It’s always nice over the course of a season to have an evaluation period and now seems like no better time to have one for the Denver Nuggets. Through 38 games, the Nuggets hold a record of 20-18, which is good for sixth place in the Western Conference.
Considering the number of injuries and uncertainty as to who is going to be available on a nightly basis, the Nuggets record is not as bad as it looks on the surface. Thanks to Nikola Jokic putting together another MVP caliber season, Denver is holding steady in the standings as hopefully their injury woes will take a turn for the better in the second half of the season.
When you look back on last season, the Nuggets were actually only two games ahead (22-16) record wise from where they are this year. Jokic was a big reason why, but so was the play of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., who have missed most — in Murray’s case all — of Denver’s season thus far.
At this point last year, Jokic was averaging 27.1 points per game, while also getting a ton of help from Murray (20.9) and Porter (15.1) in the scoring department. This season, Jokic is averaging just a tick under (25.8) his scoring totals from last year to go along with 14.2 rebounds and seven assists per game. Will Barton is the next closest to Jokic averaging 15.1 points per game, while Aaron Gordon is currently third on the Nuggets with 13.8 points per game.
The case in point here is Jokic is having to do a lot more with less around him and the Nuggets are still having almost as much success as they were last season. With the Nuggets improved bench play as of late, Denver could finally be finding their stride just in time for a six game homestand in which they face some tough opponents like the Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz, and Memphis Grizzlies.
If the Nuggets can string together some wins and finish their homestand with a record of say 4-2, it puts them in a great spot going into a five game road trip where they play the New Orleans Pelicans and Minnesota Timberwolves along with some tougher games mixed in against the Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, and Utah Jazz.
That is why this next homestand is so important in that if the Nuggets can pull off a 4-2 or even 5-1 record they would be going into that road trip with house money. Denver has 20 games remaining till the All-Star break and if they can go at least 4-5 games over .500 during that stretch they will be looking pretty good going into the last month of the season.
In order for that to happen, the Nuggets have to stay healthy which always hasn’t been the case with them this season. Just yesterday, Denver was struck by the injury bug once again as Will Barton is now OUT due to health and safety protocols along with PJ Dozier (left ACL surgery), Markus Howard (left knee sprain), Vlatko Cancar (right foot surgery) and of course Denver is still without Porter Jr. (lumbar spine surgery) and Murray (left knee injury recovery) for the foreseeable future.
There is no telling when some of those players listed above will return, but reinforcements are on the way in the additions of Rodney McGruder, James Ennis III, and reportedly DeMarcus Cousins. It feels like all three have a realistic shot at getting minutes, so hopefully they can provide the Nuggets something positive off the bench.
While we are on the topic of providing off the bench, look no further than Jeff Green’s play as of late. Green missed three games due to health and safety protocols but has since returned and provided the Nuggets a huge spark off the bench in their last two victories. Green scored 18 points against the Kings last Friday night and followed it up with a 16 point performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder and has provided Denver exactly what they need, which is consistent scoring off the bench.
When you look at the Nuggets wins and losses this season it really boils down to Denver’s ability to survive the non-Jokic minutes. If the bench unit wins or at least keeps the game close with Jokic off the floor, the Nuggets usually end up victorious in those games. It has been much better as of late, so hopefully it’s a trend that continues to go in the right direction.
To recap here is the big takeaway from this season so far: Nikola Jokic is once again playing at an MVP level — not just offensively, but defensively as well — and the Nuggets are sixth in the Western Conference because of it. If Jokic can stay healthy and available Denver is always going to have a chance for success not just in the regular season, but the postseason as well. As long as the Nuggets can win the minutes he’s off the floor and — fingers crossed — Murray returns later this season, Denver will still be a team no one wants to face come playoff time.