Denver Nuggets showcase growth and potential during 2018-19 season

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@Eric_Spyros

The Denver Nuggets’ 2018-19 campaign has officially come to an end following a tough Game 7 loss against the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference semifinals. After a well-fought first-round series against the San Antonio Spurs, the Nuggets gave Portland all they had in the conference semifinals, but ultimately came up short of a Western Conference Finals appearance.

Nonetheless, it was an extremely successful season for head coach Michael Malone and his young Nuggets squad. Coming into the season, Denver owned the second-youngest roster and had missed the playoffs by just one game in each of the past two seasons. However, that youth and determination was a key storyline throughout the season and drove a lot of Denver’s success.

A fast start early in the season paced Denver’s 54-win regular season. The Nuggets won a close road game against the LA Clippers to begin the season, which was a sign of more things to come. Denver finished October with a 6-1 record and were at least three games over .500 in each of the first five months of the season.

The most notable month of the season was January, when the Nuggets went 12-4 and cemented themselves as one of the top contenders in the league. January provided plenty of highlights, from Nikola Jokić’s game-winner against the Miami Heat on Jan. 8th to the 25-point comeback on the road versus the Memphis Grizzlies.

Although the Nuggets struggled with consistency to close the season, they were still able to clinch the second seed in the Western Conference. The highlight of the spring was the playoff-clinching road victory against the Boston Celtics on March 18.

As expected, Nikola Jokić led the way for Denver throughout the season, as he averaged 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game. Jokić made his first All-Star game and played in 80 games, which was important as Denver battled through injuries to Will Barton, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap.

The other key storylines of the season were the development of Monte Morris and Malik Beasley in bench roles and the team’s major improvement on the defensive end. After appearing in only three games in the prior season, Morris broke out as one of the best backup point guards in the entire league. Meanwhile, Beasley transformed himself into a knockdown 3-point shooter off the bench, as he averaged 11.3 points on 40.2 percent from beyond the arc.

After finishing 23rd in the league last season in defensive rating, Denver jumped all the way up to 10th this season, which was crucial in winning 54 games and advancing to the conference semifinals.

Nearly every player in Malone’s rotation made significant strides from last season, and with the Nuggets owning one of the youngest cores in the entire league, it’s safe to say that the future is bright in Denver.

"This is four years in the making,” Malone said. “Two years in a row coming up just shy, one game short. I'm so happy for all of our guys. We put a lot of work into this. But we've still got a lot of work to do.”

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