Denver Nuggets roundtable: Looking back at the 2018-19 season
1) What did you learn about this team in the playoffs?
Eric Spyropoulos: Besides the obvious regarding Nikola Jokić’s breakout performance, the Nuggets’ resiliency really stood out in the playoffs. For a team that entered the postseason with the majority of the rotation never having experience playoff basketball, Denver showed remarkable poise after they fell behind 2-1 in both series. Facing the daunting task of a Game 4 on the road against San Antonio and Portland (teams that each went 32-9 at home during the regular season), the Nuggets stuck with their style of play and pulled out crucial victories each time. Denver’s resiliency was a key theme throughout the regular season (12-1 on the second night of back-to-backs), but the team’s performance throughout the playoffs when the going got tough really stood out.
Alex Labidou: I was really impressed by what Denver showed on defense throughout the playoffs. Several players raised their level of play, especially Nikola Jokić and Gary Harris. The Nuggets held opponents to 33.1 percent shooting from downtown – good for fifth in the postseason. Forcing the opposition out of their comfort zone has long been a calling card of head coach Michael Malone, so it was great to see the defensive gameplan, for the most part, be executed by the eighth-youngest playoff team in NBA history.
Speaking of Harris, if there was an underrated starting five in the NBA playoffs, he’d be in it. The shooting guard overcame a tough injury-filled season to impress in the postseason. The longest-tenured Nugget averaged 14.2 points on 46.2 percent shooting and had several crazy highlights. But it was on the other end of the floor where he had his biggest impact. In the first round, he was essentially DeMar DeRozan’s shadow, holding the Spurs star to 11 of 31 shooting in their matchup. Harris can develop into a elite defender in the league as he continues to gain experience.
2) Most underappreciated storyline of the season?
E.S.: This is a tough question because there are so many storylines that played a significant role in the Nuggets’ breakout season. From the development of players such as Monte Morris and Malik Beasley to Nikola Jokić’s rise to MVP-level of play. However, the most storyline that had the biggest impact on the 2018-19 Nuggets that still feels a bit underappreciated is Paul Millsap’s bounce-back season. The most important aspect of Millsap’s season was his availability, as he was able to play in 70 games this season. That allowed him to provide valuable defensive play for the majority of the season, which was the driving force behind Denver’s improvement on that end of the floor. The Nuggets posted a strong 107.3 defensive rating during Millsap’s minutes and a 111.9 defensive rating when he was off the floor this season. Overall, Denver jumped from 23rd to 10th in defensive rating this season, which was a key reason the team was able to win 54 games and make it to Game 7 of the conference semifinals.
A.L.: Man, Eric, you’ve claimed a lot of good ones. From my point of view, Jokić showed a global audience why he deserves serious MVP consideration during the playoffs. There wasn’t much he couldn’t do and his numbers stacked up among the all-time greats at his position during their first playoff run.
READ: Jokić among the greats
If there’s one thing we haven’t discussed, its Denver’s resiliency. The team was 12-1 in the second game of back-to-backs this season, a critical part of their 54 wins this season. That was also on display for most of the playoffs as the Nuggets played in two Game 7s.
3) What was the most impressive aspect of the season?
E.S.: As mentioned earlier, there were several aspects of the season that allowed Denver to finish second in the Western Conference with 54 wins and be one game short of a Western Conference Finals appearance. However, the standout play from Morris and Beasley really stick out from this season. Not only did the two guards stabilize the Nuggets’ second unit, they also seamlessly transitioned between starting and backup roles to maintain the team’s momentum during injuries to players such as Will Barton, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap. Morris broke out in what was essentially his rookie season to become one of the better backup point guards in the league, while Beasley put things together as he developed into a serious scoring threat, especially from beyond the arc. Given how Denver’s season played out, the play from the two young guards was not only extremely impressive, but also vital to the Nuggets’ success.
A.L.: 54 wins duh. On a serious note though, there was a lot of discussion about what Jokić did this postseason, all of it well-deserved. Personally, I was impressed when Jamal Murray showcased how versatile he is. As I mentioned in my separate story about him, when he excelled in playmaking, dropping 6 or more dimes, the Nuggets were 4-1 in the postseason. He also showed a lot of little nuances that don’t appear on the stat sheet. Like being the screener in the pick and roll with Jokić. Everyone knows he can score, but if he’s more consistent with his playmaking, I think the Nuggets will be even better than they were this season.