MHS Roundtable: Are the optics of the Nuggets changing?

The Denver Nuggets currently sit at 21-18 on the season and are penciled in as the sixth seed in the ultra-competitive Western Conference playoff race. The Nuggets are 2-1 in 2018 and have continued to trend in the right direction as the season has progressed.

Denver managed to reach the 20-win threshold eight-games earlier than last year when they met the mark on January 26th. The Nuggets have seen their win total increase in every season since Michael Malone took over as the teams head coach, and this season, are in prime position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2012-13.

The Nuggets’ scribes here at Mile High Sports took a moment to discuss a change in Denver’s play style, the continued emergence of Gary Harris and the popularity contest that is NBA All-Star voting.

The Nuggets pace of play has dropped from last year to now. Do you think the change has helped or hurt Denver?

Aniello Piro: The change in pace is partially by design. Michal Malone has tightened his rotations which means the same guys are playing more minutes, that forces the team to adjust their play style. I think it’s a product of Malone and the Nuggets’ understanding which players work best in which situations. With that being said, the change in pace has been a good thing for the Nuggets. Often times last season, Denver seemed to rush things on both ends of the floor, which is the mark of a young team. The team is learning to be smarter and more efficient on the court which is why the pace has slowed, but production still remains high.

Dev Johnson: It’s clearly helped in the regard that this is the best they have started since the 2010-11 season. They are not under George Karl and do not play the same type of players or schemes that they did at the time, so utilizing the talent that they have now and gearing that towards the way they’re constructed the roster has been beneficial to their hot start. What I will say is, it is tougher for teams to come to Colorado and push the pace, so it is an advantage that the Nuggets have, but being able to balance the two is important to their success.

Brendan Vogt:  It’s hard to say that anything, outside of the injuries, has hurt Denver this year in comparisons to their recent campaigns. Yes, this team boasted one of the league’s most impressive half-court offenses last year. On the other hand, this year’s half-court offense seems to lack the same magic, infectious ball movement, and same impressive pace. Yet, this team still ranks in the top-ten for points per 100 possessions, they’ve grown into a middle of the pack unit on defense, and they are winning games that they simply wouldn’t have in these prior years. The turnovers are still too high, and the ball appears to be moving too slowly at times, but the Nuggets are in a position to make the playoffs for the first time in four years despite all the missed time from key players. Whatever they’ve changed from last year to this year, it’s working.

Gary Harris continues to turn heads around the league this season. Since his rookie season, where do you think he has made the most significant strides?

AP: His scoring. Since entering the league, Harris has seen his points per game average increase every season, and that’s because of the effort he has put in. Harris is known to be one of the hardest workers on the team, and because of that, he’s seen his role with the team expand. Harris has also been regarded as a role player for the Nuggets, but this season he has evolved into a focal point of the team. With Paul Millsap hurt, Harris has established himself — alongside Nikola Jokic — as the face of the Nuggets’ franchise moving forward. His increased scoring ability, paired with perimeter defense, make him top-10 shooting guard in my book.
DJ: His offensive progression. Harris came into the league as an undersized wing that had the ability to defend and knock down a shot if needed. Now he’s a guy that is on every team’s radar as he not only has the ability to defend, but he can create for himself, and others, with the ball in his hands. His playmaking ability, along with his consistent shooting, has made him one of the better two-way players in the league. It is about time he is finally getting some recognition.

BV: Harris struggled his rookie year, but worked his tail off to improve and finished his sophomore campaign having convinced everyone around the Nuggets’ organization of his ability to become an elite NBA role player. It was an impressive leap, but he’s taken an even bigger leap this year. In the absence of Paul Millsap — six of these games overlapping with Jokic’s missed time due to a sprained ankle — Harris has stepped up as the leader-by-example that this team needs. He’s shown an ability to light up the stat sheet as a primary scorer and to create shots for himself when called upon.

Harris was once a guy who limited his shots to only when he was left open at his spots, or when teammates found him on a well-timed cut to the basket. Lately, though, Harris has shown his ability to put the ball on the floor and get himself to the rack—where he finishes at a rate of better than 60 percent—no matter where he is on the floor. His defense and his passing are much improved, but it’s Harris’ evolution into a guy who can create offense on his own that has impressed me the most.

No Nuggets were listed in the first wave of NBA All-Star voting. Is this fair or are the Nuggets being snubbed?

AP: All-Star voting is a flawed system. Based off their numbers and impact alone, both Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris should be All-Star players, but probably won’t be because of the Nuggets lack of widespread popularity. Players like Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma made the cut in the first wave of voting as rookies and play for the worst team in the Western Conference. It’s dumb, it’s stupid, and it’s likely the Nuggets’ will probably never get the proper amount of recognition they deserve.

DJ: Fair. The players that are above them are deserving and nobody automatically stands out that anyone should be in the All-Star game for the Nuggets. I think in the coming weeks — with some good games — Jokic can make an appearance and increase his chances.

BV: Nuggets fans have every right to want to see Jokic and Harris in the All-Star game, but frankly they shouldn’t care if they don’t. The All-Star voting has always reflected the loyalty and sheer size of certain fan groups more than it has actually rewarded the season’s top performers. Whether Jokic is deserving or not is a different question. Do we actually expect him to garner enough national attention and love to make this list?

That’s okay though. Just be content in knowing that Jokic is a potential superstar and that Harris continues to evolve every day. Nuggets’ fans don’t need the national vote or the spotlight to validate what they already know: these two can ball.