Somehow, the halfway point of the NBA season is already here. And that means it is time to take stock of the Denver Nuggets’ performance thus far.
Just how good have they been on offense and defense?
Are they trending in a positive or negative direction?
What do the Nuggets need to compete with the best of the best?
With Nuggets betting top of mind, let’s take a deeper dive into Denver’s offense and defense.
Nuggets 16th in offensive rating
The Nuggets’ offense has been about as consistent as their injury report this season. Their season-long offensive rating of 109.7 ranks 16th in the league which is quite low for a team which boasts reigning Most Valuable Player and arguably the best offensive player on earth in Nikola Jokic.
As players continued to be in and out of the rotation on a nightly basis, Denver’s offense was forced to become overly simplified.
As a result, it’s ended up as a dumbed-down version of itself in order to accommodate so many new players. Several have been added on 10-day contracts, and a number have been asked to perform despite playing out of position.
Instead of constantly attacking both sides of the court and utilizing a plethora of off-ball actions to create room for cutters and shooters like they used to, the Nuggets have fallen into a rut of moving the ball around the perimeter without intention. And all the while, they’re looking for an advantage that is not there before eventually getting Jokic or someone else the ball in the hopes they can bail out the possession.
The reason for their issues comes down to a sobering reality. Without Jamal Murray or Michael Porter Jr. on the court, the Nuggets do not have enough threatening offensive players to bend opposing defenses.
Some revealing questions
- Why would an opposing help defender cheat away from their assignment to try to slow down the drive of Austin Rivers? Instead, they can just trust a teammate to slow Rivers, who has proven he struggles to score at the rim? And that’s from midrange or from beyond the arc?
- Then there’s guard Facu Campazzo, a noted non-outside shooting threat. Why would a defender fight over a screen used by Campazzo when he has shown time and time again that he is not a worrisome long-range shooter?
- And, also, why would an opposing defender come off of a Nuggets shooter to tag a JaMychal Green roll to the rim? Green just has had too many issues on the offensive side of the court.
Even having someone like P.J. Dozier back on the court would stretch defenses enough to provide the Nuggets with the requisite room to run a cohesive offense. However, as currently constructed, Denver has to get creative to score easily.
Denver lost without Jokic
To make matters worse, the offense goes through a complete collapse when Jokic heads to the bench.
With Jokic, Denver’s offensive rating of 114.1 would rank second in the league, but the second he is off the court, that number falls all the way to 101 which would be worst in the league.
Denver has been better on offense over its last five games now that it has gotten players back from injury and health and safety protocols.
Still, without Jokic in the game over the last five contests — despite being fifth in the league in offensive rating overall — the Nuggets have an offensive rating of just 101.3 which is, again, atrocious.
Until Denver can score without Jokic’s help, it will continue to struggle.
Defensive stability has been a plus
Somehow, the Nuggets’ defense has remained somewhat stable throughout their chaotic mess of injuries and health and safety protocols.
They are 13th overall with a defensive rating of 109.7. And during their last 15 games, that number has actually improved to 108.4 which is 11th in the league over that span.
Is their defensive ability their calling card in wins?
Absolutely not. But they can at least count on just how productive they will be more often than not.
Denver struggles to contain on the perimeter without Dozier and Murray. But they have smart defenders who know how to position themselves correctly to deter shots around the rim.
Aaron Gordon has been a revelation on defense this year and has provided the Nuggets with a point-of-attack defender to employ on the opposing team’s best player. He’s also a productive weak-side defender who can slide over and deter shots at the rim or stymie drives.
Jokic makes huge strides as a defender
Meanwhile, Jokic has taken a monumental leap as a defender giving the Nuggets a basis of a functional defense. He has acted as the shield on defense while Gordon acts as the spear. The two of them have given Denver a strong foundation. It’s also another reason that Jokic should repeat as the NBA MVP. As of now, his odds sit at to go back-to-back for the award.
Still, if the Nuggets hope to defend elite teams in the postseason, they will need more than two pillars to hold up their defense.
They need everyone to be on the same wavelength so when they do begin to scramble because of a blow-by on the perimeter, they can find the open man and close out with purpose. Denver needs players who can sit down in a stance and lockdown whoever is in front of them.
The Nuggets need weak side defenders who know how to rotate and when to rotate.
And not only players who can fill those defensive roles, but players who can also keep the offense operating at a high level while simultaneously raising Denver’s floor on defense.
That means the Nuggets need the likes of Davon Reed, JaMychal Green, Jeff Green and others to carry the responsibility of being two-way players who can impact both ends of the court. If Denver does not find more players who can operate under that balancing act within or outside of the organization, their ability to defeat elite teams becomes compromised in a dramatic way.
Nuggets’ best basketball remains ahead
Overall, considering all of the hurdles placed in front of them, the Nuggets being sixth in the Western Conference with a record of 22-20 with a middling offense and a somewhat stable defense is encouraging.
They still have hope one or both of Murray and/or Porter can return from their rehabilitation after surgery. If that happens, who knows how dangerous the Nuggets can become.
They have arguably the NBA’s best player in Jokic, a host of helpful role players, a de facto defensive stalwart in Gordon, and potentially the return of their second and third best players on the horizon.
The good news from a Colorado NBA betting perspective is Denver’s best basketball is still ahead which should provide hope to fans and bettors alike. For the Nuggets to be just five losses behind the Memphis Grizzlies and a top-four seed is wildly encouraging.
The Western Conference is still wide open with the Golden State Warriors sliding and the Utah Jazz dealing with chemistry issues. So if the Nuggets can get reinforcements back, who knows where they could end up by the end of the regular season?
Denver has a chance to steal homecourt advantage in the playoffs if it can find a rhythm and ride that wave to the end of the season. TheNuggets have Jokic, a plethora of role players who excel in particular situations, and the potenital return of Murray and Porter.
That could end up being the recipe for success for the Nuggets by the time the postseason arrives.