Well, we are officially one week into the season and there are a number of odd story-lines. Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo were both suspended for boxing each other. Here’s a weirder one, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook are both 0-3 while teams like the Los Angeles Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies have two wins under their belt. However, the weirdest thing I’ve seen over the first week of the season involves the Denver Nuggets. They are statistically one of the best defensive team in the NBA.
Yes, the Nuggets who previously ranked in the bottom 10 of defensive efficiency. Yes, they do not usually put as much effort on the defensive side of the ball. However, this year they are tied with the Boston Celtics for the number one defensive rating.
Are you sure it’s not just their schedule so far?
The Nuggets have held their first three opponents to less than 100 points and made offense difficult. Sure the first team they beat were the “slow it down” Los Angeles Clippers so holding them to sub-100 is not that impressive. However, their next game was against a high-powered Phoenix Sun’s offense that is led by the potent Devin Booker. They kept Booker in check and the Nuggets blew away the Suns in impressive fashion.
Yet, holding that offense to under 100 is not even close to how impressive their showing was in game three. The Nuggets held the reigning champion Golden State Warriors to 98 points on the second night of a back-to-back. If that’s not impressive, than I do not know what is in regards to good defense.
Most teams go into games against the Warriors knowing that the only way to beat them is to outscore them. That usually requires offensive outbursts by a number of guys and then some if you want to try and outlast Steph Curry and company. Nevertheless, the Nuggets had one of their poorest shooting nights and somehow pulled away with a victory thanks to Juancho Hernangomez’s key block. (Credit video to Hoops Nation Channel)
Obviously this defensive effort comes as a bit of surprise to almost everyone. We knew that the Nuggets stressed defense and proper defensive principles during the offseason, but this is incredible. This creates a pretty important question for those trying to figure out what happened to the Nuggets. What or who deserves the credit for the Nuggets sudden change on the defensive end?
You do not have to be the best group of defenders to be a great defense. Denver does not have a Kawhi Leonard or Marcus Smart who wrecks opposing offenses with their defense skill-set. However, the Nuggets have showcased something that trumps defense skills, and that’s intensity.
The Nuggets are a swarm of bees when on the defensive side. Whether it’s helping the helper or hedging on-ball screens, the Nuggets are doing it hard and fast. Sure, the technique might not be stellar, but if you hustle and run players off of their spot, it proves to be just as effective.
Nikola Jokic has shown the most growth as of late. Compared to his defensive intensity last year, Jokic is looking like an All-NBA defender. He is staying in front of guards when he gets switched out on the perimeter. He is not letting ball-handlers penetrate following a ball screen. In fact, he is pushing ball handlers East and West rather than North or South. Just that is paying dividends for the Nuggets defensive efficiency.
Overall, it just looks like the Nuggets are holding themselves accountable on the defensive end of the floor. Previous years, the Nuggets figured they should just utilize the altitude. The usual game-plan was to try to just run their opponents off the floor. While it proved effective at points, it was not a consistent way to try to win basketball games.
If the Nuggets can maintain this defensive intensity, they can become an even more dangerous team than predicted. The offense will come, but having a strong defense to help keep the team afloat will be key early in the season.
Gambling this season? Want to try it just to see what it feels like? Go to MyBookie.ag and use promo code ARMCHAIR25 at checkout. They will match your deposit dollar for dollar. Putting in $100? You’ll now have $200.