Five games into the season and the Denver Nuggets have surpassed many expert opinions. But they also showed they have a way to go to be an elite team in the NBA. But here is what we know:
- Lawson is in the driver’s seat: A week into the season and Ty Lawson has obviously been the Nuggets MVP. He has led them in scoring in two games and has been the catalyst of their uptempo offense. He scored 27 points in the Nuggets season-opening win over the defending champion Dallas Mavericks and scored 25 on the road in a losing effort to the Portland Trailblazers. He also had eight steals against the Blazers. Just like last season, Lawson is in charge of the Nuggets running-and-gunning offense. As he goes, so goes the Nuggets. And after five games, he has averaged 18.6 points, 5.4 assists and has been far more aggressive in attacking the defense than last season.
- Harrington motivated: Harrington seemed like an unlikely candidate to come back to the Nuggets in the offseason and it seemed really unlikely he’d get playing time. But instead, Harrington has shown up in Denver in shape and in turn George Karl has rewarded Harrington with playing time and the veteran forward has responded. Harrington has become the Nuggets best scorer and when the offense has become stagnant Harrington has frequently bailed the team out. He has scored in double figures in four of the first five games, including leading the Nuggets with 21 points in Saturday’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Harrington has also been finding himself on the floor late in the game, something that was of a rarity last season.
- Karl is still getting to know his team: Fans are always critical of coaches, but what seems to be their main frustration is the coach’s rotation. That has been the biggest criticism of Karl, especially his desire to play small ball. And when the Nuggets win he is a genius, but when they lose he is the first one to blame. However, while fans are still trying to adjust to their team during the first five games, so is the coach. Karl is still trying to fit Timofey Mozgov into the rotation, as well as Chris Andersen. He obviously has a soft spot for Andre Miller and will give the veteran guard big minutes. But Karl has benched Arron Afflalo late in the game, is that a sign of things to come or Afflalo being rusty? Karl also is still learning about what Rudy Fernandez brings, as well as Corey Brewer and Kenneth Faried. So will we see this same nine-man rotation the rest of the season? That has yet to be seen, but if the Nuggets continue to show success it will be hard for Karl to change things up. However, if they start struggling…well changes may occur.
- Afflalo rusty: Signing late and missing a lot of training camp is probably not the recipe for success – especially with Afflalo’s workman-like mentality. And the former UCLA star is obviously playing catch up. His usual reliable jumper has been off, much like most of the Nuggets. He has hit only .426 percent of his shots and has only made 3 of 14 from behind the arc. Afflalo’s struggles and Harrington’s hot start may be a reason why Karl has put Afflalo on the bench at times in the fourth quarter. Afflalo is forcing his game a little bit, and hopefully he can slow down and let his game come to him.
- ‘Dre is as consistent as they get: It’s easy to see why Karl likes Miller, he brings the same mentality to every game. He pushes the fast break, attacks the basket, fights for rebounds, gets to the foul line and plays scrappy defense. In five games, he has scored in double-figures four times, grabbed three or more rebounds four times and has five assists in four games as well. While Miller may not be happy coming off the bench, he is still getting his minutes. He is third on the team in minutes and is attracting enough attention to be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate if it continues.
- The need for Faried: After five games the Nuggets have statistically been one of the worst rebounding teams in the league – especially on the offensive side of the ball. And in their two losses, they were destroyed on the glass. Portland outrebounded the Nuggets 50-30 and the Lakers also dominated the glass on Saturday, 50-36. Rebounding has been an issue with the Nuggets, but none more than on the offensive boards where Denver has had a combined eight offensive rebounds in the last two games. Faried may be rusty and go through rookie struggles, but there is one thing he can do – and do it well and that is attacking the glass. Hopefully in time, Karl will unleash ‘The Manimal’.