Denver Nuggets Position Season Review: Centers
Points per game: 27.5 (9th in NBA)
Rebounds per game: 17 (8th)
Assists per game: 10.1 (1st)
Field goal percentage: 53.3 (15th)
Plus/minus: +78 for the season (6th)
Nikola Jokić, Mason Plumlee
The Denver Nuggets’ center rotation is undoubtedly one of the best in the league. Now, that isn’t much of a statement given that Denver had Nikola Jokić, who was voted All-NBA First Team and made his first All-Star team this past season.
Jokić did everything for the Nuggets this season, as he led the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals per game. Jokić became just the fourth player in NBA history to average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists per game in a season, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook.
Jokić’s ability to score in the post, hit the three and operate in the pick-and-roll make it nearly impossible to stop him on a nightly basis. Defenses also have to deal with Jokić as the primary ball-handler, as the 24-year-old big man is able make every pass to open shooters or teammates cutting to the rim.
A significant development in Denver’s offense this season was the Jamal Murray- Jokić pick-and-roll combination. However, a new wrinkle was added this season, with Jokić being the ball-handler and Murray setting the screens.
Throughout the regular season, Denver ran 171 plays with Murray as the screener and Jokić as the ball handler. According to ESPN Stats & Information, that combination averaged 1.30 points per direct pick which tied for the best in the NBA.
Jokić is supported by Mason Plumlee, who is able to operate in a similar fashion within Denver’s offense. Plumlee averaged 5.1 assists per-36 minutes this past season, and while he isn’t the primary ball-handler in the second unit, he is able to find open shooters and cutters on a regular basis.
Plumlee also provides the Nuggets with a big presence on the boards. The 29-year-old big man grabbed nearly 11 rebounds per-36 minutes, and his presence on the boards allowed Denver to maintain a strong rebounding advantage on a regular basis. Plumlee’s ability to get up high for contested rebounds and then bring the ball up the court is a unique component of the Nuggets’ transition game, an area in which the team thrived.
An important aspect of Denver’s two-man center rotation is that both players can have success when operating together. As a result of Nikola Jokić’s shooting ability and Plumlee’s passing, the two big men have thrived when sharing the court together in recent seasons, and that trend continued in 2018-19. The duo posted a +7.9-net rating this past season, which is a result of the varied play styles that both men possess.
Both Jokić and Plumlee are slated to be back next season, which will allow Denver to have more continuity at the center position. The unique skill sets that both big men bring to the table is a significant determiner of how the Nuggets’ offense operates and finds success.