When I watch the Denver Nuggets, it makes me sad. They have two of my favourite players in the league and a ton of talent around them and yet, they sit below .500 basically a month into the season.
The worst part about it is it isn’t like Nikola Jokic is off to a slow start like last year or maybe someone major got hurt, it’s just they aren’t that good. Outside of Michael Porter Jr, no one significant has missed time and even with MPJ, the team was 1-3 so it’s not like his loss is directly resulting in this slow start necessarily either.
What’s happened, and why they’re at major risk, is they just aren’t as good as we thought they were. Paul Millsap is a step slower again and therefore is less of the help defender they need to make up for Jokic. JaMychal Green has failed miserably in the Jerami Grant role, Jamal Murray has reverted back to who he was pre-bubble and laugh or not but the team is missing Mason Plumlee’s minutes off the bench a ton.
Why this is a risky place to be in is because, if they look too much into their results in the bubble instead of accepting what they really are in this new season, it could cause management to make a trade that sacrifices a piece of the core unnecessarily.
A good example would be like adding Bol Bol or RJ Hampton into a trade for a veteran on the last year of his contract. Yeah, that veteran may help them this season but really how much would it be? This is a team that’s multiple pieces from being back in the conference finals so a sacrificial move to the young core hardly seems worth it.
The reality with this team is pretty simple, Murray isn’t quite as good as we thought he was in the bubble and because of that and the steps back in defensive personnel, this team just isn’t a win-now move team. If Murray was back averaging 27 again on great shooting it’d be one thing however, he’s right back to essentially his career averages from before the bubble.
Since they don’t have the two All-Star type guys we thought they had and instead have just one, that drastically changes how we have to view you in a conference like the West. I said all offseason as Murray goes this team will too and right now he’s been meh and guess what their record is?
The reason they’re so dependent on him is as I mentioned above, Millsap has gone from kind of washed to straight-up washed and then they also lost two plus defenders in Grant and Plumlee and didn’t really replace them.
This is going to sound simplistic but it’s really the cold-hard truth. Murray hasn’t taken the step we thought he had fully and so, because of this, the Denver offence isn’t able to mask the fact their defence took a major step back this year.
Their offence is third in the NBA, which is really a testament to Jokic more than anyone else and yet they are an average team because their defence is 26th in the league.
So let’s say Murray is back to bubble Murray and they get that offence to best in the world. Then all of a sudden a move or two to solidify the defence makes more sense because they’d have a piece of the game at a championship level.
Last year their defence was 16th so they could finish with a top three record in the conference with an offence at “just” fifth. However, in a league where the margins are so slim, having a bottom five defence just isn’t going to cut it unless your offence is the best in the world.
Think of it this way, Murray averaged 26.6 points and 6.6 assists in the playoffs. Right now he’s averaging 20.3 points and 4 assists a night. Looking at those numbers, you’d think that’d be between 10-12 points a game difference he contributed in the playoffs compared to now right?
Well, six of their seven losses are by 10 points or less. That’s how narrow the difference between winning and losing is in this league.
I don’t mean to put all the blame on Murray. What I mean when I use him as an example is to show where the Nuggets are as a franchise. If Jamal isn’t ready to be that playoff guy every night yet, that’s okay as long as Denver doesn’t make a move as if he is.
Obviously, it’s disappointing but the only way to make it worse is to misevaluate the roster and trade for a veteran who helps for one season while letting a potential young asset walk out the door. If they can make a trade to improve the defensive depth they clearly should.
The reality is though, with what they have now, this team is a long way from a conference finals contender. Sure a piece or two on defence would help but that doesn’t change the fact all of Dallas, Utah, Portland, the Clippers, Phoenix and maybe even Golden State are looking really good right now as potential Laker opponent in the conference finals contenders.
In a year where the conference obviously isn’t wide open, their young star hasn’t taken the step they needed and their defence is a disaster, this roster is just too far from that upper echelon to risk a win now move. Let’s just say, this would feel much more Wizards trading a first round pick for Trevor Ariza than the Raptors trading for Marc Gasol.
I like the future and direction of this team obviously however, I hope they recognize this season is a slight step back year. They just need to be realistic and understand where they are in this conference right now.
If not, and they over value how it went in the bubble, they’ll open themselves up to a potentially massive mistake.