Corey: Mike Malone Is Early Coach of the Year Front-runner
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Headed into the 2018-19 NBA season, one team with a profusion of question marks surrounding it was the Denver Nuggets.
Denver missed the playoffs last year in heartbreaking fashion when they played and lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves in overtime.
Now, this is a team that consistently finds itself on top of a tremendously competitive Western Conference. Denver was a team I listed in my top five sleeper teams back in early October, but they’ve still shocked me with how well they’ve been able to perform.
The Nuggets are the number one seed in the West thanks to an impressive 21-10 record. With the eighth-hardest schedule so far in the NBA per TeamRankings, that record seems to show concrete evidence that this squad is no easy out. They are especially deadly from the comforts of home, going 13-3 in the Mile High City.
What’s perhaps most telling of Mike Malone’s great coaching, however, is the roster they’ve accomplished that record with.
Similarly to last year’s Boston Celtics squad, Denver has had substantial injuries, dating back to their No. 14 overall pick Michael Porter Jr. The Missouri product had an uncertain timetable as he tries to return from a back injury that kept him sidelined for all but three games of his college career.
General Manager Artüras Karnišovas showed with this draft pick that he was willing to take a risk, as well as be patient with players that could eventually be serious threats in the NBA.
Another telling sign of this patient philosophy was signing the 5-foot-9 point guard Isaiah Thomas to a veteran’s minimum contract on July 13.
Thomas spent his 2017-18 campaign between the Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers, and rehabbing from a hip injury that dates back to his MVP-caliber season with the Celtics.
Even if Thomas can’t reclaim the production and great offensive success that he was capable of throughout his final year in Boston, Denver loses nothing. On the flip side, Thomas could find himself coming off the bench and being the primary scoring option, which should encourage considerable scoring numbers.
With that said, some injuries that Malone has had to navigate around to find success could have never been planned for.
Will Barton, Gary Harris, and Paul Millsap are all on the injury report, and Barton has only made appearances in two games. All of these players are starting-caliber, competitors, making Denver at full strength even scarier.
Until then, I’m sure Mike Malone will continue leading his team to battle night in and night out, making the best out of what he has and proving why he deserves to be a legitimate contender for Coach of the Year.