuggets are as good as any of those teams statistically, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. If the Nuggets win tonight against the New Orleans Pelicans, they will join the Warriors, Raptors, and Bucks as the only teams to win 70 percent of their total games thus far.
The only way for the Nuggets to prove their statistically solid resume though: win in the playoffs. Denver is doing an excellent job of winning in the regular season to guarantee a high seed and home court advantage in the playoffs. The real test will start there. How will Denver’s young team and extended rotation operate in a playoff atmosphere. Can the Nuggets play Juancho Hernangomez or Trey Lyles in a playoff series? Will teams force Mason Plumlee to the free throw line by hacking him repeatedly? Can Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray be trusted to average 45 points per game between them? How will Paul Millsap hold up against playoff competition?
These are all questions for another time. For now, the Nuggets are elite. One of the best teams in the NBA with one of the best statistical resumes. When they get healthy, they should be even more dangerous. Whether it will translate to the playoffs, we don’t know.
What we do know: this team is really, really fun.
Which team(s) are the closest to Denver competitively?
This poll is closed
LA Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, LA Lakers
Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics
Utah Jazz, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers
Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks
Golden State Warriors