In Melvin We Trust


Melvin Hunt was never supposed to be here. Brought in as an assistant coach under George Karl in 2005 (and before that in Cleveland, Los Angeles and Houston, where he worked in various capacities), Hunt was here to assist. He was in Denver to support former Head Coach Brian Shaw in an effort to help a fringe Playoff team get back to playing meaningful games late into the summer months of May and June.

But things always don’t go according to plan in the NBA, and like many of this season’s storylines, Hunt’s rise to a head coaching gig was no different. What has unfolded since Shaw’s dismissal and Hunt’s inception, is begging the question that this relationship may have been meant to be from the start.

By all accounts, this Denver Nuggets team was dead in the water. They were limping towards their summer vacations and offseason with a feeling of senioritis many of Denver’s players hadn’t experienced since their high school or college days. Although, after a 20-39 start, with the 24th ranked offense, the 25th ranked defense and the rollercoaster year Denver has been through, you can talk yourself into empathizing with such a sentiment.

Live Feed

NBA Christmas Day games: Full schedule and how to watch
NBA Christmas Day games: Full schedule and how to watch /


  • Charles Barkley names two players who make him ‘feel good’ about current NBAFanSided
  • ESPN experts predict Golden State Warriors' chances of 2024 NBA championshipBlue Man Hoop
  • Projecting Golden State Warriors’ monthly win-loss record: DecemberBlue Man Hoop
  • NBA Player Rankings: Using advanced stats to rank top 5 playmakersSir Charles In Charge
  • NBA: Predicting the next jersey number to be retired by all 30 teamsSir Charles In Charge
  • Shaw was fired on March 1st and three weeks later, Hunt has led Denver to a 6-3 mark. The first-time head coach has the Nuggets playing inspired, aggressive and they look genuinely excited to play basketball for this first time all season.

    The impact was immediate and it became apparent from day one of the Melvin Hunt era that he would make an impact. This roster responded resoundingly to trading in Shaw’s militaristic attitude and demeanor, for Hunt’s laid back, but passionate approach.

    Denver has fired off wins against defensive juggernauts like Milwaukee, well-oiled offensive machines like Atlanta, and a New Orleans squad fighting for its Playoff life with a 22-year old who is having arguably the greatest season of all time. The Nuggets have also taken care of Golden State, the league’s best team (record-wise) all season long; an impressive showing even with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Andre Iguodala all sitting out.

    The three losses the Nuggets have accumulated aren’t anything to hang your head about either.

    Their first was by nine points in San Antonio to a Spurs team, who is making their typical second-half surge, and their second was a 14-point loss to Houston, against arguably the league’s Most Valuable Player (James Harden). Monday night, Denver dropped their third under Hunt, an 11-point loss in Memphis, in a game that somehow, someway remained close through four quarters, even when Denver wasn’t even trying to win.

    The stats back up Denver’s turnaround as well.

    According to, under Hunt, the Nuggets have a top-12 offense, registering a very respectable 104.7 offensive rating and the ninth best defensive rating, at 99.3 points per-100-possessions. Denver’s offensive and defensive efficiencies make up a net rating of 5.4. which is good for the eighth best mark in the league since March 3rd.

    Here’s a more in depth breakdown showing Denver’s improvement under Hunt, with the league rank in parenthesis.

    Shaw20-39 (25th)100.2 (24rd)105.3 (25th)-5.1 (25th)98.36 (5th)
    Hunt6-3 (10th)104.7 (12th)99.3 (9th)5.4 (8th)98.55 (7th)

    (Stats via

    Looking further into Denver’s turnaround, it’s clear that Hunt’s style and charisma is rubbing off on his players. For the first time all year, these guys are having fun and enjoying themselves, which is important, right?

    Danilo Gallinari is having what I like to call his ‘renaissance’ over his past eight games under Hunt. After a first half of the season where he looked like a shell of his former self, and questions about if he would ever return to form were raised, Gallinari has been stellar as of late.

    Gallo’s officially back and he’s averaging career-highs under Hunt’s tutelage. 17.5 points per-game, on 43.7-percent shooting from the field, and 42.0-percent shooting from three, are numbers that remind you of Gallinari before injuries tied him down the better part of the last two years.

    Hunt’s spirit and game plan are also rubbing off on Kenneth Faried, whose days in Denver appeared to be numbered just one month ago. The Manimal has looked more and more like the Faried we saw last summer, at the FIBA World Championships, and the guy who made a name for himself under Karl’s up-tempo style. Hunt has been using Faried mostly at the five, and while he’s severely undersized there on the defensive end, he makes up for it by getting out in transition and beating his man down the floor.

    Mar 13, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets forward

    Danilo Gallinari

    (8) and Denver Nuggets forward

    Kenneth Faried

    (35) celebrate during the first half at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

    Faried is averaging 16.6 points per game, while pulling down 11.3 rebounds in 32.5 minutes; about five more per game than he played under Shaw. His rebound percentage has improved from 17.0 to 19.1-percent, and his field-goal percentage has been upped from 49.1 to 54.1 percent.

    Why have Faried’s numbers improved so much under Hunt? Faried is no longer being used heavily in isolation post up situations like he was under Shaw, which didn’t fit his skill set at all. He’s getting more and more of his buckets in transition and he is taking better (and more open) shots than he previously was.

    Under Shaw, Faried was taking 37.4-percent of his field-goal attempts with a defender 0-2 feet from him, and he was making 48.6-percent of those shots. Under Hunt, Faried has lowered the frequency of shots with a defender 0-2 feet away, to 28.6-percent.

    Here’s where we notice how Faried has been more effective offensively under Hunt. He has increased the amount of shots that he’s taken where the closest defender is 2-4 feet away, from 44.2-percent to 53.1-percent, a change that signals he’s taking less and less contested shots, and more of his offense is coming in the open floor.

    All of a sudden Gallinari looks like an effective stretch-four, who can draw the defense’s attention with his shooting, and open up lanes for Ty Lawson drives.

    Not to be outdone, Faried’s back to being a plus energy and effort guy who can produce in the right system. His recent string of games in this system makes his extension look not all that bad, with a salary cap that’s set to inflate like the Weimar Republic, circa 1923.

    The Nugget’s body language on the floor, bench, and to the media has done a complete 180 since Hunt was tagged as the interim head coach, and it’s obvious that the players love playing for him

    After the victory over Golden State last week, Faried was singing Hunt’s praises:

    "“He’s a great coach,” Faried said of Hunt. “He keeps everybody confident and wanting to play basketball and not wanting to give up on the season. He wants us to go out there and play basketball and have fun.”"

    Wow, remarkable comments coming from a team that straight-up quit on its coach just three weeks ago. Can anyone imagine a Nuggets player saying something like that about Brian Shaw? Not in a million years.

    We still don’t know what Hunt’s status is at the end of this season, and his standing with the team is going to depend on how much turnover this roster is set to endure. If a full-scale rebuild occurs with owner Josh Kroenke and general manager Tim Connelly dropping their versions of Fat Man and Little Boy on this roster, perhaps a new face would be the way to go.

    However, if some or most of this core returns, and guys like Faried, Gallinari, Lawson and Wilson Chandler (who has a seven million dollar team-option next year) are back, it might be a good call to keep Hunt around. Those guys enjoy playing for him and they play hard in a system that clearly plays to their strengths. It might just be what Denver needs to return to relevancy again.

    More from Nugg Love