Denver Nuggets Film Friday: The offense is officially a problem

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Denver Nuggets
Ron Chenoy-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.

Since Michael Malone became the head coach of the Nuggets before the 2015-16 season, he’s wanted this team to be a great defensive team while letting the offense work itself out. For the most part, things have been the inverse. Denver has largely been one of the league’s best offensive units over that stretch while the defense will fluctuate between productive and detractive on a nightly basis.

Now, two months into the season, things are finally going the way that Malone has tried to steer the course. Denver is 15th in offensive rating, but they’ve seen their stats drop in nearly every offensive category from last season, outside of a slight bump in their 3-point attempts per game. They’re 20th in defensive rating, but there are less than four points per 100 possessions separating 5th and 21st in that statistic. Denver is “struggling” on defense, but it’s not nearly as big of a chasm as that ranking would have you think.

The major concerns for this team remain on the offensive end of the floor. In their 14 losses this season, is averaging 101.6 points per game, compared to 110.1 points per game in their wins. They have five different losses where they failed to score 100 points, and they have seven total games where they didn’t hit the century mark. This Denver team isn’t strong enough defensively to carry this team on a nightly basis with the way their offense is playing. One important note to all of this. I understand that Denver has been one of the hardest hit teams in terms of injuries this season, and the eventual return of Jamal Murray will help alleviate some of these concerns. However, he’s not back yet, and the team has to get by without him for now.

Don’t Waste Someone’s Good Night

One of the main struggles that has become notable with the Nuggets has been the team’s inability to have every player clicking on every night. Aaron Gordon has five games with 20 or more points this season. The team is 2-3 in those games, with two of those losses being his season-high for points. Gordon is not a high-volume shooter, so, when he has those nights when he’s clicking, the rest of the team needs to rise up to capitalize on that.On this play above, Gordon is playing with early confidence. The team is down by 10, but he’s still being aggressive and moving towards the basket. He has a matchup that he likes, and he gets to the rim for the reverse layup. Denver lost this game by 12 despite Gordon scoring 25 points, while shooting 75 percent from the floor. That’s a good game wasted.

A quick note that Nikola Jokic falls into the category of don’t waste his good games, but, as a player that has such a high level of consistency and good production, this section was more focused on players that can fluctuate in terms of consistency. On November 18th, the Nuggets lost to the Philadelphia 76ers 103-89. They got 49 points from Will Barton and Jokic, who combined to shoot 17-of-31 from the field and 7-of-10 from 3-point range. The Sixers were also playing without Joel Embiid in this game, and Denver just couldn’t come out with a win. The shot above is the exact type of play that should have helped Denver push for a win. With the clock winding down in the first half, Barton is driving up the floor with the ball. He gets a mismatch with a power forward on him, and he is attacking to get a look that he likes. He ends up making the acrobatic floater, and it was all downhill for Denver after that, as they got blasted out of the break by losing the third quarter by 12 points. 49 of the team’s 89 points came from two guys, who shot the ball well, and it doesn’t matter because the players around them didn’t hold up their end of the bargain.

Get Moving

This play happens near the ending of a blowout loss by the Nuggets where the Minnesota Timberwolves were driving the nails into the coffin before halftime. When the opponent shoots 23-of-48 from 3-point range, you’re probably going to lose that game. While this play happens at a point in the game that doesn’t really matter, it’s what happens on it that can be translated to the remainder of the team’s games. When this team’s offense gets stagnant, it’s often due to a lack of movement by the players that aren’t handling the ball. Facundo Campazzo is driving towards the basket, and Markus Howard does everything that he’s supposed to. He drives his man into the screen that’s being set by Zeke Nnaji and generates space for himself. Campazzo finds him, and Howard knocks down the shot. Now, everyone else needs to follow suit.

So, we’ve seen it done the right way. What does the wrong way of running the offense look like? Well, all you have to do to see that is look a few minutes prior in the very same game. The exact same lineup is on the floor for both plays, but one sees guys moving while the other sees players with cement shoes. Campazzo comes off of the Nnaji screen and has some space when Jeff Green gets him the ball. Campazzo is the only guy on the floor that’s actually moving with Vlatko Cancar and Howard across the floor just putting their hands up and calling for the ball, while Green is in the corner watching everyone else stand still. Campazzo puts up the shot, and Denver’s possession ends.

Try Someone New

Everyone knows the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, this offense isn’t completely broken as some other teams in the league may be, but it’s not exactly functioning properly either. So, how do you fix it? Try some new people in the mix. My top option for a rotation swap is Nnaji into the JaMychal Green minutes. Green has struggled all year, and he’s just not bringing nearly enough to the floor, even when he’s having a good night. Meanwhile, Nnaji has looked great in his second season, and he looks ready to take another step if given the opportunity. The play above helps illustrate how Nnaji helps the entire offense, but he specifically can benefit Jokic. Jokic is being guarded by Anthony Edwards, which has Karl Anthony-Towns assigned to Zeke. KAT is so concerned with the drive of Campazzo that he collapses on Campazzo which leaves Nnaji wide open. Nnaji is hitting 52.8 percent of his 3-point shots compared to 22 percent for JaMychal. Floor spacing for Jokic gives him more room to work, and, having good shooters outside gives him more one-on-one matchups because teams don’t want to give open looks to a guy hitting over 50 percent of his 3-point shots.

Bones Hyland very well might be the most confident player on the Nuggets. It doesn’t matter the game time or situation. When this guy sees the rim, he thinks he’s open. In the late November matchup with the Miami Heat, he made four different 3-point shots from 26 feet or further away from the rim. That isn’t something that just anybody is doing. He still gets out of control at times, and he can be a little overzealous when hunting his shot. However, he fits into the offense well no matter who else is on the floor. Hyland can create his own shot, but he doesn’t need to. With his range, he spaces the floor out so much, and that opens up other space. On this shot, he could attempt the 3-pointer from the wing, but he sees an even better look in front of him when the defender flies by. There are minutes available for Hyland, and he needs to get them to help boost this offense.

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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