It is less than a week into the new NBA season, and the Denver Nuggets have already seen some of the ups and downs they have grown accustomed to over the last few tumultuous seasons.
Opening night saw a disastrous showing against a Utah Jazz team that traded away their stars and is projected to be toward the bottom of the Western Conference. Then, the Nuggets were able to rattle off a primetime road win against the defending champion Golden State Warriors, and an emotional home opener that saw the long-awaited returns of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.
On Monday, however, the Denver Nuggets went back to disappointment, as they squandered a fantastic start to drop an eventual blowout loss in Portland.
The Trailblazers were coming off of a last-second win late Sunday evening in Los Angeles, and playing on a back-to-back while the Nuggets had a full extra day of rest, but still managed to surrender 135 points to Damien Lillard and Co. Nikola Jokic took only four shots and ended with just his second single-digit scoring game in the last three seasons.
All of this has led Nuggets Nation to wonder; Is it time to panic?
Denver Nuggets: The defense will find its’ footing
So far the Denver Nuggets have given up at least 117 points in each of their first four games, and have allowed outlying performances by Collin Sexton (20 points) and Anfernee Simons (29 points) already. While this is not what the Nuggets envisioned after their guard/wing overall in the offseason, Nuggets’ fans should still believe in the defensive ability of this team.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Christian Braun are proven championship defenders that will find more cohesion and balance within the Nuggets’ defensive system as the season moves along. Additionally, Jamal Murray is still just four games into his 500+ day absence from playing professional basketball, and he should get back to at least an average level of defense as we progress deeper into the season.
With Aaron Gordon, Bruce Brown, KCP, Christian Braun, and Davon Reed, the Nuggets should have enough capable defenders to throw at whoever they need to going forward. Once they establish more success and synergy together, the defense should turn into a strong suit for Denver.
Denver Nuggets: Murray and MPJ will continue to improve
As previously mentioned, Jamal Murray had not played professional basketball in over 500 days, the end of the 2020-2021 season, before last Wednesday in Utah, and Michael Porter Jr. played just nine before getting hurt in the 2021-22 season.
While MPJ has immediately hit the ground running, shooting an elite 50% from three-point range on eight attempts per game, Jamal Murray has been a little slower in his return. Monday in Portland, Murray hit his first three shot attempts before missing his last nine, moving to just 37.8% from the field on the year.
It is understandable that he is having some trouble finding his rhythm with the amount of time he was out, and it’s important to remember he was having a career year before tearing his ACL 18 months ago.
Murray averaged 21.2 points and was shooting over 40% from three in the 20-21 season and should be poised to get back to that level by the time the playoffs come in April.
The Denver Nuggets plan for him to sit on back-to-back games and limit his minutes, but as he finds his groove he will become a true second option behind Nikola Jokic.
Porter has gotten off to a red-hot start shooting the ball and is averaging 21 points on 50% 3-point shooting. He has shown some discomfort as he returns from lumbar surgery, and may sit for Wednesday’s game against the Lakers, but will continue to find his rhythm more and more, and be the elite sharpshooter that a team with Nikola Jokic needs.
Denver Nuggets: Nikola Jokic will be more aggressive
Monday against Portland, reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokic was baffled by taking just four shot attempts in the entire game. For the dominant offensive force that he is, this is not a formula for success for Denver, even if Porter is shooting the way he is and Murray is trying to find his groove.
Luckily, the Nuggets should not expect performances like this to be a common occurrence, as Jokic had just five games last year with less than ten shot attempts and none with as few as on Monday.
As Jokic finds his place in the reformed offense with Porter and Murray back in the fold, he should find ways to be more aggressive and score the ball, and leave performances like Monday in the past.
Overall, the Denver Nuggets have shown some weaknesses as a team in the early going, but they should still be incredibly confident moving forward into a season with championship aspirations.
They will find more defensive cohesion among their newer players as they gain more confidence within the system. Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray will continue to find their footing as they rehab from injury, and Nikola Jokic will find the right ways to play with them while still being aggressive in the scoring department, a balance he has struggled with so far.
The Nuggets should have a chance to iron out those kinks as they have a much easier schedule moving forward, even if they are on the road most of the time. In their next seven games, they face the winless Los Angeles Lakers twice, the tanking Thunder, Pacers, and Spurs a combined four times, and a chance at revenge against the Utah Jazz.
Look for the Nuggets to be in a much better and more confident spot after that run of seven games.