The Denver Nuggets have had some early season struggles and it has been frustrating to say the least. In a December 7th matchup with the Brooklyn Nets, this frustration boiled over. While arguing with officials, Nuggets head coach Michael Malone received multiple technical fouls, resulting in his ejection. After the game, in which the Nuggets nearly overcame a 29 point deficit, Michael Malone sounded off, “As NBA players and coaches you know we’re not performers. We’re not, we’re competitors. There’s a big difference. I don’t want to see guys perform, I want to see guys compete. We have a lot of performers out there right now. Forget that. I don’t care if you make a mistake, miss a shot. Compete. That is the essence of what being a Denver Nugget has to be moving forward”.
Some of this frustration can be linked to the poor play of second year guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who I have admittedly been hard on. Then came the return of Gary Harris, and I had an “aha moment”. Gary Harris elevates the play of everyone around him. Nikola Jokic went as far as calling him the “Glue Guy”, holding everything together. But Harris has an immense impact on Mudiay in particular.
In the six games this season in which Mudiay and Harris have started together (not including last nights win over Dallas), Mudiay’s numbers have ascended. Mudiay is averaging 19.0 points, shooting 50 percent overall, 51.9 percent from the 3-point line, and accumulating 4.0 assists per game.
Without Gary Harris by his side, it’s a tale of two completely different players. Mudiay’s numbers drop drastically. He averages 11.4 points on 32.5 percent shooting overall and 22.1 percent from the 3-point line.
So why is this? It’s simple, their bond and chemistry cannot be matched. When asked about Gary Harris, Mudiay proclaimed, “Me and him have a great feel for each other. That’s the person I’ve been playing with since Day 1. When I got drafted, we were together on the same summer league team. That’s one of my best friends in the NBA. So, it is a comfort level there. He knows how to talk to me, I know how to talk to him. It’s rare that I open up to people. That’s my guy though. He’s a good friend. We talk about a lot of stuff, even off the court.”
In a post game interview with Altitude’s very own Ally Sturm, when being asked about playing alongside Mudiay, Gary Harris also demonstrated the connection between the two of them, “It’s good, that’s my guy. It’s always fun going out there playing with him. We both go out there and compete”.
There has been a noticeably different Nuggets team out there on the court. With the return of Gary Harris, the Nuggets find themselves “streaking” after sweeping a three game home stand and look to continue playing an impressive brand of basketball as they fly to LA to take on the Clippers. Gradually, the Nuggets are morphing into competitors, rather than performers.