The Denver Nuggets were meant to be good this season. They have talent across the roster and a mix of youth and experience. A top four berth in the Western Conference was well within reach.
What we have seen in the first three weeks or so of the season, though, has been remarkable. Denver are 9-1 – a record only bettered by Golden State and Toronto. They have beaten the Warriors, Celtics, Pelicans and Jazz. They are one of the best teams in the league right now.
Draft pick Michael Porter and free agent acquisition Isaiah Thomas are yet to play a minute this season. Even without those two, this has been a complete team effort. No player averages more than 18.9 points per game – this is not about riding a couple of stars, this has been a string of consistent performances from all the roster.
Nikola Jokic is the star, but he is unique and not like other stars. He plays as the centre, but he’s a passer, averaging 7.7 assists per game. He rebounds, shoots a good percentage of his three-pointers and gets his teammates good looks.
Paul Millsap has remained healthy so far and provides an experienced head on a young roster. He has been a relatively peripheral figure this season, but his role is obviously key.
Gary Harris and Jamal Murray have carried the scoring burden. Murray showed this on the biggest stage against Boston this week, while Harris has been reliable, scoring double figure points in every game this season.
The most surprising thing has been the defensive effort. The Nuggets rate third in the league in defensive rating. They were 25th in that category last season. Denver are rebounding well, particularly on the offensive end, and are stealing the ball an average of nine times per game. Defence is obviously not all about effort, but it plays a part. The Nuggets are working for each other and looking as good as any team in the NBA.
Led by Jokic’s exceptional passing, they are sharing the ball well, too. Another sign of a team playing unselfishly – working for the best shot for the team, not looking to pull up for a jumper whenever you get the slightest chance.
Will Barton, Thomas and Porter are out for some time yet. The prospect of that trio joining this already formidable unit is exciting, though.
Denver face Milwaukee, Houston and New Orleans next week. If they come through those games looking as good as they have thus far, we could be talking about the Nuggets as Golden State’s closest competitors.