Admit it. Last night, for just a second, when the end of their bench let the Denver Nuggets 36-point lead slip back inside of 20, you took a serious look at the clock and did some quick division, no? The Toronto Raptors looked like they were doing some math of their own. Maybe that was just me.

This young Nuggets season reminds me of a scatter plot. When you look at data visualizations, (and don’t we all?) you often end up seeing the “prettied up” version of that data, but you’re often just seeing averages of the thousands (or millions) of individual data points. A little something like the dotted line running up the diagonal of this graph of Yellowstone National Park’s frequent eruptions at Old Faithful… the dotted line is the average of the multiple points on the graph. (thanks, Wiki)

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The Nuggets have had a few eruptions of their own in the first eight games, but I’d bet Tommy Balcetis (the Nuggets exceptional Director of Basketball Analytics) would kill to have a scatterplot that looked that clean in any of the data queries he’s running after these first eight games. A dichotomous example amongst many:

In 32 quarters played, Denver has failed to crack the 20-point mark an eighth of the time, with quarters of 18, 17, 16, and 13 points along the way. Conversely, a full quarter of those quarters… er, eight out of those 32 quarters saw scoring totals above the 30-point mark, with totals of 30 (three times), 31, 34, 38, 40, and 43.

It’s been widespread. Go look at a player on the Nuggets right now, nearly any player, and their stats game-over-game have been… scattered. Nikola Jokic. Paul Millsap. Emmanuel Mudiay. Will Barton. Wilson Chandler. The list goes on, and is not limited to the guys wearing uniforms. Some very good things scattered amongst some head-scratching moments. They’re adapting, but there’s still a long ways to go. I’m surprised Nuggets Nation doesn’t have one of these. I know I have felt a twitch or two…

But in the midst of this Jackson Pollock data dump, your Nuggets find themselves at the .500 mark eight games into the season. While that may not seem like a big deal to you, last year’s team fell under .500 after a 3-3 start, and never got within two games of the Mason-Dixon after falling quickly to 3-7. We’re only two games further in and back to .500, but there are recent signs of life on both sides of the ball this year.

After finishing last in the league in defense last season, and starting the first few games in the lower third on offense this season, Denver suddenly finds itself near the middle of the NBA pack in offensive and defensive rankings. Should Denver continue to improve on offense and find their way back to last season’s efficiency numbers, a middle-of-the-pack defense could augur well for what the season might bring. Could the defense be better than the current numbers show? It’s on my list for Santa. After a bumpy start, the Nuggets have won three of their last four games.

Friday night’s game against the Miami Heat brings another opportunity in a series of baby steps back to respectability for the Nuggets, in a winning record. How long has it been since that occurred? 373 days ago to be exact, when last year’s team started the season 1-0. Had it not been for that one-game peek-and-peak above the dark-blue sea, you’d have to go back 717 days to November of 2015. They got one game above .500 twice that season, at 6-5 and 5-4.

Two games above .500? That’s, uh… whooo… Wednesday, January 15th… 2014. Thirteen hundred and eighty eight frickin’ days. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s get the first one first. Damnit, now I’m going have to go look for how long since three games over… I have issues.

Optimistically, this year’s Nuggets squad has shown some backbone these last few games, when the early book on them was to clamp down on defense and watch them fold. Odds are still good Denver will struggle this season with some of the league’s stingier defenses, but recent sightings of a tougher team have emerged. Recently, the Nuggets are running into the teeth of defenses, and willing to push back on both ends of the floor. Should that attitude hold through the year, the team gives themselves room to continue to improve their consistency and cohesion, and hopefully their best shot at the playoffs and beyond.

The weekend brings the Heat, Denver Nuggets. Are you ready to bring a little of your own? Maybe climb back into the light for a while? A breath of fresh air. A little balance never hurt anyone…

Who’s ready to get out of the cellar, Nuggets Nation?

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