Last season, the mix of 20-something’s and veterans on the Denver Nuggets’ roster made for a season where the team’s chemistry evolved from opening night through the end of the year.
The case was never more apparent than at the beginning of the season when then-rookie Emmanuel Mudiay struggled to jive with Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, and his backcourt mate Gary Harris. Mudiay and Faried’s chemistry in the pick-and-roll was off, Gallinari and the No. 7 pick weren’t on the same page in the halfcourt, and Harris and his point guard seemed hesitant early on in the season. The disconnect was more than understandable considering the Nuggets injected a 19-year-old into a lineup who’s core had been playing with a veteran like Ty Lawson for the past couple of years.
However, later in the 2015-16 season, Mudiay, who was admittingly shy and reserved to start the year, began to come out of his shell. He was more vocal on the court and in the locker room, was starting to take on a leadership role, and his chemistry with Harris was trending in the right direction.
The chemistry and relationship between the two is vital to the Nuggets’ success this season.
Like last year, Mudiay will likely be featured heavily in pick-and-roll actions with both Faried and Nikola Jokic. A year spent together should lead to more success when all three of those starters are involved in the halfcourt, which should be often.
When Mudiay gets all the way to the basket, he’ll have to be on the same page with Harris and know where the shooting guard likes to roam on the perimeter for a kick out in case he can’t finish at the rim. Harris is also quickly gaining a reputation as one of the more advanced cutters in the league, as profiled this week by Sports Illustrated’s Rob Mahoney, and Mudiay’s vision and chemistry with the shooting guard that will allow him to hit Harris in stride on a cut is just as important as the potential backdoor action itself.
A year older and an increased level of familiarity with each other should also lead coach Michael Malone to implement a more sophisticated offense around his developing core.
Fast forward to this summer and Mudiay and Harris seem almost inseparable. From Summer League to the Olympic Training Camp this past week which both took part in with the Select Team, the backcourt pairing is building momentum heading into next season.
“Having Gary out there with me for this experience was great,” Mudiay said to Nuggets.com on having Harris with him at the Olympic Camp. “That’s my court partner so he and I always know what the other is going to do and we always know where the other is going to be. It was fun to be out there with my guy.”
Champions have great chemistry. Cleveland came together when they fired David Blatt, Kevin Love “fit in,” and the Cavs outclassed a Warriors team who had ironically built their success partly on how seamlessly they blended together and the chemistry they had. The Warriors were that team a year earlier and the Spurs displayed an uncanny chemistry throughout their run over the last 20 years.
Continuity is crucial in today’s NBA. It’s how you grow a championship contender when you don’t bring on a marquee free agent. The Nuggets plan to be active in the summer of 2017 and will likely have two max-level spots available, but for now, growing this backcourt together and continuing to build their chemistry is key for Denver’s success this season.