clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Stat of the Week: the Denver Nuggets aren’t generating open threes anymore

New, comments

Questions have arisen regarding Denver’s offense this season, and the three-point line is the sticking point.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets offense isn’t the same anymore.

The numbers may be similar (110.4 points per 100 possessions, 8th in the NBA), but there are notable differences that have changed how Denver scores those points. The trio of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Gary Harris have combined to average 52.2 points per game this season, comparable to last season’s 52.7 PPG figure. Last season didn’t feature a key injury to Will Barton to start the year though, and it’s clear that his presence as a scorer and passer has been missed in Denver’s offense.

The NBA is evolving and the Nuggets missed the memo

Around the league today, three-point attempt rate is up. For nearly half the league, over 30 percent of a team’s points are coming from three-pointers. For the Houston Rockets (who the Nuggets couldn’t keep up with offensively yesterday) three-pointers account for 40 percent of their total points on the year. Just 11 teams had 35 percent of their total field goal attempts come behind the arc in 2017-18. In 2018-19, that number has jumped to 16.

It does not include the Nuggets, who at 32.2 percent in 2018-19, are trending in the opposite direction after a 35.7 percent mark in 2017-18. Denver as a team is taking fewer threes this year. Only 25.9 percent of their points come from behind the arc, which ranks 25th in the NBA. Murray, Harris, and Jokic were all 37 percent or better three-point shooters in 2017-18, but for some reason, their attempts have all gone down this year.

Forget for a second that Murray and Harris have struggled to shoot from behind the arc the entire season. They are still considered threats from those distances. The opposing defense still respects them enough to run them off the three-point line, and it’s working. Murray, Harris, and Jokic are all down in terms of attempts from beyond the arc this year.

With this trio, maximizing their open three-point attempts is an important factor in maximizing the offense. The more distance the opposing guards and center have to cover away from the basket, the more room is left to attack the rim. Whether the design of the offense is to get them going toward the rim or if they are simply turning down those looks, it’s surprising that they have moved away from that.

Instead, the Nuggets as a team have moved in the other direction.

Denver’s three-point attempt numbers don’t inspire confidence in a healthy offense.
NBA.com

The blue columns are the 2016-17 season post-December 15th 2016 (when Jokic became the starting center). Don’t be fooled by the wide open mark either. The pace of play has yielded higher marks for the majority of teams. Put another way, the Nuggets aren’t keeping up with the rest of the league.

For most teams, highly contested and contested threes have been almost eliminated from the game. The same is true for the Nuggets. In addition, wide open threes are almost as much about defensive breakdowns as they are an offense executing well.

The key here is the open threes. Denver is in the bottom five in both attempt rate and finishing rate, showing an inability to execute, an unwillingness to let shots fly when open, and quite simply, a weakness for opponents to exploit. Whether the Nuggets are attempting fewer threes because they are making fewer threes or vice-versa, there’s way too much yellow and red up there for a team that ranked eighth in three-point attempts per game and seventh in three-point efficiency.


While the Nuggets have been excellent scoring in the paint all season long, switching defenses that can stay in front of Murray, Harris, and Jokic will prevent those easy looks. Denver must find opportunities to break down the defense, kick out to open shooters, and have those players knock down their shots. Juancho Hernangomez and Paul Millsap have to be willing to let those shots fly from the wings and corners. If those shots fall with regularity, Denver’s offense may soon return back to normal. Jamal Murray and Gary Harris can’t keep shooting poorly from the perimeter for the rest of the season, right? Nikola Jokic has to be willing to let outside shots fly to open up the paint for cutters as well. That will create the floor balance Denver needs to continue attacking the paint with ferocity.

Until then, consider me concerned for the offense’s health going forward.