Denver Nuggets Film Friday: Consistency? Now that’s a name I’ve not heard in a long time

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Oklahoma City Thunder
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re not familiar with Film Fridays, each Friday, I’ll be looking at some recent Denver Nuggets’ games, lineups or something else from a film aspect to try and bring you a piece of content that you’re not getting somewhere else. Feel free to give any feedback positive or negative in the comments or find me on Twitter.

Denver is an even 15-15, as of this writing. They’re 5-10 against teams above .500 and 10-5 against teams below .500. They’ve won consecutive games just once since they went on a four-game winning streak in early November. They have no consistency in any way, shape or form on either end of the floor on a night-to-night basis. They’ll go on the road and blast a top-five team before coming home to drop one to a team eight games below .500.

The Western Conference is too crowded for Denver to make a habit out of dropping winnable games. Those winnable games that end up in the loss column are the ones that make you a 5-seed instead of a 4-seed at the end of the season. The best way to beat the teams at the bottom of the league is by playing consistent basketball within the scheme that is set up around you rather than trying to do too much. Right now, a lot of the Nuggets are trying to do too much.

Will Barton is trying to be the team’s second superstar. Nikola Jokic is trying to drag everyone with him, and he’s playing out of sorts as a result. When the second unit is on the floor, there’s no semblance of a system at all. Instead, you have combinations of five guys working as individuals trying to score for themselves rather than trying to set up others to score.

*All stats, film and analysis were done prior to the team’s 12/23/2021 game against the Charlotte Hornets.*

To Attack or Not Attack

Against the Atlanta Hawks, the Nuggets shot 58.1 percent from the field. If you remove their 3-point shooting, they were 33-of-48 from the floor, which translates to 68.8 percent. That’s pretty damn good. They followed that up by going 39.3 percent from the field while taking 44 of their 84 shots from 3-point range. They were 20-of-40 from inside the arc. Why ignore it? Look at the play above, and tell me why this can’t be run by every unit the Nuggets have? Jokic is on the bench, so the offense is running through Barton. He uses the screen from Jeff Green to get the switch onto the center. With the center away from the rim, Green has a free roll to the rim for an easy dunk. What’s the part that I’m missing?

This play by Austin Rivers is a perfect example of how attacking the basket could dramatically alter the possession. He catches the ball in the right corner, and the defender jumps past him. Another defender starts sliding towards him, but he won’t have the lateral mobility to stay in front of him off of the dribble. Rivers should be driving towards the rim, even with the team down 13. He’s either going to get an easy look at a layup, or the defense will rotate and be forced to leave a shooter open from outside. Instead, he settles for the 3-point shot and misses. Attack the rim. Get better looks. Get the defense off balance. Allowing the sit out on 3-point shooters isn’t the way.

Glass Crashers

This play is largely made possible by the work of Jokic, but Aaron Gordon is ultimately the man that brings things home. Jokic is tipping the ball around before he sees Gordon flash open with a path to the hoop where he gets the dunk. In the recent games where Denver has been coming up short, they’re getting destroyed on the boards. On the year, they’re +1.6 in rebound differential in their wins, but they’re -6.7 in their losses. When they lose the battle on the backboards, it shows on the scoreboard.

There is no excuse for this play to happen. Denver forces the miss out of Lugentz Dort, and the entire Oklahoma City Thunder team is going down the court to get back on defense. There are four Nuggets inside the paint with three guys within a couple of arm lengths of the basketball. Rather than securing the rebound, they watch it bounce a couple of times. Dort sees this and springs into action. He secures the offensive rebound by passing it out to a teammate, who gets the ball right back to him for a 3-pointer in the corner that was effectively the final nail in the coffin for the loss.

Protect the Paint

The Nuggets are not a team that is built to be an elite defensive unit. They don’t stop the ball well enough on the perimeter, and that allows teams to get inside. Jokic has dramatically improved as a defender this year, but he’s still not a stifling presence that opponents are afraid to drive into. This play here makes no sense to me how Josh Giddey is able to get an open layup. He’s guarded off of the inbounds pass by Rivers, who passes him off to Zeke Nnaji, who needs JaMychal Green to switch onto him. Three different players guard him on one play, and he still manages a wide-open and easy layup to stretch their lead.

The play above happened in a bad blowout loss. This play happens in a game Denver blows out their opponent on the road, and they’re already up by 18. Gordon is taking pride in his defense on this play. Letting Trae Young get the layup here isn’t going to blow the game for Denver, but Gordon doesn’t just want to give up the bucket. Despite getting beat off of the dribble, Gordon stays with the play before rising up for the block. For the rest of the game, Young, or whatever player you make this play on, is going to be watching over their shoulder to see if you’re lurking for the block. That puts doubt in their minds, and that is going to throw off their game plan for the rest of the night.

For those of you that are still here, remember to leave your feedback in the comments or over on my Twitter, and have a fantastic film-filled Friday.

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