Nuggets Power Rankings Review: Denver continues to climb

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@Eric_Spyros

The Denver Nuggets are currently riding a five-game winning streak, their second winning streak of at least four games this season. Denver’s defense continues to impress as it currently ranks sixth in the entire league.

That defense has also helped the Nuggets overcome some struggles on the offensive end, where they are just league average (15th in offensive rating). However, with wins over the Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics this week, Denver certainly proved that it belongs in the “contenders” tier of the league at the moment.

With that being said, let’s check in with some power rankings from national media outlets to see where the Nuggets rank after a month of the regular season.

ESPN: No. 4

What they said: The Nuggets just keep on keepin' on -- nothing flashy, nothing overly dominant. They just win and do it with variety. Last season there was some wonder of randomness with their success in close games, but they're doing it again: 7-2 in two-possession games. Their victory Sunday over the Suns though showed a different kind of closing prowess: a close game went to double-digits down the stretch with two-way dominance.

Bleacher Report: No. 5

What they said: Denver played its best game of the year on Wednesday, defeating the Houston Rockets by a final of 105-95 behind standout efforts from Nikola Jokic and Torrey Craig. The latter helped hold James Harden under the 30-point mark for the first time since Nov. 3, but Denver's entire defense deserves credit for elevating its focus and intensity against a hot Houston team.

Friday's 96-92 win over the Boston Celtics, in which Nikola Jokic logged his third triple-double (but first since Oct. 28), proved the Nuggets could sustain that defensive performance. Denver is now 8-0 when holding opponents under 100 points. Incredibly, the Nuggets have won nine of their last 10 games with an offense that still ranks below the league average.

Sports Illustrated: No. 4

What they said: Paul Millsap has been Denver’s catalyst in its 12–3 start to the season. The 34-year-old leads Denver in net rating, and opponents score just 95.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. Millsap is a quality spacer and a terrific passer. When healthy, he’s an ideal second big next to Nikola Jokic.

The Athletic: No. 4

What they said: It’s so odd to me how regular the Nuggets have looked on offense this season. Last season, Denver ranked seventh in offensive rating and 10th in defensive rating on its way to 54 wins and the 2-seed in the West. This conference is a lot more impacted at the top this season, but Denver is on pace for way more wins while also relying almost solely on its defense most nights. That defense has been spectacular. The Nuggets rank seventh in defensive rating right now, but they’re within a half-point per 100 possessions of being second. It’s razor-thin between them and a lot of the teams above them. Offensively, they haven’t been bad, but they also haven’t replicated the level of execution and production that overwhelmed teams last season.

Five straight wins for the Nuggets and only the win over Boston was a close one. They’re on pace for 65 wins and it doesn’t feel like it.

NBA.com: No. 3

What they said: The Nuggets' defense continues to hold up. They've held seven of their last 10 opponents (including the Rockets on Wednesday) to no more than a point per possession. As was the case last season, their defense is not the best at protecting the restricted area. But the Nuggets rank second in opponent field goal percentage on other paint shots, first in opponent mid-range field goal percentage, and second in opponent 3-point percentage.

Missed shots and a top-10 mark in defensive rebounding percentage should lead to opportunities to run, and the Nuggets have been efficient in transition, according to Synergy tracking. But they're going to take their time, thanks. Only 12.5% of their possessions, the league's lowest rate, have been in transition. Nikola Jokic is still dazzling us with his passing and weird shots, but only the Jazz, Magic and Pacers have played uglier games in regard to combined efficiency (team and opponents). A game against the Wizards on Tuesday should juice things up.

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