The 2010s are a few weeks from their end. It is a decade that has seen vast change for the Denver Nuggets. A decade that started with George Karl and Carmelo Anthony and ends with Michael Malone and Nikola Jokic. There were playoff series wins and draft lottery watch parties, second round gems and first round busts, free agent spurns and biggest offseason signings ever. There were four separate eras of Nuggets basketball in the 2010s: Karl/Melo, Masai’s core, Brian Shaw disaster, Malone/Jokic. Ironically, Denver is in almost the exact same position as they were ten years ago: coming off their best postseason showing of the decade and chasing legitimate championship aspirations. In honor of a decade of ups and downs, great players and stiffs, I present to you the first ever (maybe...I’m not going to check in the archives about what Andy wrote on the google blog version of this site ten years ago) Stiffs All Decade Awards!
Most Valuable Player: Nikola Jokic
It’s hard to make an argument over Jokic for MVP. About the only person with legitimate consideration would be Danilo Gallinari, but despite Gallo’s impressive Nuggets tenure, he never achieved postseason success like Jokic already has nor was he ever in consideration for a league MVP award. Jokic is without a doubt the best player to grace a Nuggets uniform since Carmelo Anthony and is well on his way for making a case to be the greatest Nugget of all time. This decade will be remembered for how Nikola came out of nowhere to resurrect the Nuggets from the ashes of NuggLife.
Honorable mention: Gallinari, Ty Lawson
Rookie of the decade: Kenneth Faried
The rookie of the decade award is a bit weird because no player is a rookie for ten years. For the purpose of this award I went with who had the most impact in their rookie season on the Nuggets. For me that guy is Kenneth Faried. Really the only other candidates to consider are Jokic, Lawson and Jamal Murray but none of them had quite as big of an impact as Faried. The Manimal didn’t play as many games as some of those other guys his rookie season but when he got his chance he played so well that it allowed the Nuggets to trade Nene and fully move past the Melo era. Faried went on to start all seven games against the Los Angeles Lakers and average a double double in the playoffs that season.
Honorable mention: Jokic, Murray.
Defensive player of the decade: Gary Harris
It took until the last three months of the decade for the Nuggets to finally play some defense so this award is a tough one to give out. Gary Harris has been the Nuggets best perimeter defender for half of the decade though. While some of that is a matter of how bad the Nuggets perimeter defense has been (Brian Shaw remarked that Harris was the best defender on the team even as a rookie) Gary is one of the best on ball defenders in the league today. He is routinely tasked with guarding the opponents best wing player and is closing out the decade looking like a first team all NBA defender. While there have been some solid defensive players sprinkled throughout this decade, no one has done it as long as Gary has for Denver in the twenty teens.
Honorable mention: Andre Iguodala, Mason Plumlee
Most improved player: Will Barton
When the Nuggets traded for Will Barton not many fans had even heard of him. Buried on the Portland Trail Blazers bench, Barton appeared to be the sweetener in an Aron Afflalo for a first round pick deal but he has become so much more. From relative unknown to bench contributor to sixth man of the year candidate to every day starter, Barton has continued to improve season in and season out. Now in the 2019-2020 season he’s off to the best start of his career.
Honorable mention: Harris, Lawson.
Coach of the decade: Michael Malone
Two person debate here between Michael Malone and George Karl. Malone has the nods in total wins (194 to 186) and playoff series wins, George gets the nod in winning percentage (61.2% to 46.6%) and playoff appearances. Malone’s contributions to the franchise and the culture have been more impactful though. When he took over the Nuggets were a mess and looked like they were headed into another long rebuild. Yes, they got lucky with Jokic but Malone has had just as much to do with turning around this franchise. He’s continued to improve every single season he’s been here to the point where he’s starting to be on Karl’s level no matter what decade you are talking about.
Honorable mention: Karl, Melvin Hunt
Executive of the decade: Tim Connelly
Another two horse race this time between Tim Connelly or Masai Ujiri. Those are, in fact, the only two options at all unless we’re counting seven months of Mark Warkentein not making a trade, not making a signing and not making a draft pick. Ujiri is best known during his tenure in Denver as being the architect of the Carmelo Anthony trade. He also had some success with mid to late first round picks (Faried and Evan Fournier) but his vision for the Nuggets peaked with a franchise record for regular season wins and a first round exit to the Golden State Warriors. With the benefit of hindsight some of his moves look less appealing as well (Javale McGee contract, Andre Iguodala trade). In almost reverse fashion, Connelly didn’t exactly start off with a bang (hello 2013 Nuggets free agent class) but he has otherwise navigated his tenure as lead decision maker for the Nuggets masterfully. It hasn’t been perfect, the 2017 draft could have gone better (though there are two players from that draft on Denver’s roster) and at times it hasn’t felt like the Nuggets got the best end of a trade (Plumlee deal) but Connelly has built one of the most impressive lineups in Nuggets history and did it by finding diamond in the rough after diamond in the rough.
All Decade Teams
First team: C - Jokic, PF - Faried, SF - Gallinari, SG - Harris, PG - Murray
Second team: C - Timofey Mozgov, PF - Paul Millsap, SF - Barton, SG - Iguodala, PG - Lawson
Third team: C - Mason Plumlee, PF - Darrell Arthur, SF - Wilson Chandler, SG - Aron Afflalo, PG - Jameer Nelson
A few of the first teamers are no brainers: Jokic, Gallinari and Harris. Jokic is the only good center the Nuggets had this decade and Gallinari was the best player on some really good Nuggets teams (as well as couple not so good ones). Harris has been the Nuggets starting shooting guard for four and half of the ten seasons this decade and while Iguodala’s 2012-2013 season might stand as the best single season this decade by a Nuggets shooting guard, Harris’ overall body of work takes the cake. A similar thought process goes into picking Faried over Millsap. Had Paul been healthy for a full year in his first two seasons maybe he edges out Faried, but the Manimal’s longevity wins out for him. Murray versus Lawson is the really tough one. On one hand you have Lawson who was the starting point guard for three separate playoff teams this decade, but on the other you have Murray who was vital in winning a playoff series. I honestly could go either way but I’ll give it to Murray because his playoff series win is the tie breaker.