The Denver Nuggets missed the playoffs, but this is not a lost season


At their lowest point in the season - January 7th, to be exact - the Denver Nuggets had lost five straight games and fallen to 14-23 on the season. Eight of their losses had been by 15+ points and they weren't exactly scaring anyone away on either side of the ball.

This wasn't exactly unexpected. Prior to the season, ESPN's projections had Denver at 35-47, finishing 11th in the west. Other projections had them between 35 and 40 wins for the season. In all projections though, it looked like Denver was a long way from the playoffs. As you may recall, the west started the season fairly weak, meaning the top teams won a lot and the middle-to-bottom teams were all sluggish. The result has been a .500 team in the 8th seed instead of the typical western conference "I'm sad because my team won 43 games and missed the playoffs" stories that typically appear in springtime.

The Nuggets benefitted from this.

In February, even with the season plodding along and the Nuggets struggling to keep pace with the middle of the pack, Denver made headlines. They traded Jusuf Nurkic to Portland for Mason Plumlee. While this broke up what was arguably the best front-court duo of players born in the former Yugoslav Republic (which is a shame from a trivia standpoint), it freed up the revelation that Nikola Jokic was a highlight reel being held under wraps.

The rudderless Nuggets suddenly had someone to rally around.

Of equal importance, people were paying attention. Proof of that can be seen in the Google trend results for "Jokic" seen here. Similarly, as the Nuggets played better basketball, there was an upward trajectory in the prevalence of people searching for "Denver Nuggets".

The reason people were searching was because the Nuggets mattered. Jokic was slinging over-the-head passes, Will Barton was periodically dropping 20+ off the bench, and the Nuggets were within striking distance of the 8th seed in the west. It didn't work out, but look at where Denver stands with the season coming to a close.

They went 24-19 after that January 7th low-point, including numerous wins over good teams. They discovered that they can run an offense through their 21 year old center who will be making $1.4 million next year (!!). They watched a team with only one contributor over the age of 30 (Jameer Nelson, 34) play above .500 for three months. They'll probably choose to pay Mason Plumlee this summer, but they have the money to do it and Plumlee fits in OK as an interior player while Jokic goes wherever he pleases. It's not guaranteed, but it's possible.

If Nikola Jokic doesn't tickle your fancy, perhaps I can interest you in Jamal Murray? The rookie from Kentucky played like an exciting rookie: He only shot 33% from deep, but he also shot 33% from deep, if that makes sense. He made occasional big-time plays, but he also made occasional bonehead plays. The important thing is that he got meaningful playing time on a competitive team. (the other important thing is that he does this a lot)

The future in Denver looks fantastic. 

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