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Denver Nuggets: a scary Halloween start

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In the easiest stretch of basketball this year, the Nuggets are beginning the season below .500.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at New York Knicks Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

As Gordon Gross pointed out last week, the Denver Nuggets are in the upside down, and today, so am I. I do not know what to make of the Nuggets so far, and I have a feeling it will cost them more wins until they figure things out.

I am a team manager for the University of South Carolina men’s basketball team. The experience has been amazing, and when I’m not focusing on basketball for the Nuggets, I’m usually focusing on basketball for the Gamecocks. Last night, the Gamecocks had a scrimmage against Erskine college, a smaller program in South Carolina. I followed along with both that game and Denver’s game against the New York Knicks, and I couldn’t help but notice that I like the Gamecocks’ offense and defense way better than the Nuggets’ offense and defense right now. The way South Carolina moved in unison, playing off of each other, communicating defensively...overall, they showed more hustle, grit, and communication than I have seen out of the Nuggets all year.

That isn’t a shot. It’s just a way of life. If there’s one thing South Carolina head coach Frank Martin does extremely well, it’s communication. His players understand how they will earn playing time and what they should do when they get on the floor.

The Nuggets just don’t, at least from my perspective. Nikola Jokic is clearly the best player, and he has shown as such throughout the season. For some reason, the team is settling for these types of shots, and I don’t know why.

Or this one.

Or this one.

All of these shots came during a win. Even more of them pop up during a loss. I find myself asking “why?” during these games due to poor shot selection.

What has changed? I shared last week my thoughts on shot location and shot distribution within the new Nuggets offense, and here’s the requisite video proof. Denver’s taking less shots in the paint as a team, less threes as a team, and far more midrange shots than ever before. That cannot continue if Denver desires to be a playoff team.

These are shots that head coach Michael Malone is either endorsing or condoning based on how close the nearest defender is. In the end, I don’t care how open the midrange attempts are. Early in the shot clock, they are bad shots for all but a few players in the NBA. Nikola Jokic is one of them. He has full rein to take those shots, as he proved all of last year to be automatic from the midrange. For everyone else, there needs to be a filter. There needs to be an extra push to generate an open shot at the rim or an open three.

Jamal Murray has shot 18/28 from within 10 feet of the rim this year, good for 64.3%. That’s awesome, and it shows just how excellent Murray has become as a finisher at just 20 years old. The problem? He’s taken over 68% of his total shots outside of 10 feet, and due to his struggles with the jump shot so far (something he looks to be breaking out of a bit) he’s only shooting 37.1% overall.

Paul Millsap is shooting the lowest percentage of shots at the rim for his career, and the highest percentage of shots from 3-10 feet. He shoots 60% at the rim and 43.6% from 3-10 feet, so why are nearly half of his shots coming from that range?

About 13 of Nikola Jokic’s shots have come within 10 feet this year, less than half of previous years. He’s still shooting insanely well from the midrange and beyond the arc, but what made the Nikola Jokic offense special was his interior work, not his jump shot.

These are factors that must be communicated to the players. These are shots that can’t kill the flow of a game. Out of the timeout with 2:50 left in the fourth quarter vs the New York Knicks, Denver’s play call was to get Paul Millsap the ball. If that doesn’t scare anyone after Millsap was already 2/12 in the game, then it should.

Malone has said that the Nuggets internally believe that Jokic is the best young big man in the NBA. It’s pretty scary that the offense has been so focused on getting Millsap, Wilson Chandler, and Jamal Murray going instead of getting shots for their young star.

Today is Halloween, a day of frights and fears. Hopefully something sweet comes out of the situation Denver currently finds themselves in. After a 3-4 start against the easiest part of their schedule, life will come at the Nuggets fast if they don’t make corrections quickly.