With a 22-32 record at the All-Star break, the Denver Nuggets have had their moments when they have struggled this season. Certainly, there have been moments when they have struggled mightily. However, despite being 10 games under .500 more than halfway through the season, there have been plenty of positives as well with this young and improving Nuggets team.
In this article, let’s examine four reasons why, despite the record, Nuggets fans should have plenty of excitement for not only the rest of this season, but the future of the franchise as well.
Denver’s recent play
The Nuggets enter the All-Star break as winners of three of their last four games and four of their last six matchups. Denver’s two losses during that stretch are a one-point defeat at the Brooklyn Nets on a last-second 3-pointer and an overtime road loss to the Indiana Pacers. Part of the success can be attributed to Denver’s offense, which has topped the century mark in 13 of its last 14 outings.
After averaging just 17.6 points per outing in November and 17.0 points in December, Gallo caught fire when the calendar turned to 2016. Gallinari increased his average to 23.5 points per game in January and is pumping out 21.3 points per contest in February. Overall, he’s averaging a career-high 19.7 points per game this season thanks in part to his ability to get to the free throw line. His 7.2 makes in 8.1 attempts from the charity stripe are both by far the best of his career.
The evolution of Emmanuel Mudiay
Much was expected from Mudiay heading into this season. As the seventh overall pick in last year’s draft, everyone knew Mudiay would be handed the keys to Denver’s offense. After some early struggles, the rookie point guard is showing that he’s picking things up nicely. In February, he’s not only averaging 11.8 points per game but he’s also raised his assist totals to 7.0 per game but also dropped his turnovers to just 2.0 per outing. Both are career-best numbers.
Mudiay also made a big impression at the recent NBA Rising Stars Challenge in Toronto, posting 30 points (tying a team high) and 10 assists as the World team lost to the United States team, 157-154. Had the World team won the game, Mudiay would have been a serious contender for MVP honors.
Will Barton’s chase for Sixth Man glory
Denver’s super sub may have not fared as well as hoped during the NBA Slam Dunk contest, but it doesn’t take away from the spectacular season Barton has pieced together coming off the Denver bench.
At 15.4 points per game, Barton ranks third in the NBA among qualifiers coming off the bench. That average would be higher had Barton not hit a scoring wall in early January by netting just 18 points in three games. However, he’s rebounded from the scoring slump to score in double digits in five of six February games, including a team-high 20 points in Denver’s 103-92 win at the Detroit Pistons in the final game before the All-Star break.
With his showing thus far this season, Barton has cemented himself as one of the leading candidates to win the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award.
Certainly there are more positives for the Nuggets this season that will be interesting to watch play out throughout the remainder of the campaign. Will Nikola Jokic continue to show improvement? How will a healthy Jusuf Nurkic improve the team? Can the Nuggets make a last-minute push toward the Western Conference playoffs? Sitting five games behind eighth-place Utah with 28 games to play will make it tough. However, if we’ve learned nothing from the Nuggets this season, we’ve learned they have plenty of surprises in their arsenal.