Basketball is back!
The NBA's been in full-court press mode for 10 days now, with every team thrown into the regular season and expected to perform at a high level.
While many teams look out of shape, tired and lacking chemistry, the Denver Nuggets have come out rolling.
The new and improved Nuggets sit at 4-2 currently, tied for the second-most wins in the Western Conference (Portland and L.A. Lakers) behind 5-2 Oklahoma City, and Denver's beaten some good teams already.
Yes, it's still early in this special lockout-shortened season, but the Nuggets have still shown some positive signs over their first week of play.
Let's take a closer look at how the Nuggs are winning, shall we?
These new Nuggets are unlike any team George Karl has coached in Denver.
They demonstrate exceptional effort on defense.
The Nuggets youth allows them to pester and pursue opponents, agitating them with active hands.
Arron Afflalo is one of the best defending 2-guards in the Association, as evidenced by his physical play that frustrated Kobe Bryant on January 2nd.
Starting point guard Ty Lawson leads the NBA in steals per game (2.5) and overall steals (15), while backup Andre Miller's quick hands and experience give him the advantage over younger guards.
Danilo Gallinari's height allows him to defend the 3 or 4, while Corey Brewer works hard and Timofey Mozgov is gaining confidence every time on the court.
But beyond outstanding individual play, Denver's defense is a total team effort.
The Nuggets lead the league in steals per game at 12.6 per, nearly two more than anyone else.
Denver's defense also only allows 95.3 points per contest, more than seven points better than last season. The Nuggs also force opponents into tough shots, hence why teams only shoot 48.8 percent against them.
All those turnovers the Nuggets force translate into transition buckets for the athletic team.
Lawson uses his breakneck speed to push the Denver break and at times attacks the hoop himself for easy lay-ups.
While Lawson's utilized his speed for two years, what's unique about this Nuggets team is their dedication to running the floor.
Coach Karl loves his teams to run—it's simply easier to score when defenses must react before they're set up—and the Nuggets break opponents' wills by running them out of the gym.
Denver leads all NBA teams with 24 fast break points per game and their depth gives them fresh legs throughout games.
Many like to point to the fact that the Nuggets not possessing a star player is enough evidence to count them out as a serious threat.
And while Denver doesn't have a star, they do have more starters than any other team.
Andre Miller has started every of his 12 NBA seasons until this year and the veteran has aged like a fine wine. Miller's still quick and explosive off the dribble and he commands respect on the court as Denver's floor general.
Like Miller, Al Harrington started for much of his career and his role is as the seventh man in Denver. Harrington has really shown life in his legs this season, driving the lane aggressively and providing scoring punch off the bench. His 15.7 points per game are second-best on the team.
New acquisitions Rudy Fernandez and Corey Brewer have each already received lots of minutes some nights and they are the wild cards of Denver's depth success.
Denver also has behemoths for backups in Kosta Koufos, Chris Andersen and Kenneth Faried—guys that can provide energy, play physically and rebound the ball.
The Nuggets new-found height—which features three players 6'10" or taller in the starting lineup and many more on the bench—is paying dividends in the rebounding department.
For years, Denver's been deficient in rebounding loose balls, but this season they're 15th in the league with 41.8 boards per.
While their offensive rebounding still leaves something to be desired, Denver's defensive rebounding is fifth-best at 33.3 per contest.
The Nuggets feature five players who average 4.2 or more boards and Nene's 7.2 leads the team. Harrington's also been active on the glass (5.5), while Gallinari gets after loose balls as well.
For years, the Nuggets offense was stagnant as ball-stoppers and shooting addicts filled the roster.
Nowadays, the Nuggets move the ball unselfishly, whether it be on the break or just making the extra pass to reward teammates with points.
Denver often finds great rhythm in transition due to ball movement and their passing leads to open shots every night.
The Nuggets are currently tied for 12th in assists at 21.5 per contest, with Miller (6.2) leading and Lawson (5.5) right behind him.
And the superb ball movement is paying off, as Denver averages five players per game that score in double digits.
Stopping or slowing one or two offensive threats is easy, but five is far too many for teams to handle as the Nuggets are the highest-scoring team (110.3 PPG) in the NBA.
The Nuggets came to win, pardon them if it's a sin.
Denver was undoubtedly in better shape—physically and personnel-wise—than a majority of the league when the season abruptly started.
And if they can continue to play all-around team basketball, the boys in baby blue and yellow will be a force to be reckoned with all year.
Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist actively seeking a career in journalism. Along with being your Denver Nuggets Featured Columnist, Rich is the Denver Broncos and CSU Rams Examiner and Kurtzman also writes for Blake Street Bulletin, Stadium Journey, and Mile High Hoops.
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