Once of my favorite television shows is a show about nothing.
Seinfeld was on air for nine seasons, and was one of the most popular shows in the U.S. during that stretch. Year after year, episode after episode, you could always count on Cosmo Kramer sliding through Jerry's apartment door at some point. Boom, slide, and suddenly Kramer had entered into 5A and announced himself. At times, though, Jerry would lock the door. SLAM! Kramer would crash into the door, unable to get in to his friend's apartment. How rude!
Sometimes when I watch Danilo Gallinari run the pick and roll for the Nuggets, I'm reminded of Kramer barging through that door. Both are tall, have this lanky yet smooth gait, and they do it over and over. When Gallo is the ball handler in a pick and roll action, he's scoring 0.76 points per possession. That's about league average, and he's only doing it on about 12 percent of his possessions, according to NBA stats.
It's a different story when Gallo finishes a play in a spot up situation. He is used in these plays nearly twice as often, and scores 1.00 points per possession, good for the 62nd percentile in the league. He scores nearly 40 percent of the time when he spots up, using his ability to shoot from distance as well as his knack for drawing contact to generate points.
The difference between the two play types illustrates a weakness the Nuggets have right now. Just like Kramer was always seemingly out of work, the Nuggets only have a few players they can serve as the ball handler in the pick and roll. Despite the lack of ballhandlers, the Nuggets run a lot of pick and roll - they are ninth in the league according to NBA stats. Possession after possession ends up in a pick and roll, and there is no team in the league worse at having the ball handler score on that play. Denver's pick and roll ballhandler is scoring 0.62 points per possession, tied for worst in the league with Milwaukee.
Part of that is to blame on Emmanuel Mudiay, who has been awful in the pick and roll as a scorer so far thanks to his terrible field goal percentages and dedication to pulling up for fadeaway jumpers. The defense knows they can go under the screen and then dive into the paint, and if Mudiay spots them in his peripheral vision, he's stepping back into a jumper. It's a rookie mistake, but it's almost worse when the shot goes in. He shouldn't be trusting that jumper - with his skill set, the allure of getting attempts up in the paint should be irresistible.
When Gallinari runs the pick and roll, a different issue surfaces.
Gallinari has played the most minutes this season with Mudiay, Gary Harris, Kenneth Faried and J.J. Hickson. Outside of Harris, that means that when Gallinari runs the pick and roll, he's surrounded by players that just aren't able to make jumpers. The defense knows they can pack the paint, limiting opportunities for Faried and Hickson to roll while going under screens and encouraging Gallinari to shoot. Gallo shoots 40 percent when he gets to catch and shoot, but when he has to put the ball on the floor and pull up, his shooting percentage drops down to 27.5 percent.
The Nuggets are going to run pick and roll, they've shown that much this season. As the players grow more accustomed to their roles in the offense, they'll develop better timing and spacing as their familiarity increases. Gallo does have the ability to create plays in the pick and roll, and he's done so many times this season. The framing is there, but it's not a finished project yet. The Nuggets will need time to add players that can operate efficiently as spot-up shooters and roll men in a variety of lineups so the Nuggets can field one of the top offenses in the league once again. It's just not going to happen right now.
Part of the framework are players like Joffrey Lauvergne, who has shown range on his jumper and athleticism, Nikola Jokic, who has shown above average passing ability for a big man as well as range, and the potential of Jusuf Nurkic, who flashed a jumper last season as well as the quickness to be a powerful finisher. If the Nuggets can continue to upgrade on the wing, there's a lot of promise for high-scoring lineups on the roster. It'll just take time.
Not all doors open on the first try - sometimes you have to knock and wait.