“Transformation in real life is extraordinarily incremental.”

– Jillian Michaels

Your Denver Nuggets transformation was anything but incremental last year. Whether it was vaulting from 9th place to 2nd in the Western Conference standings, going from worst-to-first in three-point defense, or sending their first representative in years (Nikola Jokic) to the All-Star Game, your favorite basketball team took anything but baby steps in a giant leap forward on a number of fronts. It’s tempting to think they’ll simply keep on with that pattern, leapfrogging their way up the ladder in other categories as well. But most of the time, change actually is an incremental thing, coming in fits and starts. So let’s say the team slowed their roll, but kept moving forward on the whole. If the Nuggets were to simply move forward in their efforts one percent, how far could such a tiny change get them?

Where to start? How about scoring per game, a topic that these Nuggets haven’t had to worry about in quite some time with Jokic around to facilitate. Even with a vaunted offense, Denver took a bit of a slide this last season, landing in 20th of the 30 teams in the league. A 1% bump could prove a huge lift, as would get them (barely) back into the upper half, landing them in 15th place in last year’s tally. Should they rediscover their mojo on “O” this next year, they could be one of a very few teams in the league with a top-10 squad on both ends of the floor.

Speaking of, what about the other end of the floor, and opponent’s scoring? Last year was a huge change from seasons past, with the Nuggets allowing the sixth-least points-per-game of any team in the league. A simple 1% shift to the positive here would have landed them in second last year, a goal well worth striving for as Denver tries to make a push even further into next season’s playoff chase.

Three-point percentage? A 1% lift would move the Nuggets from 19th to 13th. It would get them another win over last season, but they’d have still only been second in the West last year. A 1% lift in attendance would also move them up a slot, from 12th to 11th. A 1% lift in shooting percentage would also give them a huge bump, from 13th to 7th.

These incremental lifts would impact the individuals as well. Jokic’s field goal percentage would bump to .517 with a 1% lift, and Mason Plumlee’s to .600. Gary Harris would lift his free throw percentage over 80% with that tiny bump. Jamal Murray would be within spitting distance of a 1,400-point season (1,381). If the already-stellar Monte Morris lowered his turnover rate by 1%, he’d drop below a half a turnover per game. Should Morris continue to improve there, he might end up amongst the all-time greats at protecting the ball. Malik Beasley tied Jamal Murray for best free throw percentage on the team last season, and could get himself north of 85% with a 1% lift.

Make no mistake, not every player or stat will take that step forward. There were a number of spots in which the team slipped last season, but overall, the majority of their team stats took a big bump, which played out well for many of the players, but none in a bigger way than Jokic. As he stepped into the primary leadership role for this Nuggets squad last season, his efforts landed him on league-wide Top 10 lists for Offensive Rebounds, Defensive Rebounds, Total Rebounds, Offensive Win Shares, Defensive Win Shares, Total Win Shares, Offensive Win Box Plus/Minus, Defensive Win Box Plus/Minus, Total Win Box Plus/Minus, Assists Per Game, Assist Percentage, Turnovers, PER, and VORP. A simple 1% lift in a few other places could also bump him into the Top 10 for Rebounds Per Game, Defensive Rebound Percentage, Total Rebound Percentage, and Defensive Rating.

Neil Armstrong would be the first to tell you how big a things small steps can bring. Was the taste bitter enough from a Game Seven second round loss to keep your Denver Nuggets on the beam and ready to take another step forward? Even a baby step? How many more steps forward need to happen for your Nuggets to win an NBA Championship? Are those steps large or small? How many times have we been this close? Are we actually due to take a step back after so many narrow victories last year? What’s the world record for questions at the end of an article?

“Little by little does the trick.”

– Aesop

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