By Daniel Paiz
There are a lot of positives this NBA season for the Denver Nuggets, starting off with the fact that they’re making their first trip to the postseason since 2013. That’s the good news. The bad news is what Nuggets fans have witnessed all season: the Nuggets are their own worst enemy, especially in the battle for the #1 seed. Let’s delve further into this claim.
The Good News
Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray plus the strength and depth of the Nuggets’ bench equals where the Nuggets are right now. Jokic earned NBA All-Star accolades for the Nuggets, and has been a production machine with his 20.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 7.4 assists a game. Jokic has had a few missteps when it comes to playing defense, but for right now his production masks that. Luckily for “Big Honey”, basketball is a team sport.
Despite the 95-90 loss March 31st to the Wizards, this offense is gelling pretty well. It’s very much a pick your poison kind of defensive strategy for opposing teams. Monte Morris, Malik Beasley, and Torrey Craig (among others) can space the floor out on the wings. Or, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Will Barton can do the same, or vice versa.
It doesn’t really matter who’s where on the floor as long as good passing and cutting at the right time remains consistent. Jokic, Miles Plumlee and Paul Millsap all can find the right guy cutting or spread out to the three-point line, or they utilize the pick and roll to get to the basket. The problem tends to arise when movement and passing isn’t fully implemented.
Well, that and the whole playing defense thing. Defense is what just might hurt the Nuggets the most.
The Bad News
Despite living in the world of the high-scoring Golden State Warriors era of basketball, defense still wins championships. It was true for the Bulls in the 90s, the Lakers and Spurs in the 2000s, and even the Warriors and LeBron-led teams now. This is where the Nuggets have to turn back the clock to the start of the season.
Not to pick on “Big Honey”, but it starts with Jokic. Watching tape from both the loss to the Wizards and the win March 29th against Oklahoma City shows that consistently. Jokic will man up on defense, but he often gets caught on pick and rolls. He also will not always protect the paint as a viewer might expect (this is likely due to foul calls largely going to the offensive player). However, it isn’t just Jokic who has to slap the floor and get some defensive stops.
Rotating on defense is killing this Nuggets team. When teams like Oklahoma City and Golden State make extra passes, or drive to the paint before kicking it out, the Nuggets don’t always move with the ball. It’s understandable that a player might not dive for the ball or sprint to the open man, but that’s what’s required in these last six games. Especially if that #1 seed is the priority.
Lastly, injuries aren’t something any coach or team staff can really help. Luckily for the Nuggets, they largely encountered their injury bug earlier in the season. What’s important to prepare for is that “next man up” mentality that Coach Mike Malone has instilled all season. That’ll give this team some resilience for the upcoming brutality that is the Western Conference playoffs.