Over the last two seasons, the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers have made a bit of a rivalry. It all started with Jamal Murray dribbling around Lonzo Ball as the clock ran out on their December 2nd, 2017 matchup last season. Since then, Ball and the Lakers have made it their mission to make life difficult for Murray and the Nuggets. Lakers press full court when Murray takes the ball out, but don’t do it with anyone else on the Nuggets. They split the season series last year, and this year are 1-1. Denver demolished LA 117-85 on November 27th in their most recent matchup, and the Lakers won a close game 121-114 on October 25th to hand Denver their first loss of the year. Denver is exceeding expectations early on, and LA looks much better than last year with LeBron James, so who’s better Denver Nuggets or LA Lakers?
Ball and Ingram vs Murray and Harris
If these players are able to live up to their potential, this backcourt will be debated for a long time. Ball has nearly every single part of his game down except for shooting, and Brandon Ingram has crazy defensive potential along with a great offensive game, but this battle goes to Denver.
Jamal Murray has improved in every single part of his game that wasn’t already very good. He improved his defense (along with basically every other Nugget), and his assists per game are up by 1 APG from last year. He has struggled a bit with his shot, but the past two seasons Murray has gotten off to very slow starts, and this season has not resembled those two at all. Gary Harris has been everything the Nuggets need and more. He’s been their most reliable scorer this season, and he has been the best perimeter defender for Denver. He’s averaging 16.8 PPG and is one of the best two-way players in the league. Ball and Ingram are good with lots of promise, but Murray and Harris are just better.
Kuzma, James, McGee vs Hernangomez, Millsap, Jokic
Normally Denver would be starting Will Barton at the 3 spot in the lineup but he’s been out since the third quarter of the second game of the year, so we’ll just put Juancho Hernangomez in there instead. He’s been starting the last few games for Denver after Torrey Craig was starting for a while after Barton went down. With Barton being hurt, this matchup is incredibly hard to judge. Kyle Kuzma (16.7 PPG) is better than Hernangomez, but not better than Barton. LeBron (27.6 PPG, 6.7 APG) is the best player in the world, so obviously he is better than Paul Millsap, and then Nikola Jokic (16.8 PPG, 7.1 APG) is miles ahead of JaVale McGee, who is still having a nice year. LeBron clearly has more weight in this argument since… well he’s LeBron.
If he is not on the team, the Nuggets dominate this matchup. Millsap has been extremely effective in his last 11 games. He is averaging 13.7 PPG on 51% shooting and has been a monster on defense all year. Jokic has been in a bit of a funk shooting the ball, but still is having a great season. However, LeBron makes up for that for the Lakers. If the Nuggets are fully healthy, though, they would have the better frontcourt. But for now, this is a tie.
Most Nuggets and Lakers fans would agree that the Nuggets have a better bench. And it shouldn’t be that much of a debate. The Nuggets have one of the deepest benches in the league. While the Lakers haven’t gotten as much production from that unit as they would have liked. Denver’s bench is 12th in scoring, while LA is 22nd. Denver is also fourth in Deff (defensive efficiency), while LA is 18th.
LA isn’t completely healthy right now with Rajon Rondo out, but Denver isn’t even close to full strength either. As mentioned earlier, Barton is out for Denver which made them put Hernangomez in the starting lineup. That diminishes their bench scoring by a lot, and it’s been that way for a long time. Denver is also missing Isaiah Thomas who is still recovering from hip surgery, their first-round pick Michael Porter Jr. who is out from back surgery, and they are missing their second-round pick Jarred Vanderbilt. While the previous argument was basically negated because the Nuggets were injured, this one won’t be like that. Denver’s bench has been much better while being very hurt, while the Lakers have been relatively healthy and have not been nearly as good.
For right now, Denver is the better team. They have the better bench, better backcourt, and when healthy a better frontcourt. But that’s only this far into the year. Both these teams will most likely make the playoffs, and there is also a high probability that they play each other. Denver has an explosive offense and a vastly improved defense that’s third in the league in defensive rating. LA ranks in the top 5 in pace, and when they play to the best of their abilities are a real threat. Later in the season, these teams will be seen in a clearer lens, and we’ll be able to know what they’re made of. As of right now, however, Denver is the better team.