Let me tell a quick story: I was out grabbing some pizza on Thursday night when one of my friends asked how the Denver Nuggets were 9-2 to start the NBA season. He proceeded to ask us to name some of the players on the Nuggets roster. In total, we came up with the name of five players.
Denver has quietly slipped under the radar of analysts to start the season off in flying fashion. A team that has been underappreciated by almost everyone outside of the Nuggets fan base, this roster has knocked off some solid teams to kick start 2018.
One of the key reasons to the incredible start is the fact that Denver is almost impossible to beat at home. Golden State and Boston have both gone to the Pepsi Center looking for a win, and both came back short. In home games, visiting teams average just a touch under 102 points per game. Denver has only scored less than that once at home, and they were still able to hand Golden State a rare loss.
The road record took a hit at Memphis on Wednesday, with a game-winning three rimming out seconds from the buzzer. That leaves the Nuggets at 9-2, with a 3-2 record on the road. Both of those losses have been close, with the only other loss to a rampaging Lakers team off the back of a LeBron James triple-double.
Some of this could be attributed to the standout start that Nikola Jokic has had for Denver, with 6 double-doubles and a triple-double in the first 11 games. Averaging almost a point higher than his career at the moment, Jokic has improved dramatically in distribution closer to the basket. He is averaging roughly 3 assists a game more than his career average, and his scoring efficiency is better now than ever before.
When Jokic is on the court, Denver averages almost 102 points per 100 possessions, and he is averaging close to 38% from the arc. The team averages almost 13 points less when Jokic is off the court. While it shows his impact when he is on the court, Denver has their own personnel issues that could help solve that.
Will Barton and Isaiah Thomas are both still recovering from surgery in the off-season. At their best, Barton is a huge threat from range and Thomas can drive deep into the paint, as well as hit baskets from the arc. Those injuries left a huge hole in the wing rotation, one that Torrey Craig at times can fill. At other times, it looks as if Denver struggles on the attack.
Shooting from range has been somewhat of an issue as well, something that was prevalent against Memphis. Denver shot just 25% from the arc, with Jamaal Murray going 2-9. According to Bleacher Report, Denver shot at 37.5% from the arc last year. This year, the Nuggets are shooting at 30.8%.
The Nuggets are 9-1 and Jamal Murray and Gary Harris are shooting a combined 29.2 percent from three.
That's gonna go up. Jokic's 37.9 might go up too.
— Andy Bailey (@AndrewDBailey) November 6, 2018
There is a chance to right this wrong, with a four-game home stretch crucial for Denver to keep the strong start going. Milwaukee and Houston are back-to-back during that time span, with Houston being viewed as a guaranteed playoff team at the start of the year. This could be an early chance to see what the first round of the playoffs look like if Houston can get back on track this season.
There is no denying the potential that this Denver team has. Last year, they got as close to making the Finals as possible without ending up in the playoffs. This year, the Nuggets have a chance to make a deep playoff run and surprise a few teams. If Denver can hold it together and keep playing well when it counts, then there will be plenty of talk about Denver at the back end of the season.