Denver Nuggets Film Friday: Time for a makeover

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Phoenix Suns
Mark J. Rebilas-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.

It’s been talked about ad nauseum since the Nuggets season ended what they need to do in order to take the next step into becoming a title contender. “They need more defense, shooting, etc.” Regardless, the team, as currently constructed, is not the top title contender even when fully healthy. They need to go out this offseason and make additions to weak spots while trimming the fat in other areas.

Admittedly, it’s going to be a little more difficult to make those additions with former President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly now with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Regardless, once Denver has their new shot caller in charge, they’ll need to go to work. They have a legitimate chance to win a championship with their current core of players, but they need to add around that group, as we’ve seen teams such as the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics do to great success this season.

The Nuggets will have to get creative with their money this offseason to find ways to add to the roster with a large chunk of their salary cap taken up by the team’s stars, but the best teams always find a way to make it work. Denver is going to have to be one of those teams this offseason, and these are some of the targets they should be looking at due to both cost and fit with the team.

A 3-and-D Wing

He’s far from a knockdown shooter from outside the 3-point line, but he is enough of a threat that defenses must honor him. Throw in the fact that he’ll see plenty of wide-open passes from Nikola Jokic, and he would likely see his shot percentage go up automatically. The shot above happened in Game 6 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs in 2021. It was a potential closeout game for the Phoenix Suns, and Crowder went 6-of-9 from 3-point range as the team’s second leading scorer behind Devin Booker. Crowder doesn’t do anything special on the play other than force the defender to make a decision. He holds his ground and gets the open shot or the defender guards him and gives Chris Paul the open look. Offense doesn’t always have to be that difficult.

Defense will be what Crowder is brought in for in terms of how he would help this Nuggets’ roster. Crowder was 24th in D-PIPM (Player Impact Plus/Minus) this past season. Of the 23 guys ahead of him, there were eight who were considered non-centers. Crowder’s ability to switch and guard positions 1-4 effectively are what makes him such a valuable defender. Here, he’s guarding Luka Doncic, who has had some great games against Denver since entering the NBA, and he manages to force the miss without fouling which is all you can ask for. He slides laterally to stay in front of him and eventually elevates for the contest and forces the miss. Assuming Crowder is on the move this offseason, Denver should absolutely be on the phone with him.

A Defensive Guard

Are we noticing the trend yet? Denver needs on-ball defenders at every level of the defense, and the next option in the backcourt is Delon Wright, who has played on six different teams over the last four seasons. However, Wright hasn’t been traded due to struggles. Instead, it’s been more due to the fact that teams see value in him as a role player on the bench, and he’s usually been moved in trades for bigger name players.

Using D-PIPM again, Wright was 14th among guards with a +.87, which doesn’t seem like a great number, until you compare him to the rest of his team where he was the only guard with a positive rating in the metric and the only rotation guard better than -.27. It didn’t matter who the Hawks were playing and who Wright was guarding. Screens were coming his way constantly to get him switched onto someone else, but he would rarely fully quit on a play. Instead, he would start lurking and waiting for the opponent to forget about him. As soon as they did, such as Ja Morant on this play, Wright would slide in and use his 6’6.5” wingspan to swipe at the ball and rack up steals. He totaled five in this win over Memphis back in March.

Wright wouldn’t be needed much for his offensive skills just due to the present number of scorers the team is already working with, as they have Bones Hyland and Monte Morris already coming off of the bench next season. However, Wright does still have the ability to get the ball moving. On this play, Wright shows his ability to drive into the paint, which sucks in the defense, and, when they collapse on him, he kicks out to the wide open John Collins for a corner triple. Delon could fly under the radar this offseason, and the Nuggets are likely hoping that is the case and they could give him another change of scenery this year.

A Big Off the Bench

As the offseason wears on, I find it harder and harder to believe that DeMarcus Cousins is going to be back in Denver next year. As a result, Denver should be looking for another center to fill their bench minutes when they want to maintain size. Another guy from Phoenix in Bismack Biyombo fits that bill. The former first-round pick doesn’t bring a ton on the offensive end in terms of spacing the floor, but he can roll to the rim and finish dunks until the cows come home.

The above clip comes from the Suns’ January 4th win over the New Orleans Pelicans. Biyombo had 16 points while shooting 6-of-6 from the floor, and he scored 13 of his 16 points in the second half just by going to the rim off of screens. After setting the screen for Paul, he starts rolling towards the rim, and there isn’t anyone in the building that wants to get in the way of that freight train. He’s only listed at 6’8,” but he’s always played bigger than that and never had a problem with rebounding during his minutes on the floor.

I love Jokic just as much as everyone else does, and I acknowledge he’s made huge strides with his athleticism and defensive effort over the last two seasons. However, I’m still pretty sure he isn’t making this play if put in the situation. Biyombo is off of the ball up by the elbow. Brandon Ingram gets a step on Devin Booker and begins to drive by him. Biyombo recognizes this and rotates over for the huge block off of the backboard. In a five-point game, that play went a long way towards a win. Assuming he’s willing to go from one contender to another for a modest deal, Denver could have the rim-running and shot-blocking center they’ve been searching for.

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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