It’s way too early to make sweeping conclusions about any part of the Denver Nuggets season to date.

Or is it?

The Nuggets have played roughly 6.1% of their regular season schedule thus far. With a 3-2 record, they’re currently tied for sixth place in the Western Conference behind the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies, Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, and New Orleans Pelicans. Teams like the Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks, and Los Angeles Clippers are all currently either in the play-in tournament field or out of the playoff picture completely.

It’s a good thing they don’t decide the playoff field after just five games, because a lot of weird, surprising trends have cropped up for a variety of teams. Deciding whether those trends are real or not real is an important part of every regular season. For example, the Cleveland Cavaliers turned out to be great last season until injuries struck them. The Golden State Warriors began the season 18-2, and they turned out to win the title. On the flip side, the Chicago Bulls began last season 26-10 but went 20-26 the rest of the way, losing in the first round in the playoffs in embarrassing fashion.

Some trends prove to be prophetic. Some trends prove to be imprecise.

Here are four trends for the Nuggets to begin the season. Let’s decide if they’re real or not real:

Defensive Rating

In the five games the Nuggets have played thus far, they possess a 117.8 defensive rating, according to Cleaning The Glass, a site that removes garbage time baskets from the equation. That ranks 23rd in the NBA so far. To simplify it even more, the Nuggets have played horrible defense in two of the five games thus far, decent defense in two of the five, and great defense in one of the five.

In all, the Nuggets have been subpar, which is to be expected given the number of new faces. Asking players that haven’t played together to play elite defense right off the bat is just asking for trouble. Bruce Brown, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Christian Braun have proven to be nice defensive additions thus far, but things haven’t clicked as a unit just yet.

Brown and KCP have both mentioned communication as an area of improvement for Denver. I would throw out stronger effort as another. In terms of defensive talent, it’s clear that the Nuggets are better than their 23rd ranked defensive rating would suggest. They’re closer to a top ten unit than a bottom ten unit based on talent alone. How close they end up getting largely depends on how close they want to rise on that end. I suspect the effort level will improve in November, and a better defensive ranking will soon follow.

Verdict: Not Real


As of this moment, the Nuggets are maintaining a 48.8% rebounding rate on the season, according to the NBA website. That ranks 24th in the NBA and is a far cry from where the Nuggets normally land. During Nikola Jokić’s entire career, the Nuggets have ranked 4th, 3rd, 11th, 2nd, 2nd, 1st, and 7th in rebounding rate in consecutive seasons. It’s perhaps the greatest staple of the Jokić era.

The Nuggets attempt to win the battle on the glass, and when they do, they usually win games. So far this season, the Nuggets are 2-0 in games they’ve won the rebounding battle. They’re 1-2 in games they’ve been outrebounded. It’s an important part of who the Nuggets are, and I doubt it’s going away soon.

Look for the Nuggets to improve in the rebounding department throughout the year and return to the top 10.

Verdict: Not Real

Three-point shooting

On the season, the Nuggets are currently shooting 38.4% from three-point range. That ranks ninth in the NBA. Last year, the Nuggets shot 35.3%, which ranked 16th. Adding KCP, Michael Porter Jr., and Jamal Murray into the fold is certainly going to help improve upon last year’s ranking. The question is whether Denver’s closer to the top half or bottom half of the top 10.

It’s likely too early to tell. The Nuggets are going through the growing pains right now. Murray is clearly hampered shooting in his effort to kick off the rust. Porter doesn’t look bothered at all, but that could change as the season wears on. KCP is a shoo-in to shoot roughly 37% to 40% based on his previous seasons.

How high the rest of the Nuggets can rise is the biggest mystery. Gordon has began the season 1-of-16 from distance (6.3%). Murray has begun the year 5-of-19 (26.3%). Those numbers will definitely come up, though it wouldn’t surprise me if they don’t rise as high as many would hope. Bones Hyland has also begun the season at 35.0%, which seems about where he will end up given the difficulty of his shots. If he can elevate to 38 or 40%, that will mean a lot for everyone else too.

I suspect top 10 is about where they finish.

Verdict: Real for Top 10, Not Real for Top 5

Minute distribution

The last trend is of course incredibly early (as are the rest of them) but it gives me an excuse to highlight some interesting numbers.

Here’s Denver’s minute-per-game ranks as of Thursday night:

  1. Nikola Jokić – 33.6 minutes per game
  2. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – 31.0
  3. Aaron Gordon – 29.2
  4. Michael Porter Jr. – 29.0
  5. Bruce Brown – 27.2
  6. Jamal Murray – 27.0
  7. Jeff Green – 19.0
  8. Bones Hyland – 17.0
  9. Christian Braun – 15.8
  10. DeAndre Jordan – 10.3
  11. Davon Reed – 7.3
  12. Zeke Nnaji – 4.5

At the top, it isn’t surprising to see Jokić and KCP. Gordon and Porter next makes sense too. Brown basically tied with Murray is understandable, though I’d expect Murray to be at 30+ MPG by the end of the season.

The drop-off from the top six in the rotation to the rest of the group is steep. Denver basically as six guys playing starter minutes. The next three – Green, Bones, and Braun – are the only other three in the circle of trust at the moment. Braun has proven himself early, and there’s a lot to like about where he goes from here. Davon Reed is his primary competition at backup wing, but Braun has outplayed him thus far.

If those nine represent a nine-man rotation, then that seems reasonable. The 10th player will clearly end up being a backup center. Whether it remains Jordan, pivots to Nnaji, or ends up being someone else remains to be seen.

But as of now, this rotation feels right, even if it’s been clunky so far.

Verdict: Real