All Julian Strawther needs to see is one, or maybe two, go down.
“After the first two go in, it’s kind of, you know, how many can you make?” Strawther said Monday.
His second made jumpshot of the night hit the bottom of the net at the 4:06 mark of the second quarter Monday against the Pelicans.
You know what happened next.
Strawther exploded for a career-high 21 points on 8-13 shooting (5-9 3FGs) in the Nuggets 134-116 come-from-behind victory over the Pelicans.
The Nuggets are 7-1 on the season. They’re sitting atop the Western Conference. Nikola Jokic is playing like a man possessed and Denver’s bench looks like it’s going to be a weapon, not a worry, this season.
A key reason why is their latest rookie sensation.
Strawther is overflowing with confidence. He has swag. He’s poised. His movements are decisive, forceful, and elegant all at the same time.
He feels the game like a 10-year vet.
Most of all he’s trustworthy. You trust him to take and make this shot.
That’s a crazy thing to say about a rookie on a reigning NBA champion who looks determined to go back-to-back. But it’s true.
“Those are the moments you envision,” said Strawther.
With Strawther, the Nuggets might have the perfect combination of talents and skill sets on their second unit this season. If you remember, the Nuggets’ bench was a disaster last year. You, and Michael Malone, held your collective breath every time that Jokic left the game.
This season, the Nuggets’ second unit is proving to be a real weapon.
When you have a gunner like this, the momentum of a game can change on one shot.
“I mean, Julian Strawther tonight,” Malone said. “I thought he was really impactful.”
Denver’s coach has some difficult decisions to make with his bench, especially when he’s working with a fully healthy roster. There are a lot of guys who need minutes. Christian Braun, Peyton Watson, and Zeke Nnaji are mainstays off the bench right now. Reggie Jackson is penciled into the rotation too. He’s a lock for minutes.
But on nights like Monday, you need Strawther on the floor. He’s too capable of changing the momentum of a game.
What a selection by Nuggets general manager Calvin Booth. At No. 29 overall, finding an NBA role player at that draft slot is rare. And Strawther looks like the perfect fit.
His game is a tailor-made fit in the Jokic Ball system. He can read and react. He can move off the ball. He knows his place. He has an inside-outside style that compliments his teammates.
It feels like there’s no stopping this team.
“He attracts so much attention on the court that, for a shooter like me, I mean, that’s my dream,” Strawther said of Jokic. “For him to even have the trust to make skip passes to me and expect me to make shots, I mean, that’s huge.
“But that’s just a testament to what this team is. We’ve got so much trust in each other. That’s why we’re able to have success on the floor.”