“Lies, deceit, mixed messages... this is turning into a real marriage.”
I’m not sure my ex-wife appreciated how hard I laughed at that line. I was actually a little surprised at the degree of the outburst myself. She wasn’t my ex at the time, and had taken me to see a movie for my birthday. As I was looking through what was playing, I stumbled across what I knew would be a sure thing for me. John Travolta. Nic Cage. John Woo. Basically testosterone ice cream piled on top of a hot steroid pie on cellulose. Where’s my popcorn? Let’s go see Face/Off.
Oh, and the flick had one more hook for me, this one a little less obvious. The switcheroo. I’m weirdly a fan of movies that involve some sort of identity swap. Comedy, drama, horror, animation, or even steaming steroid pie, I’m a fan of a story where empathy and understanding are foist upon the characters to see things from a different point of view. No matter what sort of story, the characters end up growing from the experience. It holds a near-pathological appeal to me. I have seen and enjoyed nearly every film on this “Swap” list, including both versions of Freaky Friday. It’s a disease.
It may be one of the reasons this Denver Nuggets team holds such appeal. Their All-Star center? Used to be a point guard. Their scintillating point guard? Used to be a center. The lethal and synergistic relationship between Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray has been well described in several publications this season, with some of the best coverage coming right here on Denver Stiffs, in Adam Mares’ Locked On Nuggets podcast, or close to home from SB Nation’s Mike Prada, both rife with examples of how each is able to pivot from picker-to-roller numerous times in the same play, leaving defenders unsure as to who is actually the focal point of the play. It’s Hardwood Jujutstu, with both players simply waiting to use the defense’s momentum against them.
While this habit is eye-catching, it’s certainly not unique amongst the rest of the team. Much of the efficiency that Jokic and Murray are showing in their two-man game existed with Jokic and Gary Harris prior. Hell, you wanna see a pick-and-roll...
Nuggets Nation is well familiar with the Nuggets (all) star center and stellar backup center’s games, but for those of you who missed it, the two towers ran a beautiful pick-and-roll just a few weeks back. While that sort of nimbleness might look out of character for fourteen feet of high hoops, both are capable of running both roles as well. Though not the passing artist Jokic is, Mason Plumlee is very capable himself, and sets a hell of a pick in the bargain. His scoring around the rim is also a solid threat.
That paradigm stretches across the team. Let’s start with passing. While Jokic and Murray may primarily initiate the offense, fellow starters Gary Harris and Will Barton are both very capable of jump starting things as well, with both having been called on to run the point when needed. In comparison to many of the league’s other teams, nearly every player seems to be encouraged to bring the ball up, with sightings of Paul Millsap, Plumlee, Trey Lyles, or Juancho Hernangomez only slightly less likely than the guards or Jokic. Every player on the team is capable of getting the machine in motion, a powerful threat to be able to keep pressure on the opposition.
Most of the team is also very capable of stretching the floor, with everyone but Plumlee, Torrey Craig, and Lyles currently a credible threat from distance. Even so, Lyles is so far off his career average this season that he should eventually come back to his averages, and Craig is capable of getting hot from game to game. The remaining bigs and each of the guards are credible enough threats from deep to keep defenses honest, often amongst all five players on the floor.
Similarly, the guards can rebound and play in the blocks. That opens up enticing possibilities, where the team can often turn itself inside out, leaving defenses in unfamiliar positions. Seeing the guards down low with the bigs surrounding the perimeter would throw most any team an odd wrinkle or two, but Denver can flip that back to “normal” like a kaleidoscope, able to put most every player in an uncommon position.
As of today, there is certainly still obvious positions and hierarchy. It’s not as if each player is so interchangeable as to be equal, and never will be. This Denver Nuggets team seems hell bent on making each of them as well-rounded as possible. Best of all, the team is in a position to keep improving on the weaknesses they’re showing. Gone are the days of breakdowns in which the players seemed less than sure who was at fault. Blown assignments, miscommunications, and turnovers are usually greeted by a raised hand from the player(s) who let something or someone slip by. Awareness is enough of the norm that the team has something exceptionally solid to continue to build on. Let’s see if recognition really is half the battle.
Another mountain to climb on Friday, Nuggets Nation, with the tough-to-beat Houston Rockets coming to the Pepsi Center tomorrow night. We shall see if Denver’s hot play and learning curve has gotten them to a point that they can flip the script and give James Harden and company a Freaky Friday.
The 2018-19 Denver Nuggets are the NBA’s prime example of positionless basketball:
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Come to the Nuggets watch party on Saturday night, Nuggets Nation!