A few games ago, when Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone was asked what was wrong with the defense, his response was puzzling to some who were in the room.

His response was a swift and direct.

“Offense,” Malone said without hesitation before shooting glares at anyone who chuckled thinking he was being facetious.

This might seem incorrect. How could a defense be hurt by an offense as good as the Nuggets? The answer lies in Denver’s most glaring offensive issue: turnovers.

“There are always other things, but I think it definitely starts there,” Malone said when asked if turnovers are the biggest contributing factor to Denver’s defensive discombobulation. “[If] we go back to that third quarter in Oklahoma City, we had nine turnovers in that quarter. That is a lot of turnovers in one quarter. I believe Nikola had seven of those. When you do that, you allow a team to get out and run and score and live at the rim. Craziest stat from the Oklahoma City game: for 48 minutes, they shot 78% at our rim. Non-rim — I am not saying non-paint — non-rim, they were 28%. It was our inability to defend the rim for three quarters and especially that third quarter. So when you turn the ball over; especially those live ball turnovers which allow teams to get out and run and score easy baskets, that is definitely a starting point, but that is not the only thing.”

Denver’s turnover issues are not even a consistent issue. Their biggest problem are these waves of turnovers that can span a quarter or two in each game which immediately results in leads dissolving or deficits ballooning. A great example is the one Malone used; when Jokic had seven turnovers in the third quarter against the Thunder which almost threw Denver into a tailspin before recovering in the final frame.

One of the main culprits of Denver’s defensive shortcomings and their turnover issues is a lack of cohesion on both ends of the floor or, as Ish Smith phrased it to me, “connectivity”.

“Connectivity,” Smith answered in our one-on-one discussion when asked what the biggest issue to overcome defensively is. “Something we take for granted is that we have eight or nine new guys. The thing that made Denver so good in the past over the last couple years was their continuity and consistency. You had guys around five, six, or seven years and now you got a whole pretty much new roster. And you obviously got (Michael Porter Jr.) coming back after being out last year and you got Jamal (Murray) who has been out for two years now. So you have to get on the same page…For the most part, I think overall, it is just the connectivity that you can take for granted; as you guys know who have been around here for a minute. The consistency in having the same team is important and now with eight or nine or ten new guys, it is going to be a situation where you get to know each other on the defensive end which is communication and then on the offensive end where guys are going to be. It is going to take a little bit.”

“There is always work to be done. For the most part, people think you just plug and play. No. There is work to be done for sure and that is a part of that work; finding each other and finding that connectivity with each other, but there is a lot of work to be done.”

The work to be done has very little to do with finding or cultivating more top-end talent. Denver has talent in spades. What they need more than anything is finding a way to blend that talent and find a on-court understanding between everyone. It was not pretty early on, but as the games have stacked up, Denver is getting closer and closer to actualizing their roster. Their demolition of the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night was the perfect example of how good this group could be.

Murray looked as close to the best version of himself to date before his ACL tear. Porter was not only hitting shots from anywhere within half court, but was grabbing loose balls, rebounding with tenacity, leading the bench unit, and fitting into the starting group. Jokic was unstoppable in ways only Jokic can be. Denver’s defense played under control and effectively. They even limited their turnovers for three quarters before garbage time took hold and led to a bit of chaos. Everything anyone would hope to see from the Nuggets to confirm their contention manifested in Denver’s 126121 beatdown of San Antonio.

The comfort and connectivity they showed at home against the Spurs is exactly what Smith has been waiting to see from his team.

“A lot of people don’t realize how important it is,” Smith explained during the same one-on-one interview. “When you are dealing with a team, personalities have to mesh. Guys just think that you can put talent together and just play. No. Talent is the easy part. The hard part is connecting relationships and connecting personalities. They all have to connect. We all have to be on the same course so we can do something big this year.”

Now that the Nuggets are beginning to connect with one another on and off the court, they are reaping those benefits. Their turnovers are down, their defense has improved, the offense is scoring easily, and the rotation seems to have been worked out (when Denver is healthy). They are 4-0 at home and, with a road-heavy stretch upcoming, they have a chance to capitalize on a schedule full of weaker opponents.

Still, even with their cohesion growing by the minute, there are still wrinkles to iron out; especially on defense.

“If you had to go to number two on that list, it is that we don’t have great rim protection, you know what I mean? That is just not one of Nikola’s strengths,” Malone stated before the Nuggets tipped off against the Spurs. “He is a phenomenal player, but he is not a shot blocker. We can still be better with our body position, but our ability to guard and contain in the half court really has to be better. The shrink and the help behind it have to be extreme.”

“If you struggle with contain at times and you struggle protecting the rim in the half court, that is a really bad combination that we have to shore up and do that with whatever tools we have available.”

While things seem to be coming together, Malone needs more evidence before his faith in his team’s urgency, effort and focus remains this high consistently.

“I will be honest. I don’t know if we have anything figured out,” Malone said after the Nuggets statement win over the Spurs. “Tonight was a hell of a win, but next time we are in this situation, I hope that will be the same type of a team, but that has yet to be proven.”

That trust needs to be earned. Every single season is different and for this iteration of the Nuggets, so many players are new or coming back from major injury. Once again, the wise words of Smith ring true.

“Each year is different. You know this,” Smith said to conclude our talk. “Each year is different and you cannot play and think the same way you did in the past. It is a new year.

“I gotta steal this from Shannon Sharpe. He always says ‘update your resume’ and that is what we are doing right now.”