Denver Nuggets Have Reclaimed NBA Title of Dark-Horse Contender

Kelly ScalettaFeatured ColumnistFebruary 8, 2013

The Denver Nuggets got off to a rocky start, but now that they are past the worst part of their schedule, they are establishing that they are indeed, a dark-horse candidate to win the NBA title. 

Denver opened the season with several new key players—including their key offseason acquisition, Andre Iguodala—and it took some time to find their chemistry. That, combined with a ridiculously arduous schedule which included 22 games on the road, led to tough start. Through their first 34 games, the Nuggets were just 18-16.

Since then they've gone 14-2, and over that span have led the NBA with 111.5  points per game. That is some pretty prodigious scoring. 

There are three big reasons the Nuggets are so successful without a superstar, and those three reasons can easily translate into postseason success.  

Those three things are fast-break points, points in the paint and second-chance points. The reason those things are so important is that they are the most efficient points in basketball, and they make Denver an incredibly efficient team. 

In fast-break points the Nuggets are lethal. They average 19.3 points per game in transition, which leads the NBA. While a significant portion of those points is off of turnovers, bear in mind that points off turnovers and and fast-break points aren't the same thing. 

You can score off of a turnover without a fast break and you can run a fast break off of a rebound, or even a made shot if you just push the pace, which the Nuggets are perpetually doing. They run the second-fastest pace in the NBA, averaging 95.0 possessions per game. 

They are good at forcing turnovers, but are only 10th in the league in turnover percentage. This indicates that many of their points are coming off of their perpetually pushing the pace and forcing their opponents to keep up with them. 

The reason this is worth emphasizing is that it means that even if opponents take care of the ball, the Nuggets know how to push the pace, so they can translate this into the postseason. 

Also, consider that with the Nuggets playing at a high altitude, this strengthens the biggest inherent home-court advantage in the NBA. Combining their high altitude with the fast pace simply wears opponents down. 

The second advantage they have is second-chance points, which is a fantastic advantage.The Nuggets lead the NBA in this category with 16.4 points per game.

Second-chance points are a great shooting equalizer. Since the Nuggets' .506 effective field-goal percentage is already the ninth-best in the NBA, they don't need a lot of that equalizer, but they still have it. 

The Nuggets are led here by Kenneth Faried, a.k.a. "The Manimal," who is nicknamed with good reason. He's part man, part animal and attacks the boards like a beast killing its prey. I think it's safe to say that he is already the greatest player ever to come out of Morehead State.  

Third, the Nuggets are beasts in the paint, dominating the league. They average 56.4 points per contest in the paint, which is a full 10.2 points more than anyone else. That is complete and total dominance. 

A part of that is because of their second-chance points. A part of that is the fast-break points. A part of that is having an abundance of wings who can drive to the rim and score. 

The Nuggets don't have that one true superstar, but they have enough stars who can create their own shots that they can always get a mismatch somewhere, whether it's with Danilo Gallinari or Ty Lawson.

Now this is the most remarkable thing about the Nuggets. When you combine the "easy points" (fast-break, second-chance and points in the paint)  they have a total of 92.1 per game. Admittedly some of those are double-counted, but that's true for everyone. The next-best team is the Los Angeles Clippers, almost 16 points behind at 76.6 per game. 

But Denver also defends those easy points reasonably well, especially for a team that runs as fast as it does. In terms of net easy points, they get 23.1 more than their opponents. The only other team with a 10-point advantage is the Clippers, who average 14.5. The Rockets are third with 9.7. 

The Nuggets are a true contender because they know how to maximize their offensive potential by creating easy points while forcing their opponents to run at their pace, and by exploding to the basket at will. They are able to do this without surrendering the same types of points in kind. Pace and depth are their superstars.