Denver was 26th in team defense last season.
Predicting a middle-of-the-pack finish for the Nuggets doesn’t seem that bold. Considering they’re being touted as the return of the Enver Nuggets (No D), it’s at the least an unpopular opinion. There is plenty of advanced statistical analysis out there, for anyone looking for a mathematical justification of Denver’s defense. Here are last season’s defensive rankings.
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This is more of a what-my-eyes-see and what-my-ears-heard analysis.
First, we’ve seen pictures of Nikola Jokic looking slimmed down. We’ve heard that he’s spent the offseason working on footwork, defense. At this point is there anyone that believes Jokic doesn’t take criticism of his game seriously, doesn’t work at being a complete, MVP-level player? I think we’ve just scratched the surface of the young Serb’s potential. If he progresses like he has the last two seasons, there’s really no precedent for a player like him.
Wilt Chamberlain? Maybe, it’s hard to deny Wilt’s greatness but let me just throw out there that Chamberlain shot 38% from the line in ’67-’68 and just 51% for his career. Jokic, by comparison is an 83% free throw shooter for his career.
Nikola’s quest for a complete game is admirable. He may not have the speed or vertical to be a rim-protecting center but he can be a good enough defender to not be a liability. Keep in mind that he’s just 22.
Paul Millsap has a history and a reputation as a standout defender. Will Barton is not a traditional defensive standout but he is athletic and jumps passing lanes well. Barton’s defensive rating takes a hit because he turns the ball over at an above-average clip.
Gary Harris holds opponents to 36% shooting. That’s all I can make out of this wall of numbers. We tell ourselves that Harris is a standout defender but I wasn’t sure why. I wanted to see how his numbers held up but advanced stats baffle me. There’s too many ways to make the same data say opposing things about the player. As mentioned, my eyes tell me that Harris is a sufficient perimeter defender and that his defense will benefit greatly from an improved Jokic in the middle.
Jamal Murray has the ability to be good at whatever he does. If the team makes a shift to a more defensive posture, Murray can adjust.
The Warriors and Rockets last season managed to couple top-end offensive output with top-end defense. The thing both those teams have is a centerpiece for that defense. Clint Capela in Houston, Draymond Green in Oakland. This is the step Jokic is looking to take.
If defense is a matter of will as much as skill then don’t count these Nuggets out. They’ve proven that they are willing to improve and with the offense they’ll put out this year, improvement is all we’ll really need.