Denver Nuggets Film Friday: What to expect

NBA: Chicago Bulls 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.

We’re still a few months away from the NBA season, but it’s never too early to get a look at the team ahead of us. The Nuggets are in the middle of the pack in terms of title contenders based on the preseason oddsmakers, but that’s honestly where they probably want to be. The more that they’re overlooked by everyone else means that they can just focus on playing their game and proving everyone else wrong.

While the focus is on the shiny stars of Los Angeles, Golden State and Phoenix out West, the Nuggets have quietly assembled one of the best lineups in basketball, and they also have the reigning two-time MVP in the height of his prime to guide their ship. The Nuggets made a point this offseason to address their weaknesses, and, unlike other teams in their division, they did it without trading away four players and four first-round picks.

Now, the entire point of this offseason was to move the Nuggets into that elite tier of contenders. They’ve made a trip to the Western Conference Finals. They’ve been to the playoffs in each of the past four seasons, and, other than this past year where they were nearly swept by the eventual champions in the Golden State Warriors in the first round, they’ve made it past the first round in the other three trips. What should we be expecting from the Nuggets this next year?

Floor Spacing

Last season, with Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. gone for nearly the entire season, the lack of floor spacing was painfully obvious at times. The starting lineup of Nikola Jokic, Will Barton, Aaron Gordon, Monte Morris and Jeff Green just didn’t have the long-range shooting to open up room for the guys that thrived around the basket rather than on the perimeter. This play, against those same Warriors, is a clear example of the difference that space makes.

If you swap out Kent Bazemore for Klay Thompson, the lineup for GSW is the exact same. For Denver, the only new swap will be replacing Will Barton with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a strong shooter in his own right. Gordon drives towards the rim after getting around Draymond Green, and the defense is put into a bind. Andrew Wiggins can try to help on Gordon, or he can stay out with Porter. He goes with the former, and the latter makes him pay for it. Jeff Green may have knocked down that same shot, but, at 31.5 vs a career 41.9 percent, I have more confidence in MPJ on this one.

This is honestly a super simple play without much complexity to break down, but that’s what makes it worth taking a look at. Shortly after the trade that landed Gordon in Denver, he had a matchup with his former team. He exploded for a huge night, and a lot of it was just because he always had room to work near the basket. On this play, the only player inside the arc for Denver is Jokic. Everyone else is outside the 3-point arc. Gordon uses the ball screen from Jokic to get just enough spacing from his man, and he goes to convert the basket. There was no help defense to slow him down because all of the shooters had to be honored.

End of Game Confidence

Last season, Jokic took 102 shots in the clutch between the regular and postseason. Barton was second with 51. The gameplan was clear when the game was on the line. Get the ball to Jokic, and he’ll make a play. The return of Murray gives Michael Malone a second player to have confidence in late in the game, and it also makes life easier on Jokic because opponents will have to respect both he and Murray in those clutch situations.

3-point game with the shot clock winding down on the road against the team that eventually went to the NBA Finals? Murray doesn’t even blink. He gets the switch onto center DeAndre Ayton and goes to work on him. After setting him up with a couple of dribble moves, he goes to the stepback to his left and knocks down the tying triple to send the game to overtime.

People forget just how good Murray was when the game was on the line. Jokic is outstanding in clutch situations, as he shot just under 50 percent from the field last year, despite being the clear target for opposing defenses in those situations. Meanwhile, during the 2020-21 season, Murray shot 50.9 percent, including 57.1 percent from 3-point range. On this play, Denver has a two-point lead over the Chicago Bulls in overtime. They’re looking to close this one out, and they go to their closer. Murray already had 32 points in the game at that point, and he added two more after getting some space down along the baseline. Even if Jokic continues to take the majority of shots late in the game, having the threat of Murray there is a boost all on its own.

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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