The Nuggets have made it through the toughest stretch of their schedule, and they look to the new year over .500.
It’s been a very up and down month for your Denver Nuggets. There’s been triumphant wins, blown leads, injuries, COVID cases, and general unease. However, there is some hope for this team. This was the toughest stretch of their schedule and they have a positive outlook. They currently sit at 17-16 — good for the 5th seed in the conference and only 3 and a half games back from the 4th seed. With a run or two they can realistically end up as a top 4 seed. However, the team is still plagued by injuries and COVID cases; with no sign of it really slowing down. They did go 7-6 this month despite that though, and it included good wins over the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers. It also included terrible losses to the Orlando Magic and a blown 19 point lead to the Charlotte Hornets. It was a fairly mixed bag; as it has been for most of the season.
Looking ahead, January gets significantly easier than December was. In the first five contests of the new year, they face only one team above .500 and it’s the Jazz — a team they’ve historically done very well against. Throughout the rest of January it gets moderately more difficult, but nothing too hard. Pair their easier schedule with the MVP caliber play of Nikola Jokic and they may have what it takes to slip into one of those top 4 seeds.
Record in December: 7-6
Overall Record: 17-16
Game of the Month: Denver Nuggets @ Atlanta Hawks, 12/17/21
This game was just a feel good win man. No other way to put it; good vibes, everyone pitched in, and it was a win in blowout fashion. The Nuggets went into Atlanta off a fairly bad loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves and just showed up to play. It was a 133-115 win and put the Nuggets a game over .500. Nikola was good, but didn’t have to do too much; especially by his standards. He put up 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists on 8/12 shooting. Not a bad game by any means, but not one you’re going to remember a few months out. The real capstone of this game was rookie Bones Hyland putting up a career high 24 points on just 11 shots. He shot 8/11 from the field and 4 of 5 from beyond the arc. He took the Hawks to the graveyard. He was the real difference maker in this game and it showed flashes of what he could bring to the table going forward. Outside of those two, there were four other Nuggets players that got into double digits in scoring. Monte Morris had 21, Jeff Green had 20, and Aaron Gordon had 16. The only starter to not get into double digits was Will Barton who shot poorly and only had 5 points. Overall, it was just a great game and a feel good, bounce back win.
Highlight of the Month: Jeff Green Poster Dunk against Los Angeles Clippers, 12/26/21
The highlight of December comes to you from Uncle Jeff dunking on Harry Giles of the Los Angeles Clippers. He just catches bodies left and right at 35 years old, and it’s getting ridiculous if I’m going to be honest. He’s right up there as one of the most athletic players of the Nikola Jokic era, and this is one of his highlight dunks.
Player of the Month: Nikola Jokic
Nikola Jokic started the year playing on pace to earn some MVP votes yet again — and he’s continued that play. The Nuggets have had a laundry list of serious injuries such as Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr, PJ Dozier, and now Markus Howard, some less serious ones like Will Barton missing some games and Aaron Gordon missing a couple himself; as well as COVID taking people out for a couple of weeks like Austin Rivers and Bones Hyland. However, Jokic was the rock for the Nuggets, and the proverbial floatie for them that kept them afloat for this entire month. He averaged 25.2 points per game, 14.4 rebounds per game, and 8.0 assists per game throughout the month while shooting 52.2% from the field. Just steamrolled any competition in front of him for the most part, besides a couple of bad games. It hasn’t been his best month with games such as the Orlando Magic game. Overall though, he’s been among the best in the league still and keeps inserting himself into the conversation as one of the best players in the league.
Story of the Month: Injuries Continue to Pile On
The Nuggets were well aware of the adversity that they were going to be facing in the first half of the season without Jamal Murray. Then the second big injury came when Michael Porter Jr had to have back surgery and is likely out for the rest of the season. Then PJ Dozier tore his ACL in late November and is out for the season. Then earlier this month Markus Howard sprained his MCL which will keep him out for a couple of months. On top of all of those injuries this month we’ve seen Aaron Gordon, Will Barton, Bones Hyland, Austin Rivers, Bol Bol, Vlatko Cancar, Jeff Green, Jamychal Green, Zeke Nnaji, and Monte Morris all be new additions to the injury report with some form of either injury or health and safety protocol lists. Somehow the Nuggets haven’t even had it the worst in the league, but it is still like getting into a fender bender — not the worst, but it still sucks. We will have to see if they can get healthier or whether they’ll continue to make the basketball gods mad.
Surprise of the Month: Will Barton Struggles
Will Barton started the month off fairly well, putting up 17 points per game for the first five games of the month on 41% from the floor. However he missed two games due to injury after that and when he came back he wasn’t himself. He was struggling to get to the rim more, seemed more sluggish, and wasn’t contributing on the defensive end. When he returned he played in six more games to round out the month; averaging 11.5 points per game on a measly 36.1% from the field. He didn’t play like his normal self.
There is a reason this is a surprise though. So to those of you fist pumping because you think Will is the reason for all of the Nuggets’ issue because he “isolates too much” — that’s simply not true. Facu Campazzo isolates more than Will does and those possessions are more painful to watch anyways. When healthy Will has been the second best player on the Nuggets this season and I expect that to continue up until Jamal Murray comes back sometime later in the season. Thrill will be back in full swing soon enough
Grade for the Month: C+
What’s New on Denver Stiffs:
In this edition of “Film Friday”, Gage Bridgford takes a look at what fans need to adjust their expectations to for this team moving forward.
If you want further analysis on the COVID outbreak facing the team, listen to Ryan Blackburn break it down in this episode of “Pickaxe and Roll”.
If you want to hear some New Years’ resolutions you can check out this episode of “Pickaxe and Roll” to listen to Blackburn’s. Or this article to read Tommy Knowlton’s.
If you’re curious as to how the bench scores well when they score well, check out this version of “Stat of the Week” where Blackburn breaks down the scoring equation of the bench.
If you want to be convinced on Davon Reed’s place in the leauge, here’s piece by Blackburn where he pitches for the Nuggets to make his roster spot official for the rest of the season.
If you want a deep dive as to why the offense is an issue, here’s a version of “Film Friday” where Bridgford breaks it down.
Then in this pair of articles that take a look at December 15th, Blackburn breaks down what if December 15th hadn’t happened — and yours truly breaks down what December 15th means to the franchise.