Since being 4-4, the Denver Nuggets have ripped off three straight wins. What has been the biggest contributor to their success during this early winning streak?
Tommy Knowlton (@TommyKnow303): It’s been a combination of great defense and timely baskets. Even without some of their stars playing, you can tell they believe they are a championship contender. That belief has been a massive contributor to their success because they now realize if they want to win a championship, they need to be a top 10 defensive team. Everybody is buying in to Malone’s scheme right now and this might be the best stretch of defense I’ve seen out of them in a decade.
Asher Levy (@ashmanzini): Their defense has been their biggest contributor by far. The Nuggets right now are 2nd in defensive rating only behind the Golden State Warriors. It’s been wild to me to see this team go from a great offense and lackluster defense to the exact opposite. It’s encouraging to see the defense hold up like this; especially because the Nuggets offense has slowly been getting better. Keep getting Munders and they’ll keep getting wins.
Gage Bridgford (@GbridgfordNFL): I think it all comes down to their defense. Outside of a couple of guys, the team has struggled mightily on offense, but their defense has kept them in most games. They’re not engaging in the high-octane shootouts that other teams are playing in. The Nuggets have yet to score more than 113 points in a game this season. Meanwhile, they’ve held eight of their 11 opponents to fewer than 100 points. As Asher pointed out, they’re second in defensive rating this year, and, as long as their defense holds out, they’re going to be in every game every single night.
Will Barton is playing the best basketball of his career to start this season. What has been the biggest difference in his play that you’ve seen thus far?
Knowlton: The largest difference is his health. He looks as healthy as I’ve ever seen him and he looks stronger as well. He’s taking it to the rim with force and elevating on his jumper, layups, and dunks as well as we have seen. I would say the reason he is scoring so much is because his shot is falling. He said he was finally was awarded health during the offseason so he could work on his game and it is showing. He has not only performed well offensively but this might be the best defensive version of Barton as well. He looks terrific.
Levy: He’s just better across the board, but his shooting really stands out to me. He’s been a good shooter for the past couple of seasons, but he’s been straight up elite this season. He is currently shooting 43.3% on 6.1 three pointers a game. It’s been a joy to sit back and watch Thrill just do his thing.
Bridgford: I think his health has been important, but, most importantly, I think he’s playing free basketball. With Jamal Murray on the shelf and Michael Porter Jr. in a massive slump, Barton has been tabbed as the second option on the call sheet on offense after Jokic. Rather than focusing on playing perfect with limited touches, he knows there isn’t anyone else that’s going to take his away which results in him playing loose and free. His confidence is at an all-time high, and this is the type of play they’ll need him to bring all year long to keep them in the conversation of legitimate contenders.
Through the team’s first nine games, Facundo Campazzo had played at least 14 minutes in every game, but he has played fewer than eight in each of the last two. Do you think he’s permanently out of the rotation due to the strong play from Bones Hyland?
Knowlton: No he will not be permanently out of the rotation in my opinion. Bones deserves more minutes than him because the team is playing better collective defense so they don’t need Facu as much. Everybody needs a gritty, intense competitor on their team and Facu is Denver’s version of Pat Beverley. He probably will not play as much as he did last season but he will get some minutes and in those minutes he will ignite energy for Denver.
Levy: Barring injury, I think he is. I think that Facu played pretty bad to start the season; he over helped on defense, couldn’t shoot, didn’t attack the rim, the list goes on and on. Defenses didn’t respect him. However, Bones, despite not shooting the best over the past few games, makes defenses respect him off the bounce. He’s also found ways to operate the pick and roll at a far higher level than Facu ever did.
Bridgford: Unless someone in front of him gets injured or traded, I find it hard to believe that Facu would find his way back into the rotation. He brings energy and hustle, but he lacks skills that the other guys in front of him have. Austin Rivers and P.J. Dozier both offer more size which makes them better defensive matchups. Bones makes teams think more about leaving him open which leaves more space for everyone else to work. Facu is a player that everyone wants on their team, but he just doesn’t bring enough that no one else on the team does to necessitate giving him minutes.
Is there a player you think is deserving of more minutes but isn’t seeing them right now?
Knowlton: I like the minutes PJ is getting but I would like to see him more ingratiated in the offense. I think he’s played efficiently on that end of the court so far and given more opportunities, I think he can be an offensive spark from the bench. His shot looks better than it ever has and he doesn’t seem to be forcing things and turning the ball over as much. PJ is a really solid player on both ends of the court and I think if he can be more of a focal point being a scorer off the bench, it will increase Denver’s bench productivity.
Levy: After last game, give Zeke Nnaji some run please. He was just excellent against the Pacers, and has been good in any run he’s gotten this season. He’s a good shooter anytime he touches the court, and has good defensive chops. I think he’s more equipped to be in the rotation than Jamychal Green right now. We’ll see if Malone sees it the same way though.
Bridgford: Dozier is the guy that I think needs different minutes more so than he needs more minutes. I think Dozier sliding into the starting lineup with Monte Morris going to the bench makes a lot of sense for a couple of reasons. For one, Dozier is a better defender, and his length allows him to bother players and switch onto bigger guards than Morris. For two, Morris can initiate and run the offense better than we’re seeing anyone else on the second unit do right now. Morris is the veteran, and he’s been around longer. However, the fit between the two units would make a lot more sense if you swapped the lineups they were running with. Additionally, Dozier playing off of Jokic and Barton would allow him more room to get his shot off or drive to the rim where he could get himself going on the offensive end.
The Nuggets play eight of their next nine games against playoff teams from last season. How important will this stretch of games be in proving how good or bad this team really is?
Knowlton: It’s important but it’s not incredibly important. Denver will be without MPJ for an unidentified period of time so they most likely will not be at full strength. The only reason for concern during this stretch would be if they only win two or three out of those eight games. The fans and the team understand how resilient the Nuggets are and it was proven again yesterday against Indiana. Even without MPJ, I think the Nuggets will remain steady. I think the most important part of that stretch is to get some shooting confidence from outside. If Denver can make some more three-pointers against good teams, I think that breeds confidence for the rest of the season.
Levy: I think it’ll be important, but I wouldn’t buy in completely one way or the other. The team doesn’t have their second best player right now, and they probably will be without their third for a chunk of this run. I think that even if they win every game, while that would be impressive, it wouldn’t mean much for the playoff atmosphere because so much will be different when Jamal gets back.
Bridgford: I side with Tommy a lot here with a slight variation. This stretch needs to have guys start hitting their shots, but Denver needs to still remain competitive in these games. Even if they’re not winning the majority of the matchups, they need to be hanging around every night. With Murray and Porter out, if they can show that they can hang with teams when they’re not at full strength, that will show just how good they can be when they have all of their pieces back later in the year.