The Denver Nuggets first 11 games of the 2019-20 were a strange concoction of unstable and inconsistent play leading to a strong 8-3 record.
On one hand, the Nuggets have played far from their best basketball and were still on pace to win 59 games, which would be a franchise record.
On the other hand, the Nuggets offense looked dysfunctional, their defense had been extremely strong in moments and disasterous in others, Nikola Jokic has not played like the MVP candidate he was projected to be, the Nuggets are missing open shots at an alarming rate, and to top it off, their bench unit has been very underwhelming.
With so many concerns looming over the Nuggets 8-3 start, Denver was in need of a convincing win, and on Sunday afternoon in Memphis, the Nuggets did exactly that with a 131-114 thrashing of the Grizzlies.
With that being said, here are the good, great, and awesome from Denver’s feel-good win in Memphis.
Good – Juancho Hernangomez’s impact on Denver’s win
Juancho Hernangomez has constantly been regarded as one of the best teammates that anyone in the Nuggets locker room has ever been around.
Everyone from Jamal Murray to Nikola Jokic to Paul Millsap has raved about Hernangomez’s uplifting personality and infectious energy. He has been an indispensable source of positivity throughout a rocky start to the 2019-20 season.
Because of that fact, Hernangomez’s season-best performance — 15 points, three rebounds, and two assists on 5-6 shooting in 29 minutes of action — on Sunday afternoon on the road against the Grizzlies carried some extra excitement for the rest of the Nuggets roster.
“(Juancho’s) one of the best teammates I’ve ever had,” Murray said after the Nuggets win in Memphis according to Mike Singer of the Denver Post. “He’s first one to stand up on the bench and clap for his teammates and cheer everybody on. He’s always talking, even if he can’t talk English.”
Just as it has all season long, Hernangomez’s infectious energy was the difference maker in the game.
In the first half, Hernangomez played 14-straight minutes from the end of the first quarter until the halftime break. In those 14 minutes, the Nuggets outscored the Grizzlies by 29 points. He was an integral part of the Nuggets second-quarter dismantling of the Grizzlies which resulted in Denver winning the second quarter by a score of 44-17.
Without that burst from Hernangomez, who knows what could have happened. Denver won the game in the second quarter and Hernangomez was a massive part of that incredible 12-minute stretch of basketball.
Great – Jamal Murray is unstoppable
Jamal Murray had the first nine points of the game for the Nuggets and did not slow down at all from that point forward.
Despite only playing three quarters, Murray had 39 points, four rebounds, and eight assists in 31 minutes of action. He hit 14 of his 24 shots, shot 7-12 from three-point range, and sank all four of his free throws all while not turning the ball over a single time.
The stat line fully depicts just how great Murray was against the Grizzlies, but what was even more important than his production was how he was getting his shots.
Murray was ready to shoot at every single moment of his time on the court and it did not matter if he was on the ball or off the ball. He was hitting pull-up triples in the pick-and-roll, coming off screens and drilling 3-pointers, spotting up off of the ball ready for catch-and-shoot jumpers, and was also pulling up in transition.
Yes, Murray had a couple bad shots that he could have avoided, but almost all of his attempts came within the flow of the offense and not in spite of it. In terms of shot selection, this was one of Murray’s best games as a professional.
In addition to his obvious contributions as a scorer, Murray also had eight assists against zero turnovers for good measure as well as three steals and a block. Overall, Murray had one of his best games as a professional.
Awesome – The Nuggets finally begin to look like themselves again
This was the Nuggets most complete game of the 2019-20 season and it really wasn’t close.
Not only did the Nuggets score 131 points while holding the Grizzlies to just 114 points, but it was how they were able to do it.
Denver’s offense was hardly the dysfunctional mess it was early in the season. They had a season-high 36 assists on 49 made baskets while only committing 12 turnovers. They had a whopping 29 fastbreak points, had a ton of great looks in the paint which led to 50 paint points, and even hit 18 of their 32 3-pointers on the night.
Yes, Murray had a great individual night, but his offensive output was a product of Denver’s offensive scheme. Nikola Jokic was great during his time on the floor as he racked up eight assists in 26 minutes and was the catalyst for Denver’s starters. Paul Millsap, like Murray, got great looks in the flow of the offense as he racked up 23 points on 8-11 shooting.
On defense, the Nuggets were flying around and being disruptive. They forced the Grizzlies into 16 turnovers and held them to just 46.4% shooting on the night despite Memphis shooting incredibly well in garbage time. The Nuggets had 10 steals and 10 blocks which fueled their stellar play in transition.
As a cherry on top, the Nuggets bench unit finally looked like the terror that it was always meant to be. They collectively scored 46 points and shot 22-34 from the field while also hitting 7-10 shots from three-point range.
Jerami Grant had one of his best games as a member of the Nuggets and it came in a creation role, not in an off-ball finisher role. He had 12 points on 4-6 shooting with most of his baskets coming on drives to the rim. In additon to his efficient scoring night, Grant also had four rebounds, five assists, and a block for good measure.
The last interesting tidbit as it relates to the Nuggets bench unit was the inspired play of Hernangomez, who has taken over Torrey Craig’s role as the Nuggets backup small forward. Hernangomez played more minutes than any other reserve for the Nuggets and he managed to accumulate a season-high 15 points while shooting 5-6 from the field and 4-5 from three-point range. He also added three rebounds, two assists, and a steal to go with his typical infections energy.
The Nuggets win on the road against the Grizzlies was their most well-rounded game of the season.