Before the season tipped off, the expectations in Denver were this Nuggets team was ready to be a contender. Even outside the Rockie Mountains, the sense was the Nuggets were a top-four seed with the potential to push the Clippers and Lakers in the postseason if things went right.
Thursday night, Denver fell to 3-2 on the young season and handed the Pelicans their first win, a 122-107 New Orleans win on a national TNT game.
After the game, a pissed off Nuggets coach Mike Malone ripped into his team for reading their own press clippings, via Andrew Lopez of ESPN.
“I’m embarrassed,” Malone said at his postgame news conference. “That was an embarrassing effort defensively. Gave up 37 fast-break points. You can give all the transition defense rules that you want. To me, transition defense boils down to one thing — effort. Get back. You can tell them. You can lead a horse to water, whatever analogy you want to use. We did not get back.”…
“We’re a great talk team. We can talk before the season starts about all the things we want to accomplish, and we want to be a contending team,” Malone said. “It’s all bulls—. Don’t tell me about it, show me. And right now we’ve got a lot of guys that aren’t showing me much.”
Malone specifically called out his starters — Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Torrey Craig, Paul Millsap, and Nikola Jokic — who were -9 in a little less than 14 minutes on the court together, struggling mostly on the defensive end as a group. That five-some has struggled all season on both ends of the floor (Craig was starting in place of Will Barton, who is out with toe inflammation).
The Nuggets have just been okay to start the season, with a middle-of-the-pack offense and defense, and a negative -1.3 net rating. After winning their first three games, the Nuggets have dropped two in a row and now travel to Orlando, before returning home to face red-hot Miami.
It’s not just one thing leading to the slow start, but at the heart of it is Jokic’s game is off. He is hitting just 21.4 percent from three and is down five points per game, he is fouling and turning the ball over more. Beyond all that, when he gets the ball he doesn’t move like the decisive man with a plan of years past, and that passivity quickly spreads through the offense. It’s not all the time, early on against the Pelicans he was calling for the ball and making plays, but it’s not consistent (as he was in previous seasons)
It’s far too early to read much into this (Denver is 3-2 still), it could be just a malaise to start the season (with Jokic coming off having played in FIBA’s World Cup in China). The Nuggets could use to play a little faster, get some easy buckets, and find a rhythm. They need to be a little more focused on the defensive end.
If not, there are more embarrassing nights coming.