The Denver Nuggets are in the midst of their first season under head coach Michael Malone, and while the 25-38 record may not reflect it, a change in culture is well underway.

Last year the Nuggets were 30-52, but a negative cloud surrounded the team. Not only did Brian Shaw not have a successful run as an Xs and Os head coach, but he destroyed every bit of team chemistry remaining from the George Karl era.

In the span of an offseason, and with no significant out flux of talent, the Nuggets went from one of the most consistent, winning franchises in the NBA to a dysfunctional mess. Should some of the blame fall on the players? Sure. But in the end, he’s the head coach, and the buck needs to stop there. Less than two years from when he first entered the facility, Shaw was fired, and rightfully so.

Since that time, a rebuild and rebirth has taken place.

The Nuggets brought in Michael Malone as their head coach and right away he’s made an impact.

From day one, Malone has taken a father-figure-like role with his players, and that is one of his best attributes; unlike Shaw, he connects with each and every one the guys in his locker room.

He cares, he shows energy and passion, and he believes in his guys. He wants them to be great. All of this has led to a positive, dynamic culture in the Mile High City, both in wins and in losses.

“Kids are so different today. You have to build them up,” Malone told Michael Lee of Yahoo sports. “Make sure they know that you love them, because if they don’t think you love them and you do that [get overly critical and negative], you lose them like that. I think that goes a long way. Some players may think, I am just an asset. I am just a position. I am just a stat. Whereas if you want to get the most out of them, you have to get to know them.”

This quote perfectly demonstrates the compassion and love Malone has for his players. Notice the words and phrases Malone uses: “love,” “get to know them,” “build them up.”

It’s with this compassion that Malone has helped so many of his guys reach new heights. Most notably, of course, Will Barton.

Barton 2014-15 stats: 3.0 points; 1.1 rebounds; 0.9 assists (Portland)

Barton 2015-16 stats: 15.1 points; 6.1 rebounds; 2.5 assists

An incredible change occurred in about a year’s time for Barton, and Malone deserves a lot of credit for simply showing faith in the potential Barton brought to the table.

It is not just Barton, though. Guys like Garry Harris and Danilo Gallinari, just to name a couple, have had their best season under Malone.

Harris 2014-15 stats: 3.4 points; 0.5 assists; 1.2 rebounds

Harris 2015-16 stats: 11.6 points; 1.8 assists; 2.9 rebounds

Gallinari 2014-15 stats: 12.4 points; 1.4 assists; 3.7 rebounds

Gallinari 2015-16 stats: 19.5 points; 2.5 assists; 5.3 rebounds

Numbers don’t lie, and they show that, statistically speaking, the guys have been playing better basketball under head coach Michael Malone. And it doesn’t stop with those three. Nikola Jokic has become a revelation under Malone. Nobody expected him to play, let alone shine as one of the best rookies in the league. And Darrelle Arthur? Well, that long-rumored three point shot finally decided to make an appearance this season.

Malone has formed a bond within the entire organization. Guys always pick each other up and help each other out, regardless of the outcome of a game or practice. The guys care about one another, and that has formed unity in the locker.

More importantly, he’s created a sense of trust between front office, coaches and team.

“I am a competitor” Malone said following his team’s win Sunday. “To see our guys work so hard and to get a pay off is rewarding; that’s all that matters to me. I feel the culture is changing, I feel we have guys that have bought in, that are playing for each other.”

Unity is the word that comes to mind when you think of what Michael Malone has done in his first year as coach. He was presented with a tough challenge when he entered, but he has done a superb job at mending wounds left by the previous regime.

“That was a big goal of mine” Malone said. “Year one change the culture. I had heard so much from the last couple of years, and our job this year was to change the culture, get guys to buy in, and play the right way. We are not there yet, but we are heading in the right direction

One major positive that will be taken from this season, regardless of the team’s record, is that Malone has erased the toxic environment that was built under the Shaw regime. If that doesn’t lead to victories this season, it will in the near future.

In year one of the Malone era, a blueprint has been built.