Is there another NBA franchise that’s less associated with playing defense that’s had a pair of Defensive Player of the Year winners?
With the exception of T.R. Dunn, Dikembe Mutombo, and Marcus Camby (the latter two won DPOY in 1995 and 2007, respectively), it’s tough to think of a franchise that’s less associated with defensive stops.
While the Denver Nuggets are not known for a rich legacy of defense, points certainly haven’t been tough to come by in the Mile High City.
For three of their four decades in the ABA and NBA, the Nuggets have been a consistently competitive and highly entertaining bunch.
The team transitioned from the ABA to the NBA during the Thompson-Issel era, led by one of the best inside-outside duos of the decade. The big man on those teams was the steady Dan Issel—one of the first true centers with a strong perimeter game. Meanwhile, on the wing, the Nuggets featured David “Skywalker” Thompson, one of the most exciting players in basketball history.
After reaching the ABA Finals in the league’s final season, the Nuggets joined the NBA and became a playoff fixture, reaching the postseason each of their first three seasons (including a trip to the 1978 Conference Finals) and in 12 of their first 14 NBA campaigns (including another trip to the Conference Finals in 1985).
That run began with the aforementioned Thompson-Issel combo, and continued thanks to the understated brilliance of Alex English and the guidance of defensively challenged (but fan friendly!) head coach Doug Moe.
By the early 1990s, both English and Moe were gone, and the Nuggets were rebuilding.
First, the franchise’s centerpiece was defensive standout, Dikembe Mutombo. Mutombo was exceptional on the boards as a shotblocker. And while he helped Denver become the first-ever No. 8 seed to win a playoff series with a stunning upset over the Seattle SuperSonics in 1994, the five-year Mutombo era was generally unremarkable.
However, what followed made those five years seem downright idyllic.
In the eight years that followed, led by the likes of Antonio McDyess, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, and Bryant Stith, the Nuggets managed to top 35 wins just once (40-42 in 2000-01), and won fewer than 20 games three times (one was the 50-game 1998-99 season, during which Denver was 14-36), including a cataclysmic 11-71 season in 1997-98.
The past seven years, or the 'Melo era, have seen the Nuggets fare much better—seven consecutive playoff appearances (over .500 each season), three consecutive 50-win seasons (2008-10 and counting) and a trip to the 2009 Conference Finals, which saw the Nuggets challenge the eventual champion Lakers before falling in six games.
Defense may win championships, but in the case of the Nuggets, offense keeps you competitive.