The Denver Nuggets keep getting MVP-caliber play from Nikola Jokic. Their front office has finally gotten The Joker some much-needed assistance and done so without making any big splash.
The Nuggets have struggled to make any sort of push in the Western Conference. They also lack the premium assets necessary to swing a big deal before the Feb. 10 NBA trade deadline. Still, Denver’s shrewd moves to acquire Bryn Forbes and sign DeMarcus Cousins should propel more winning.
It’s unlikely that the Nuggets are done adding. They could use another wing player. But the under-the-radar additions should bolster Jokic even more and could spark him to a second consecutive MVP award.
The Nuggets play historically-bad basketball when Nikola Jokic sits
The on-off splits show Nikola Jokic’s importance to the Nuggets. They also highlight Denver’s lack of depth and struggles when he sits.
The Nuggets outscore opponents by 9.2 points per 100 possessions when The Joker plays. But they’re horrendous with the reigning MVP on the bench, carrying a -12.6 deficit without him on the floor.
Jokic carries immense burdens. He is Denver’s top scoring threat. But he’s also far and away the best creator on the roster. Not to mention, he anchors the team’s defense as a guy who contests everything at the rim and is sneaky good in the passing lanes.
Aaron Gordon has emerged as a strong co-star for Jokic. However, he isn’t much of a shot-creator and takes on added responsibilities as a wing defender despite mostly playing in the frontcourt.
The reality is that the Nuggets do not have a true No. 2 with Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. sidelined. They also lack the young talent and draft capital necessary to make a push for a top player. The best teams can do in that case is add depth pieces in areas of need.
The Nuggets have done just that.
Bryn Forbes and DeMarcus Cousins both fill vital roles for Denver
The Nuggets showed a sense of urgency in trading for Bryn Forbes. They acted aggressively in the free-agent market by signing DeMarcus Cousins. Both men can have a significant impact on winning.
Forbes struggled in his Nuggets debut on Friday, scoring nine points on 4-of-13 shooting and recording a -13 plus-minus in just under 19 minutes of action. Still, he has the skill set the Nuggets need.
Denver lacks perimeter shooting. It ranks 12th in 3-point attempts but just 19th in efficiency. Forbes is shooting over 41% from beyond the arc for his career and averaged double-digit scoring numbers in the prior three seasons. He gives the Nuggets a much-needed floor-spacer who opens up the court for Jokic.
Cousins, meanwhile, gets another chance to stick with an NBA franchise after the Milwaukee Bucks surprisingly waived him.
Boogie played well for Milwaukee in stints, averaging 9.1 points and 5.8 rebounds in under 17 minutes. The 31-year-old can spell Jokic of some minutes and replicate at least some of The Joker’s value with his underrated passing ability and willingness to shoot and play make on the perimeter. He’s more of a true center than Zeke Nnaji and Jeff Green, giving the Nuggets more rotational flexibility.
Neither of the two moves is sexy. But they could lead to improvement and put Jokic’s MVP candidacy over the top.
Will depth moves help elevate Jokic and the Nuggets?
The Nuggets always seem to need Herculean efforts from Nikola Jokic. His 49-point triple-double only barely got Denver past the Los Angeles Clippers, and another triple-double could not power the Nuggets over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday.
Maybe the additions of Forbes and Cousins can help alleviate some of the pressure on The Joker. Doing so could help Jokic elevate his play even higher and possibly result in a second straight league MVP, thereby putting an end to the purported disrespect.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.