The Denver Nuggets have one of the most complicated rosters to balance in the NBA. With a blend of young and up-and-coming talent mixed with veterans stabilizing the roster, it has not been an easy task for Nuggets’ head coach Michael Malone to manage the rotations on a night to night basis. This is well understood by veteran power forward Darrell Arthur.
By signing four-time All-Star Paul Millsap to a lucrative three-year contract worth up to 90-million dollars this past offseason, Denver committed to going all-in to return to the playoffs despite their roster still developing. That win-now mentality Denver established after singing Millsap indeed presented complications for the Nuggets when it comes to trying to balance the pressure of improving their youthful talent significantly while also looking to win-now with a veteran presence.
Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, and Jamal Murray are the potential cornerstones that Denver is hoping will lead the franchise to its first-ever NBA title. That core group has all of the talent in the world, and what is most incredible is that they are all are under the age of 24 and growing together.
With the Nuggets fully pushing for the playoffs with such a young roster, it is essential that somebody on the Nuggets’ squad steps up to serve as the earpiece between player-and-coach and player-and-player. Last year, that person was Mike Miller; to start the 2017-18 season, it was Jameer Nelson. With both players no longer with the Nuggets’ organization, it left a leadership void for someone to fill.
Arthur has assumed the role as the voice of the team regardless of received playing time. Arthur boasts fantastic relationships with all the Nuggets’ players and coaches and has impacted the team both on and off the court since he joined the franchise in 2013-14.
“We lost a couple guys. Mike Miller was a great guy to talk [to]. Jameer was another guy that spoke up,” Arthur explained. “With both of those guys being gone, I felt the need to step in and say something. Guys always need a vocal leader, and so I want to take the initiative in that aspect, and I feel like I’m the guy to do it.”
The praise for Arthur comes in the midst of the Nuggets’ best start under Malone. The Nuggets have managed to reach the 20 wins this season eight games earlier then they did last year when it took 45 games — not 37 — to get to reach that 20-win threshold. Players expanding their roles has a lot to do with that.
“The guy that has blown me away this year from a leadership standpoint has been Darrell Arthur,” Malone said when asked about who Denver’s voice is outside of himself. “Darrell has been unbelievable this year. His positivity, his leadership — his voice is the voice I hear after I’m done talking — and I think it’s invaluable to have a guy like that. Every player in that locker room respects the hell out of Darrell Arthur; his voice carries weight.”
Arthur’s voice resonates with the team; however, it extends beyond just the players as his viewpoints coincide with Malone’s, and because of that, he has established himself as the bridge between coach and player in Denver.
The like-mindedness between the players and coaching staff has helped maintain a healthy locker room this season. Being a player, Arthur brings a different perspective to the organization. He can still play at an adequate level, but at the same time, he has demonstrated that he has the mind of a coach in the sense of having a good feel for players and how they can be utilized best.
“What you have to love about him right now is that he’s not playing and he’s more than capable of helping us out,” Malone said. “He’s a guy that, right now, from a numbers standpoint, isn’t getting called on very often. He has not allowed that to detract from his leadership role and staying positive, staying engaged.”
After Denver suffered back-to-back losses to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers to end the 2017 calendar year, Arthur took it upon himself to talk to Malone about spicing things up moving forward. Power forward Kenneth Faried had not played in eight consecutive games leading up to Denver’s contest against the Phoenix Suns this past Wednesday night.
“Darrell Arthur comes into my office before the game and says ‘coach I want to talk to you’,” Malone said. “I said ‘sure you can’. Most times when a player comes into your office, it’s about them. ‘I need more minutes.’ ‘I want to play.'”
“Darrell Arthur is all about the team,” Malone explained. “He says we should play Kenneth Faried. It blew me away because he’s selfless — he wants what’s best for the team — and the funny thing was — and I started laughing — I said, ‘we met as a staff, and we have Kenneth in the rotation, I think he can help us as well’.”
Faried saw the court and the Nuggets destroyed the Suns 134-111.
It was one game, and one meeting between Arthur and Malone, but it was a microcosm of just how impactful the transparency Malone and Arthur have established is for the team both now and moving forward. Malone has always viewed Arthur as a leader of men and has called for him to step up more as a vocal leader, which is the role he has grown into this season.
“Last couple of years he’s wanted me to be more vocal; break out of my shell,” Arthur said of Malone. “Most of the guys respect what I have to say, and I get along with everyone on the team, so they can come to me and talk to me about different things that they probably wouldn’t talk to coach about.”
What makes Arthur such an impactful leader for this young Nuggets’ team is his tireless work ethic. Arthur felt it was time for him to take the next step in his career as a player and serve as a guide to players on the team even if a cut in playing time came with it.
“This is my 10th year, so I feel like I need to take on that leadership role,” Arthur said. “I’m not playing as much, but I see things that the players might not see that are playing. … It’s just a good feeling.”
Arthur is averaging just 8.6 minutes per contest, yet he still has one of the best attitudes on the team and is setting an example the rest of the players are latching on to — making him a polarizing figure in the eyes of the franchise.
“What really separates him, I think, is that the players have so much respect for Darrell Arthur because every single day whether it’s a day like today (at practice) when we are not doing a lot or days when we are going hard — he goes 110%,” Malone explained. “So when he does speak, players listen to him, because he is doing it. He’s not one of those guys — because I’ve been in the league a long time — but there are guys that are telling you what to do, but they are not doing it themselves. (Arthur) sets the example first and foremost, and then he gets on guys — whether it’s to hold them accountable or to encourage them. with all our young players, they listen to him. His voice carries weight and I think it really starts with the fact that he sets the example every single day and that’s why the players respect him so much.”
Another reason Nuggets players have gravitated to Arthur as a leader is because of his track record. Prior to joining the Nuggets, Arthur spent the first five seasons of his NBA career as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies. Throughout the early stages of his career in a Grizzlies uniform, the team struggled in ways similar to the Nuggets during Malone’s first couple seasons as head coach. After missing the playoff’s his first two seasons, Memphis managed to make the playoffs three years in a row when Arthur was there and have made the big dance every season since to date although that streak is likely to come to an end this season.
Nevertheless, Arthur sees some similar qualities in the Nuggets as he did in the Grizzlies during their battle to establish themselves as a playoff contender nearly a decade ago, as he now a vet on a blossoming team.
“I kind of think this team has something special; like the team we had in Memphis. We started off with a low record — won 20 games my rookie year — and gradually got better and better,” Arthur said. “I think that’s the way with this team. We are getting better and better and; eventually, we are going to make the playoff’s, and once we make the playoffs, it’s going to be a continuing thing.”
The Nuggets have been trending in the right direction since Malone has taken over as head coach. In his two-and-a-half seasons running the helm, changing the basketball culture in Denver has been a significant goal of his, which is something Arthur has helped lead on the forefront.
The Nuggets have made strides from last year to now, and because of that, they are currently in an excellent position to end the franchises four-season playoff hiatus. While guys like Jokic, Murray, and Harris lead the charge on the basketball court, Arthur has taken the initiative in trying to help the Nuggets burst onto the NBA-stage behind the scenes by grooming Denver’s youngsters for the future.
“He’s putting the team above everything — above himself — which, when we talk about our culture — our work culture, a trust culture, and a selfless culture — he embodies being selfless. He is putting everybody else above his own personal wants and needs which you have to admire and respect,” Malone said. “I think, even though he’s not impacting us on the court right now, his impact off the court, in the locker room, and in the practice court is tremendous.”