The Denver Nuggets have been having a roller coaster of a season so far as they sit at 7-3 on the season, but still have so many areas that they could work on.
Prior to Tuesday’s game, the Nuggets sat on top of the top of the Western Conference standings and also had a lead over the Utah Jazz in the Northwest Division, but with an uninspiring defensive effort in a 125-121 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday evening the Nuggets find themselves in fifth place out West and behind Utah in the division.
In a game that had this Hawks team come into the Mile High City and put on an offensive clinic, I give you the good, bad, and ugly.
Good—Scorching-hot first quarter
While there weren’t too many positives to take from this game, one of the bright spots for Denver was the way that they came out of the gates.
The Nuggets got out to a blazing-hot start as they went into the second quarter up 34-25 and it was behind the play of a Nuggets player that the Hawks are all too familiar with; Paul Millsap.
Millsap seemed to have found the fountain of youth early in this game as the former Hawks player had 11 of his 19 points in the opening frame alone.
Paul's first quarter so far:
5/5 from the floor
This dunk 👇 pic.twitter.com/haw0smEJf7
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) November 13, 2019
Millsap got himself going early and he provided a spark that soon flamed out for a Nuggets team that has been one of the league’s worst in the opening quarter.
Denver shot 50% from the field in the first quarter and also held the Hawks in check for their lowest scoring quarter of the entire night.
Will Barton added to Millsap’s scoring early on as he provided eight points as the Nuggets attacked the paint relentlessly, pushed the pace more than they have in recent games, and started out on the right foot on the defensive end.
If the Nuggets could keep that going for four quarters then they could assuredly get back to the team that was a game away from the Western Conference finals.
Bad – Bench Unit woes continue
It is fascinating to see the type of dip that the Nuggets bench unit has had from last season to now despite not making many moves.
Denver went from a unit that used their bench as one of their biggest strengths to now being the point of attack where teams make their push to get back in the game.
Tuesday was another game that the Hawks took full advantage against the second unit.
During his pregame press conference, head coach Michael Malone spoke to media about changes that he felt that he needed to make to get a bit of production from that unit.
“I have to do something to help our second unit,” Malone said before speaking on one of the changes that he could possibily make.
“We have been very inconsistent off of the bench this year. I have to find ways, whether it’s playcalling or whether its staggering our subs so that it’s not just five starters and five bench players at one time.”
Malone did do a bit of staggering of the lineups and tinkered with a few of the rotations, but the bench unit again struggled mightily as they gave up multiple big runs and also could not stop the Hawks electrifying offense.
Monte Morris had one of his best games of the season as he finished with 14 points, four rebounds and three assists, but other than that there was not much else that went well for Denver’s bench.
The Nuggets were without Malik Beasley (illness) and needed another offensive spark to come off of the bench and bring the energy on both ends of the floor.
Denver did not get that as the bench went 14-27 from the field and could not find a rhythm on the defensive end as well.
A rough start to begin the second quarter put Denver in a hole as the Nuggets lost the frame 38-20 and if the Nuggets cannot get the same spark off of the bench as they were getting all of last season then Malone will have to continue to shake things up and find different ways to get the team going.
Ugly – Trae Young comes alive
“He is such a tough cover,” was a quote that Malone had when speaking to reporters before the game about Hawks point guard, Trae Young. “He can pull from deep. He can get his own shot at any time and he’s a hell of a passer.”
Young did all of that in Tuesday’s game, and more as he finished with a season-high 42 points.
The second-year point guard had everything going, but saved the best for last as he finished with 15 points in the fourth quarter and also had 11 assists in the game to go along with it.
Young’s counterpart, John Collins got suspended for 25 games for violating NBA’s Anti-Drug policy so the Hawks turned to their sophomore star player to carry the load and he delivered.
Barton III has been in the league for eight seasons and has improved tremendously as a defender as he has chosen to guard some of the best players in the world. After Young’s mind-blowing performance he still was unsure of if he had seen anything like what Young had did to his team.
“He’s a special talent. He’s a special player,” Barton said. “I haven’t been in a game like that where I felt like someone dominated the game that much in a long time.”
The Nuggets defense has shown up all season long and they went into Tuesday’s game as a top-four defense.
They have committed to slowing down the team’s best player and have brought an all-in effort which has led to winning basketball. For Young to do what he did against one of the league’s most stingy teams speaks volumes to the type of player that he was and all of the Mile High City got to observe his unique talent.