Coming off of an MVP season by their starting center Nikola Jokic, but without their second-best player for the foreseeable future, nobody really knew what to predict for the Denver Nuggets this season. Jokic has surely captivated the attention of the media and every fan in the NBA by now, but the Nuggets seem to still be under the radar when it comes to the discussion surrounding which teams have the best shot at contending for a championship this season. In the first six games of the season, Jokic has proven that he is fully capable of carrying the team, even one that has a long ways to go to reaching their potential. In the first handful of games, a lot of concerns and questions have emerged, but if there’s one thing that is abundantly clear it is that the Nuggets are in good hands with the MVP leading the way.
Record in October: 4-2
Overall record: 4-2
Game of the Month: Denver Nuggets vs. Phoenix Suns
In their first game of the season, the Nuggets went head-to-head with the Phoenix Suns, the same team that swept them in the second round last season in a series that was very difficult to watch at times. This game had all the makings of a great matchup for this reason, and Nuggets fans definitely got their share of entertainment out of this one. In the first half, the team fell behind by as many as 16 points in the second quarter before a great second half that resulted in them defeating the Suns 110-98. Jokic lead the way for the Nuggets with 27 points and 13 rebounds. Being down by double digits in the second half to the team that embarrassed them in the postseason could have gotten in their heads, but it’s clear that this game was personal for the Nuggets. Getting a smidgen of revenge against the Suns was a perfect start to the season.
Highlight of the Month: Aaron Gordon with the athletic block against Suns
The highlight of the month truly captures the essence of Aaron Gordon and his impact on the Nuggets. In their game against the Suns, Gordon had a monster block on Devin Booker that helped secure their victory. With the Nuggets starting to run away with the lead in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, this was a significant play that seemed to take the life out of the Suns. Just watch Jokic’s reaction to the highlight, and you’ll see just how amazing this block really was.
Player of the month: Nikola Jokic continues to dominate
With Jamal Murray injured and Michael Porter Jr. really struggling on offense, Nikola Jokic has had to continue his absolutely dominant performances in order to help the Nuggets win games to start the season. He has not disappointed, at times looking even more polished on both sides of the floor than he did in his MVP year. He’s being aggressive on offense, averaging 24 ppg on an insane 60.8% field goal percentage and 42.3% three-point percentage. He’s been a rebounding machine as well, averaging 14.8 a game. His dominance was especially clear in the Nuggets’ game against the San Antonio Spurs on October 22nd, a game in which Jokic scored 32 points on 14/19 shooting to go along with 7 assists and 16 rebounds. He even earned the Defensive Player of the Game award from the coaches, a new method to try to inspire the team to get better on that end of the floor. All and all, this is shaping up to be yet another MVP-type season from the Joker. Whether or not he will actually get the award for a second consecutive season is yet to be determined, but I have a feeling he will have earned it by season’s end.
Story of the Month: What’s going on with the bench?
A common theme that has been the subject of much discussion in the local media and amongst fans is the struggles of the bench to form an identity and win match-ups against their opponents. For the first few games of the season, Michael Malone experimented with a five-man bench lineup of Jeff Green, JaMychal Green, Facundo Campazzo, Austin Rivers, and P.J. Dozier. In those games, however, the lineup lost leads or allowed deficits to increase. It’s not that each of the players don’t add something special to the team. Together, though, it’s clear that the lineup just cannot find a rhythm offensively, which has prompted Malone to comment on the lack of pace and scoring from that lineup.
Starting with their game against the Dallas Mavericks, Malone’s solution has been to stagger the starters with the bench so that one or two starters are on the floor at all times with the second unit. This seemed to make a pretty big difference, as having Will Barton, Jokic, or MPJ out there with the bench really helped open up the floor on offense. Another experiment that Malone has tried has been to implement Nah’Shon (Bones) Hyland with the bench, and if the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves is any indication, I think that will be a method that Malone incorporates into all of the games going forward. In 17 minutes in that game, Hyland scored 8 points, had 3 assists, and was a +10, which is amazing considering the plus-minus that the five-man bench lineup had produced to start the season. If Malone sticks with these two changes to the second unit going forward, there’s a hope that the bench struggles can be a thing of the past soon enough.
Surprise of the month: Michael Porter Jr. starts off season in a shooting slump
It’s only because we are so used to seeing MPJ do things so flawlessly and effortlessly on offense that his struggles the first few games of the season have stood out. It’s not that he’s doing anything all that differently than he did last season. Many of the shots that he’s taking, while they may be considered a bad shot from most players, are shots that he’s known to hit in his career. They’re simply not falling in the first few games of the season. MPJ is averaging only 10.8 points a game on 33.3% from the field and 25% from the three, numbers that are not at all what we’ve come to expect from the star forward.
It’s unknown whether the pressure of signing a huge contract this offseason may be affecting MPJ mentally, or if he just needs time to get going this season. Either way, it’s obvious that the Nuggets are a much better team when MPJ is clicking on offense. What Nuggets fans should be looking for going forward is whether MPJ stays engaged by continuing to develop other areas of his game, such as rebounding, playmaking, and defense. So far in the early season, he has shown improvements in those categories. In the game against the Timberwolves, for example, MPJ scored only 7 points but had 3 assists and 12 rebounds. As long as MPJ does not ignore every other facet of his game while his offense is struggling, and as long as the Nuggets find ways to win games without his shooting, then fans should not be too concerned about the first six games of the season from him. Knowing how talented and special MPJ is, it’s only a matter of time before he finds his shot. Hopefully, in a season where the Nuggets will be without their second best player for an extended period of time, that time comes sooner rather than later.
Grade for the month: B
What’s new on Denver Stiffs:
The season may have just started, but the Denver Stiffs are in full swing when it comes to bringing you interesting, informative and creative content. Check out the below pieces from this past month if you haven’t already.
Gage Bidgford takes a look at what the Nuggets can do to help Michael Porter Jr. come out of his shooting slump to start the season.
In this piece, Asher Levy attempts to solve the bench problem.
Tommy Knowlton highlights three players that have been impressive to start the season in this edition of “Sixth Man.”
In his usual fashion using statistical analysis, Ryan Blackburn takes a deep dive into the bench’s struggles to start the season.
In this edition of “Film Friday,” Gage Bridgford takes readers through his takeaways following the team’s first game against the Phoenix Suns.
Each season, Denver Stiffs staff members do their best at making predictions for the year ahead. In case you missed it, click here to read our predictions for the Nuggets and here to read our predictions for the NBA as a whole.
In this “Stiffs Mailbag,” Ryan Blackburn answers fans’ burning questions, including how much playing time he thinks Bones Hyland will get this season, what moves he thinks the Nuggets will/should make at the trade deadline, and more.
The Stiffs rolled out a series of articles previewing each player ahead of the 21-22 season. Click here to view the entire stream to find out the staffs’ predictions for each player going into the season.
In this one, Ryan Blackburn does his best to predict five lineups that Michael Malone will utilize this season, and how each one will fare.