February was good to the Denver Nuggets. Their 8-4 record was tied for the 4th best in the league, but their current six-game winning streak is the longest in the NBA. Their offense has not only found its groove, but they are excelling in several categories. They ranked top ten in PPG, FG%, 3P%, rebounding, and assists during February. Further, Denver’s defense has been an underrated aspect of their success. In February, they graded in the top ten in opponent PPG, opp. FG%, opp. 3P% (1st), and opp. rebounding.
Denver’s usual suspects are playing as advertised, and some even better. Jokic averaged 23.4 PPG, 14 rebounds, and 8.8 assists on 53.8% shooting, while Barton, Gordon, and Morris averaged 14+ PPG. Outside of Jokic, Monte Morris appears to be playing the best basketball out of that starting unit. In February, he averaged 14 PPG, 4.1 assists, and 0.6 turnovers per game on a consistent 55.8% shooting from the field and 48.7% from three. His efficiency has been outstanding, and his clutch play produced at least two wins for Denver. The buzzer-beater against Golden State and the go-ahead triple against Sacramento were massive momentum shots for Denver as their winning streak progressed.
MONTE MORRIS WITH THE CLUTCH TRIPLE‼️ pic.twitter.com/Rh3aAlF1SO— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) February 27, 2022
With that being said, the key to Denver’s winning streak has been their excellent bench play. The Nuggets have relied on their starters so much this season, and it is expected they produce well on a nightly basis. The wild card has been the bench.
Michael Malone has shuffled lineups throughout the season and will likely continue to have minor tweaks, but it seems like he found the pieces he was looking for off the bench. The addition of Bryn Forbes brought much-need, consistent perimeter shooting, DeMarcus Cousins supplemented essential physicality on the court, and JaMychal Green’s recent resurgence has paired well with Boogie down low.
Michael Malone spoke about the combination of Boogie and JaMychal on the Hastings, Harris, and Dover show on Altitude Sports Radio saying, “I think players are scared of him (DeMarcus), and when you pair him next to JaMychal Green, that’s the Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn.”
He spoke further, stating, “When you have physical guys that are not afraid to hit you and make you feel them, on top of being really skilled, that is a welcome addition, and I think that second unit has really blossomed as of late because of JaMychal and DeMarcus and what they bring to that group.”
That is what Denver lacked earlier in the season and teams took advantage of it. Now they can couple the finesse skillset of the starters with the bruising mentality of their bench. Not only have the Nuggets added more physicality down low, but their offensive production was impressive last month.
Over February, you could argue the Nuggets had the most productive bench unit in the NBA. They ranked 2nd in scoring, 5th in three-point percentage, 4th in free throws made, 6th in defensive rebounding, and 8th in assists. Their 19.5 minutes per game ranked 6th in the NBA, but the Nuggets had the best record of those benches with more minutes. Their individual talent level may not be elite, but they impacted winning basketball as best as any other bench did in February.
There are four contributors to that bench lineup that stood out the most to me: Bryn Forbes, DeMarcus Cousins, JaMychal Green, and Austin Rivers. Each has meshed into their roles correctly, and in my opinion, they have been the X-factors to this winning streak. The starters have played well, especially Monte, but we know how fickle leads have been for this Nugget team. Last month, they were not only maintaining leads but extending them. The starters could obtain a 15 point lead, but it vanished once the bench came in.
The best offensive addition to the bench has been Bryn Forbes. His shot was inconsistent with Denver's first stints, but he has found his stroke of late. During the six-game winning streak, he has been Denver’s 5th leading scorer, averaging 12.5 PPG on 60.5% shooting from the field and an excellent 60% from three. He also has been one of the leaders in plus/minus for this team. His 7.7 plus/minus is second best to Monte Morris. Yes, even better than Nikola Jokic.
Since the beginning of the Nuggets’ current six-game winning streak, these are the most accurate three-point shooters in the NBA:— Stat Squatch (Jake) (@BroncoSquatch) February 28, 2022
1. Bryn Forbes - 60.0%
2. Luke Kennard - 58.1%
3. Monte Morris - 57.9%
(Minimum 3.0 3PA Per Game) pic.twitter.com/Jhw3CCk4sr
The two bigs off the bench, Boogie and JaMychal, are not only handling the dirty work, but their offensive efficiency has increased. In Boogie’s 14 minutes a game, he averages 9.4 PPG, 6.2 rebounds on 50% shooting from the field, and has a plus/minus of 7.2 throughout this win streak. After underwhelming shooting performances before the break, JaMychal has locked in shooting the basketball. He averages 9.8 PPG and 5.2 rebounds on 59.4% shooting from the field and 50% from three.
Austin Rivers may not share the efficient offensive numbers of his counterparts, but his perimeter defense cannot go unnoticed. After each game, Michael Malone gives out a defensive player of the game chain, and Rivers has won it multiple times. His defense is a huge reason he has a 7.2 plus/minus during this winning streak. It ranks 4th best on the team, and without him, the Nuggets do not have a defensive guard who has the size, quickness, and IQ Rivers provides for that bench unit.
You can name several individual X-factors for this team to compete in the playoffs, but collectively, the bench has been the X-factor for Denver’s success. It will continue to be because this starting unit can only play so many minutes. The bench will have to bolster the production the starters provide, and if they can proceed with this execution, along with a potential MPJ and/or Murray return—watch out.