Staking a Claim is a column that takes a look at all things Nuggets through the eyes of an outsider. As those who follow me on Twitter know I am a Bucks fan, so it will give Nuggets fans an opportunity to see things through the eyes of someone who follows the team closely but isn’t necessarily a fan.
A little over a week ago the Nuggets season came to a disappointing end in a Game 6 loss to the Golden State Warriors.
Over that time I have thought a lot about how to classify the Nuggets season.
Was it a success or failure? How much can be built on and how much should the team get away from? Can this roster compete for a title with a few tweaks or is there a major change that has to happen?
And finally after watching the Warriors continue their, to steal a term from Matt Moore, nova shooting against the Spurs things started to become much clearer to me.
The season as a whole was a great success for the Nuggets, even despite a disappointing ending.
Before we get to that disappointing ending it only seems right to look back on the regular season.
Things started rough for the Nuggets as they had a brutal early season schedule filled with road games, not the best thing for a team trying to incorporate a new starter with the role Andre Iguodala had as defensive stopper, part creator, part rebound, and really basically part everything.
But eventually things started to work out for the Nuggets and everything turned around once they got home. Everything came together perfectly though and the Nuggets reeled off a fifteen game winning streak that got lost in the historic 27 game streak the Heat had at the same time.
It all resulted in a 57 win season and the three seed in the West, an amazing accomplishment for a team like the Nuggets.
You see, I have been saying lately something that was creeping up in the back of my mind as we got ready for the playoffs here at RMC but I always pushed it to the back of my head figuring I was overreacting a bit. The Nuggets roster, as great as it is set up for the future, had some significant flaws.
The Nuggets couldn’t shoot. They couldn’t defend the three point line. They had a backup point guard who didn’t fit the rest of the team but was given an incredible amount of leeway from the coaching staff. They had three bigs who all did one thing very well and a lot of things average or below. They really had three above average defenders on the roster and one of them was injured late in the season.
But they made it work. They made it work to the tune of 57 wins and that I believed would carry to the playoffs; that they would win a series and push the Spurs in round two.
Then the series started and things became problematic. It quickly became apparent that the Nuggets ran into the worst possible matchup for them, and then David Lee got hurt and it became worse. Even worse, that horrific matchup shot the ball like they were playing NBA Jam and everyone was on fire.
The Nuggets didn’t shoot well from three in the series. They didn’t defend the three point line well. Andre Miller came in, slowed the game down, played hero ball, missed a lot, got killed on defense and yet was rewarded with more minutes than he should have played. The three bigs all did their one thing well; Kosta Koufos making rotations, Kenneth Faried rebounding, JaVale playing with energy and dunking. But they also did those things they didn’t do well. Koufos playing physical, Faried generating offense or making proper defensive rotations, JaVale playing the pick-and-roll well, none happened, just like for most of the year they didn’t happen. Finally, defensively the Nuggets had no answer for the Warriors perimeter players. Andre Iguodala took turns slowing down one Warrior just so another could pick on Ty Lawson or Andre Miller or Corey Brewer and get hot. Wilson Chandler did all he could to contain players from Andrew Bogut to Steph Curry.
It was a series Danilo Gallinari would have made a huge impact in. The shooting, the defense, the rebounding he would have brought would have made life much easier on Ty Lawson and Andre Iguodala, the two Nuggets who consistently showed up in the series.
But fate intervened and decided it was one of those what if questions that the Nuggets and their fans would have to deal with for the rest of the year. What if Gallo was healthy, would it have mattered? Could this team have gone to the finals, especially now that Russell Westbrook is out?
In the end it doesn’t matter because the injury happened.
But there are questions to be asked, questions that will have plenty of different answers.
What do you take from this Nuggets season? Was the season a success?
To me the answer is clear.
Yes, the season was a success.
The Nuggets started something that seems to have a bright future. They took a team that had significant flaws, flaws that were obvious all season and won 57 games, including 15 in a row. They posted the best home record in the league and did it in a fun way.
They did it because the team played hard night after night, because the team understood its limits and played within them, because the team generally seemed to enjoy playing with each other.
Take it from someone who roots for a team that fails on every one of those points. The Nuggets have something special.
Sure the playoffs ended things on a sour note but most of it wasn’t the Nuggets fault.
They played for the three seed figuring that it would leave them against a Houston team that they would have matched up well with and probably dismissed easily. Instead the Rockets collapsed and the Nuggets worst nightmare wound up in the sixth seed.
Then the Warriors went on a video game like shooting spree and the wounded Nuggets had no answer for it.
But there is incredible hope. The roster has clear building blocks in Ty Lawson and Gallo. If Iguodala returns they would have the best three players on the team locked up for years, and a front office that sure seems to be one you can put faith in.
The foundation is there. Now add a few shooters, a big man who can score a bit besides at the rim, a backup point guard who fits the roster better and a 57 win team gets clearly better.
Success has been tasted by those building blocks and they will be striving for it again. And maybe next year the Nuggets don’t have the injuries late in the year, maybe they get a favorable matchup.
Whatever happens, one thing seems clear. The Nuggets have something special building, and if it continues we all may look back on this year as the start of it all.
In the end this year may be a success to everyone, not just the few that it seems that way to so soon after a disappointing ending.