Fun fact about the Denver Nuggets: They might have more trendy NBA Twitter fans than actual hometown supporters. While the hipster hoops head’s response to “You know who I low-key really love to watch?” is always Nikola Jokić’s squad, they’re behind the Broncos, Avalanche, and the Rockies when it comes to the prototypical Colorado sports fan.
That could be due to the fact that the Avs and Nuggets are entering their fourth season having their games blacked out on the primary cable carrier in the state because Stan Kroenke is a cross between Snidely Whiplash and a urinal cake, but I digress.
After starting the season 2-2 with a couple of lopsided losses to the Jazz and Trail Blazers, Denver has won five of six, including a little payback against Utah. Their 7-3 record after 10 games is good for a three-way tie for second in the West. The immaculate starting five has a plus-minus of 17, and even though the defense could be a little better, this looks like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster that NBA top-knots pined for.
Nikola Jokić is .7 assists shy from averaging 20-10-10
If Russell Westbrook hadn’t sullied the pristine reputation of triple-doubles, Jokić winning another MVP might not be a borderline impossibility. However, I think he’d prefer to be flanked by Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. over Will Barton and Monte Morris than another trophy that’s not the Larry O’Brien.
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His scoring average has dipped (27 to 21) almost as much as his shot attempts (18 to 13) despite the Serbian shooting better than 61 percent from the field. The crazy thing is his 61-23-87 shooting splits could still go higher. Jokić is 10 points below his career mark from 3 on two attempts per game, and those looks have either been open or wide the fuck open, according to NBA.com.
Obviously, the return of the team’s perimeter threats accounts for the shots he’s given up, but that just means a boon for his assist numbers. At 9.3 dimes per contest, he’s fifth in the league.
I could get swept up in the Joker’s stat lines all day — and I’m not even an analytics stan whose eyes roll back in their head when a guy’s PER surpasses 30. Take it easy, Kevin, it’s just basketball. Stop moaning like you’re being overwhelmed with foie gras and foreplay.
See? I got sidetracked while getting sidetracked talking about Jokić’s stats. Back to the Nuggets, specifically MPJ and Murray.
Jamal Murray didn’t lose burst, but is still finding touch and confidence
The team’s de facto No. 2 that last time we saw Denver’s best three on the floor together was Murray. He’s playing that way, leading all Nuggets in field goal attempts even though he’s playing the least of any starter. You’d like to see more than 15 points per game from 14 shots. On his highest outputs of the season — 21-, 24-, and 19-point nights in three of the past four games — he’s needed 21, 19, and 17 shots to get there, respectively.
That said, the seventh-year guard is still ramping up in his return from a torn ACL and has shown flashes of his previous form that lead you to believe those legs still have rocket boosters in them.
You can tell Murray has a little ways to go before his fearlessness fully returns, and with that, his trips to the stripe. He was getting to the line three times per outing before the injury, but is barely earning two freebies per night. (The free throw percentage oddly is way down, hovering around 60 percent, so I imagine that’ll correct itself, too.)
Being 25 years old, in a pressure-less situation, and having shown signs of the guy capable of dropping 50 in a playoff game, I think he’ll be fine by January.
Half of Michael Porter Jr.’s shots are 3s — and he’s hitting half of them
The X-factor of what Denver could be though revolves around Porter. The most games he’s appeared in during his four-plus years in the NBA is 61, and he has one year with zero and another — last season — with nine.
The 6-foot-10 swingman has already played in as many contests this year as 2021-22, and is actually outscoring Murray by three points per outing while shooting a shot less than him. The key is Porter’s attempts from deep. Once unheard of and now increasingly common, seven of his 13 launches per night come from behind the arc.
You could argue that MPJ’s current 49 percent from deep isn’t sustainable, and you’d be partially correct. The guy shot 42 and 44 percent in his only true seasons of work, so when it falls, it probably won’t be by that much.
Who the hell knows about his health three, or four months from now. Yet it is encouraging that Porter is right back into starters’ minutes while looking like the stupid luxury wing option Nuggets’ fans hope he can be.
I could do a little bit about how good Denver’s best three bench scorers have been, or the offensive arsenal Jokić developed as a one-man show that hasn’t had to use yet, but I’ve already aroused these thick frames enough. You need to be doused with some cold water, like the Nuggets’ middle-of-the-pack, 110-points-allowed defense.