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The Nuggets are 7-3, but just how good are they?

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The Denver Nuggets have yet to even scratch the surface of playing their best brand of basketball.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

If Tuesday night against the Atlanta Hawks was the first Nuggets game you have watched all season, well you might have some doubts about this team. Not only did the Nuggets struggle to defend—Trae Young in particular—but their offense was not any better.

Young ended up scoring a season high 42 points behind eight three-pointers, dishing out 11 assists and looking like the best player on the floor by far. The Nuggets knew coming into the game that Young was going to be a problem, and as Michael Malone noted after the game, “It was the Trae Young show for 48 minutes.”

“Give them credit, Give Trae Young credit,” Malone said after the Nuggets 125-121 loss to Atlanta. “He (Young) came in here and did exactly what we knew he was going to do and we let him do it.”

Coming into Tuesday night, the Hawks were averaging just 104.4 points per game and blew that out of the water behind Young’s big game.

“In our three losses this year we have defended no one,” Malone said after the game.

It is true, in the three games Denver has lost they have allowed 125, 121, and 109 points. The Nuggets on the other hand are averaging just 105.1 points per game, which is good—well, not good—for 27th in the NBA.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

What has been lacking in all three of the Nuggets losses has not just been defense, but a lack of scoring from behind the three-point line. Let’s start with the Atlanta game, in which the Nuggets shot just 11-of-41 from beyond the arc, good for a paltry 26.8 percent. Let’s move to the New Orleans loss as Denver shot just 26.9 percent from three and were 7-of-26 from deep. Finally, against Dallas, the Nuggets were 11-of-32 from three (34.4 percent) and still only lost by three, which is their closest defeat all season.

When the Nuggets’ defense and three-point shooting are struggling, they’re not going to win very many basketball games, but that can be said for every team. The most troubling stat from their loss against the Hawks was that Denver had 31 assists, only three turnovers, and still lost the game.

It also makes you think where this Nuggets team would be if they did not pull out close wins against Phoenix and Philadelphia. If the Nuggets don’t win their home opener in overtime against the Suns or if Nikola Jokic does not hit that game winner against the Sixers last Friday night, Denver could just as easily be 1-4 at home to start the year. Not great.

Showing such weakness in their home contests to date is a little weird, considering they owned the best home record (34-7) in the entire NBA last season. Denver’s next three home games come against some stiff competition in the Brooklyn Nets, Houston Rockets, and Boston Celtics, which should help gauge whether the Nuggets home struggles are a trend going forward or simply an anomaly to begin the year.

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Even though the losses have not been great, it’s hard to complain with a 7-3 start if you are the Nuggets. Denver has gutted out some victories — most notably the 76ers, Portland Trail Blazers, and Phoenix Suns wins — while also blowing out solid teams like the Sacramento Kings, Orlando Magic, and Miami Heat.

The saying “good teams find a way to win” expresses rather well what the Nuggets have done to start the year. Denver is not at its best right now, and yet the Nuggets currently sit at fourth in the Western Conference and are just a game behind the first place, Los Angeles Lakers.

This time last year, the Nuggets were 9-1 and ended up starting the season by winning 10 of their first 11 games. After that tremendous start, the Nuggets proceeded to lose six of their next seven games and it seemed like the team was coming back down to earth. The craziest part about that Nuggets stretch was they lost four straight games and three of them came at home.

Denver lost to the Nets (Thursday night’s opponent), Milwaukee Bucks, and the Rockets (next Wednesday nights opponent) during that three-game span. Well, the Nuggets have a chance to right the ship this year and it starts Thursday night on national television against Kyrie Irving and the new and improved Nets.

So, just how good is this Nuggets team? If we have learned anything through ten games it is that Denver is a solid defensive team prone to some slip-ups, but they are still a work in progress offensively. Jamal Murray has had a tremendous start to the season and is currently averaging a career-high 18.7 points to go along with 4.6 assists per game.

Jokic on the other hand is still putting up solid numbers and already has two game-winning shots to his name, yet he has contributed to Denver’s struggles from behind the three-point line. Not only is Jokic shooting just 22.4 percent from distance, but teams are letting him take the wide open shots and he is not consistently making them.

“Some of those, he was obviously wide open,” Malone said on Jokic’s 1-of-8 from three performance against Atlanta. “He is a guy that can miss a couple in a row then all of a sudden hit three in a row. Their (Hawks) bigs were so far down the floor it is one of those where it is tough to say don't shoot it.”

Malone also mentioned how Jokic does not always have to pop to the three-point line and that he could step in a little, get to the free-throw line, and get involved with a short roll. A lot of Jokic’s shots he did take — like Malone mentioned — were completely wide open though and if he starts to hit those, it will only help his confidence moving forward.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Another player that finally started to gain some confidence against the Hawks was Gary Harris, who has been great defensively to start the year, but has struggled offensively. Harris went on a stretch in the fourth quarter where he scored eight straight points for the Nuggets that included two three-pointers. For the game though, Harris shot just 4-of-15 from the field and 2-of-10 from three.

Through 10 games, Harris is shooting just 39 percent from the field and 34 percent from three-point range. Even though he is struggling to score the ball, Harris is still averaging 1.4 steals per game and continues to play solid defense on a nightly basis. Like with Jokic, if Harris can start to find his confidence with his shot, it will only help this Nuggets offense get back on track.

It should also be mentioned that Will Barton III and Paul Millsap have provided the Nuggets some great minutes to start the season, but now we move to the bench unit. Denver’s second unit has struggled to begin the year and that is a surprise because of how strong they were last season.

The Nuggets bench is currently averaging 32.7 points per game, which ranks 22nd in the NBA. Where Denver’s second unit is really struggling is with their three-point shooting as they are shooting 33 percent from beyond the arc. It will be important for a player like Malik Beasley to step up when he returns to the lineup (illness) as he is shooting 41 percent from three on the year, but is only attempting three triples per contest.

Mason Plumlee, Jerami Grant, and Monte Morris are also players the Nuggets need to step up moving forward. Morris did just that in the Atlanta game as he played his best game of the season with 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field to go along with four assists.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

If the Nuggets can also get contributions from a wild card player like Torrey Craig or Michael Porter Jr., that is going to help their bench group out immensely. It is still early in the season, so do not give up on this Nuggets second unit quite yet.


Well, there you have it, the state of the Nuggets through 10 games. In my eyes, this team is still really good, they just have yet to reach their full potential. Are there some things to be worried about? Sure. But, this Nuggets team is still finding ways to win and that is all that matters early in the season.

If the Nuggets can keep scratching off wins despite not yet playing their best basketball, that is a good thing. Even after a tough loss against the Hawks on Tuesday night, this team has the ability to recover in a big way. It starts on Thursday night when the Nets come to town.