Death, taxes, and the Denver Nuggets playing bad defense. For once, only two of those three things seem certain.
The Denver Nuggets narrowly missed qualifying for postseason play at the end of the 2017-18 NBA season, and the Nuggets seem intent to make it in easily this time around. Denver is 4-0 through four games, with the second-best point differential per 100 possessions as per Cleaning the Glass.
The Nuggets’ offense is expectedly good as ever. Denver is scoring the ball slightly better than last season in terms of points per 100 possessions, although thanks to the great offenses so far this season the Nuggets are just ninth in the NBA in that stat. Denver’s real strength this year has been, somehow, its defense.
The Nuggets are allowing just 98.4 points per 100 possessions this season, which is the best mark in the NBA. The only other team to manage to stifle opponents and keep them under 100 points per 100 possessions thus far is the Boston Celtics.
Denver hasn’t faced the toughest schedule in the world quite yet, but they have matched up with the Golden State Warriors, plus the Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings. The Warriors are obviously great, and the Clippers haven’t been an easy win for anybody this season.
One of the big questions facing Denver this season would be how Paul Millsap looked. Millsap missed a lot of time last season and never meshed perfectly with Nikola Jokic and the other Nuggets.
Everything is clicking right now for Denver, which boasts two different strong lineups with Millsap, both of which have played at least 39 minutes and are outscoring opponents by at least 30 points per 100 possessions. He seems to be fitting in just fine after making sure Jokic knew he was the top dog.
Speaking of Jokic, he has played like the best player on a contender for the first four games. Although his field goals per game are down, Jokic is using more percentages than he ever has before, largely because he’s getting to the free throw line more than twice as often as he did last season (8.5 trips per game this season, 4.2 last year).
Those free throws are contributing to Jokic’s impressive per game averages of 23.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.5 steals, and 0.8 blocks. Jokic’s offense has somehow gotten even better, as he’s never scored or dealt that many dimes per game or per 36 minutes before.
With Jokic at the middle, it doesn’t seem like Denver will be able to maintain their top spot on the defensive end. His rim protection is slightly better this season, but it still isn’t tremendous. Still, even if the Nuggets are simply a good defense, nevermind a great one, they will be incredibly dangerous. Denver’s offense was always going to be good with Jokic in the middle. Now that they’ve got a defense as well, the Nuggets have been literally unbeatable.
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