Denver Nuggets: 3 Unsung Heroes of the 8-1 Start

Denver Nuggets (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
Denver Nuggets (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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Denver Nuggets
Denver Nuggets (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images) /

We’re going to go ahead and be giddy for a moment. The Denver Nuggets are 8-1 for the first time in 46 years. The Pepsi Center is rocking.

Right now, in this moment, it does not matter if it lasts.  It doesn’t matter what the three-point shooting percentage is.  Turnovers don’t matter, Jamal Murray’s shooting is irrelevant.

What matters, right now is 8-1.  There are generations of Nuggets fans that haven’t seen 8-1.  Carmelo Anthony was never 8-1.  Alex English, Dikembe Mutombo and Chauncey Billups were never 8-1.

I like to say I’ve been a Nuggets fan since my birth in 1967.  It coincides with the beginning of the Nuggets, so there’s a nice symmetry.  It’s not true, though, I really started paying attention to the Nuggets when I was about 10.  So, I have never seen 8-1.  I really don’t know what to do, Nugglife tells me this isn’t going to last.  What I see on the floor, however is making it harder and harder to discount exactly how the Nuggets are 8-1.

What we were told on media day and what we honestly knew after last season’s late scoring surge:  Denver would score……a lot.  Defense would be to challenge at the three-point line but how the Nuggets were going to make that next step, a playoff berth was predicated on offense.

All of that makes it hard to trust how well these Nuggets are playing defense.  It feels like coach Michael Malone was playing possum with us.  This Denver team is really good, defensively.  They’ve held five of their nine opponents under 100-points.  On Saturday, they held the Utah Jazz under 90. More than just the numbers, which are great, the Nuggets are crisp on rotations, they cover up so well.  Paul Millsap and Gary Harris were expected to be defensive leaders.  What’s unexpected is the contributions of Jamal Murray and more importantly Nikola Jokic.

If you question Jokic’ defensive improvement, consider that he outplayed reigning DPOY Rudy Gobert on Saturday, on the defensive end.

The starters have some offensive issues to work out but the defensive effort and scheme are sound.  There’s a lot of credit to go around for the early-season performance but there are three guys that have really brought a level of play that’s put the Nuggets from trendy but fringe playoff pick to “holy cow, the Nuggets are the second-best team in the West”.