Denver Nuggets Film Friday: New year, new team

NBA: Utah Jazz at Denver Nuggets
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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.

Traditionally, I’ve written a New Year’s Resolution piece every year for one of the teams I was covering since I started writing about 5 ½ years ago. In basketball, the pieces always seemed to be more relevant than football just due to the fact there were a good number of games left to be played in the season. For the Nuggets, I’m a week late on my resolutions, but, considering the high rate of people that have likely already failed their resolutions for the year, I think I can get a pass for being a little late here.

Since April of last year, this franchise has had an aura hanging over it that just seems to continually tell the team and fans alike that they’re not allowed to have nice things. Upon trading for Aaron Gordon, the Nuggets, with their full starting five of Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter Jr. and Nikola Jokic looked like a legitimate contender for the title. They were 8-1 during the nine games Gordon was with the team before Murray tore his ACL, and they were fifth in the league in net rating. Since then, it’s been one tough break after another.

Following the injury to Murray, Barton, Monte Morris and P.J. Dozier all sustained injuries that sidelined them for a decent chunk of the season to end last year which resulted in a short run in the playoffs that saw Denver run out of gas. Head into the 2021-22 season where all Denver needs is to bide their time until Murray returns for them to make their move out West. Fast forward three months, and the Nuggets are without MPJ and Dozier for the remainder of the year while Murray has yet to return and the team finds themselves in seventh place in the west. Now, in the year 2022, it’s time for the Nuggets to try and change the way things are done at Ball Arena.

Games Can Be Won from the Inside

The Nuggets, along with many other teams of the spread out era of basketball we’re currently operating in, have this neverending belief that the only way to win games when you’re trailing is to keep chucking 3-point shots. Are those baskets worth more points? Yes. Does that mean that you should pass up an open layup for an open 3-pointer? No. Let’s take a look at this 3-point shot by Morris. There is plenty of time on the shot clock. He’s being guarded by a taller defender who has decent position on him and can put up a decent contest on the shot. Denver’s down 10 with a full quarter left to play. He’s trying to go for the 2-for-1 opportunity, but why not drive towards the baseline and the rim? The defender has his feet out of position so he won’t be able to slide over without fouling, and there is no rim defender on the floor. Settling for 3-point jumpers over taking shots inside the arc results in a lot of wasted possessions that don’t get ruled as turnovers when that’s essentially what they are.

Now, while Morris took that shot from outside, Barton took his talents towards the rim. He could settle for a lightly contested 3-pointer. He’ll probably still get the shot off over Donovan Mitchell, but it definitely won’t be the best shot available to him or the team. He sets up Mitchell with the screen, and, once he has that separation, he drives to the rim for the acrobatic layup. This makes it a seven point game. Denver often settles for 3-pointers to try and come back quicker, but that isn’t always the best shot.

Change is Ok

People in all aspects of life are afraid of change. If you’re reading this and you think this doesn’t apply to you, it definitely applies to you, and that’s ok. Change isn’t always a bad thing. Quick example: If the Nuggets never changed anything, Jokic likely never becomes the full-time starter, and the last six years and next several years of Nugget basketball. So, it’s ok to accept change sometimes. This year, let’s change the way the bench plays basketball. Looking at the play above, you can see one action taking place on the left wing with Morris and Jeff Green running the pick and roll. The other three guys on the floor are standing still. Facundo Campazzo starts the play with his hands on his knees and does two half slides to his left and puts up the 3-point shot. This is how the Nuggets’ bench offense has been run for years, and it makes no sense to me why they refuse to change it.

This play ultimately turns into a somewhat of an isolation possession for Morris, but everything before it is what we’re focusing on here. Gordon and Green set a pair of screens for Facu to give him some breathing room from his defender. Facu speeds up and takes the pass from Morris before handing it back to him and making the defense think. Morris gets a screen from Green, and ends up with a midrange jumper. Four of the five offensive players were involved in this set in one way or another. Isolation possessions here and there aren’t the end of the world, but they can’t be the end-all-be-all for a team that doesn’t have a ton of elite 1-on-1 scorers on the second unit. Get this group moving and make the defense work. It’s a lot harder to guard someone that’s on the move compared to someone that’s standing still. Case and point is Stephen Curry with the Golden State Warriors.

Take Care of Business

This Nuggets’ roster plays down to their competition more than just about any other team in the league for some reason. In the last month and a half, they’ve lost games to the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Orlando Magic. Those three teams have a combined record of 32-78 which is a winning percentage of .291. On the year, Denver is 12-5 against teams under .500 compared to 6-13 against teams over .500. You’re not going to win every game against the best teams, but Denver should be winning these games against lower-end teams especially with how tight the Western Conference is. Denver can’t afford to lose these games. Looking at this play from the team’s blowout loss to the Thunder, the defense just looks lost and confused. All five defenders end up in a near straight line across the floor while Darius Bazley gets a wide-open look at a 3-point shot. Even if Bazley doesn’t end up taking his shot because Barton closes out on him, Josh Giddey is wide open at the top of the key for a 3-point jumper of his own. This play wasn’t complex enough that the defense should be in this much of a bind over it.

Now, what is it about Curry that gets the Nuggets to lock in just a little bit more? Austin Rivers gets turned around at first, but he keeps fighting to stay connected and is in a spot where he’ll at least be able to make Steph think about the shot. Bazley and Curry are obviously very different levels of shooter, but they have to all get the same level of respect. Act like you’re always trying to run Curry off of the line even if it’s someone who’s never shot a 3-point shot in their life. Make them think. If you can play like this against the best teams, you can play like this against the worst teams too.

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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