How can the Denver Nuggets get their offensive groove back?
Brandon Ewing (@B_Skip1717): I think this answer is as simple as the Nuggets just need to start making their open shots. Denver has generated a ton of open looks to start the season, but they are just having a hard time making them. One player in particular that is struggling is Nikola Jokic, who shot just 1-of-8 from distance in the Atlanta Hawks game. On the year, Jokic is shooting just 22.4 percent from three and if that number can improve, it will help the Nuggets offense as a whole.
Nick Hertzog (@NickHertzogSBN): A lot of little things are making the whole offense look broken right now. But I don’t think anything is fundamentally broken. Primarily, the Nuggets’ shooters need to start making open shots. This starts with the Big Guy, obviously, but there are plenty of bricks to go around. There’s a machinery to the Nuggets’ pass-happy offense, and that machinery looks out of alignment right now, but one hot game could go a long way toward making the gears click back into place.
Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn): It starts with Jokic. He has to direct everyone to the right places within the sets, be properly aggressive for himself, and pull players toward his inside so that the three-point line opens up a bit more. That’s his responsibility, especially when his jump shot isn’t falling. The players around him have to get moving though. It can’t be standing and watching Jokic work with whoever runs a pick and roll or DHO action with him. Back screens, cuts, rotations around the perimeter, and purposeful movement will get the Nuggets out of this funk. After that, it’s “hit open shots” szn.
Zach Mikash (@ZachMikash): Not to be a broken record here, but yes, the answer is hit open shots. Teams have shown their defensive hand to the Nuggets and that is they are going to give Denver jumpers. Heck, Alex Len flat out dared Nikola to shoot threes in the Hawks game and Jokic just couldn’t get them. I know how that is, first you feel disrespected that they are giving it to you, then you put pressure on yourself because you have to hit that shot and then with every miss that pressure grows. Denver needs to find their confidence and take a deep breath. Once they start hitting I think they will be fine.
With the bench struggles, is it time to give Michael Porter Jr. more minutes?
Ewing: Michael Porter Jr. deserves more minutes, and it will be imperative for him to take advantage of those when they come. If Porter Jr. can score the ball efficiently and play solid defense, it will be hard for the Nuggets to take him off the floor. In the limited opportunities Porter Jr. has had to start the year, he has played well, and that should warrant more chances. The Nuggets bench could desperately use a spark, and Porter Jr. is the prime candidate to provide it.
Hertzog: Eh, probably not (*ducks to avoid a water bottle thrown at his head*). Look, I want to see MPJ play as much as anyone, but the bench, as a unit, is broken right now. He will be set up for more success if he works his way into a group that is clicking. Monte Morris hasn’t been the playmaking superstar he was last season; Malik Beasley has disappointed; Jerami Grant seems out of place. Adding another question mark into the fold, right now, probably won’t help that group or MPJ’s progression. Now, MPJ with the starters? I might have a different answer … :)
Blackburn: It’s probably time to give Porter some consistency so he feels like he won’t be pulled from the game in the second half. Lately, Malone has used him off the bench at small forward but gone a different direction in the second half, but Porter won’t learn how to fight through mistakes and stay focused on playing winning basketball if he never plays in important segments of the game. Playing within the offense will help his minutes while he’s out there, but the only way he’s going to figure it out is if he receives a vote of confidence from the coaching staff and his peers.
Mikash: You got to play him. I get the allure of Torrey Craig as a defensive stalwart and a guy who has put in the time to earn his spot in the rotation but the bench is abysmal on the offensive end. If Craig was hitting threes, or Morris was making shots, or Beasley was consistent or Grant hadn’t fallen off a cliff then sure you can keep a defensive guy out there at the three, but none of that is happening. MPJ is perhaps the best guy on the roster at creating offense no matter what the defense does. The Nuggets, and the bench especially, are in desperate need of that right now.
It hasn’t been pretty at times, but the Nuggets are 7-3. Do we all need to just R-E-L-A-X, relax?
Ewing: Yes, the Nuggets are going to be just fine. Through 10 games, Denver has yet to play their best basketball and they still post one of the best records in the Western Conference. This Nuggets team is finding ways to win and that is incredibly important early in the season. Most teams are not playing their best basketball to start the year and that is the case with Denver, but they are still capturing victories and that is all that matters.
Hertzog: The ridiculously high expectations for this team have definitely gotten to me, I’ll say that much. Every blown possession right now feels like a direct knock on their playoff chances. Even Jokic’s game winners, the most fun we’ve had all season, were more relief than euphoria. The team doesn’t look like they’re having much fun either. It’s time to change that. We called for a reset on The Dig yesterday, and I stand by that. The record is fine, sure, but the tenor of this season needs to change.
Blackburn: Probably, but if I can offer a potential window into Michael Malone’s thinking here, it’s that these same problems rearing their ugly heads this season were what ailed Denver in the postseason last year. Inefficient shot selection and shot making, weakness defending guard-driven offenses with multiple creators, and nobody stepping up at the same time. In the playoffs, Jokic and Murray were good on offense. Now, it’s Murray, Barton, and Millsap. The bench has also been a weakness and continually puts the starters in a hole to dig themselves out of. If that doesn’t concern Nuggets fans, then it probably should. It’s only been ten games, but if the problems are the same, does it really matter?
Mikash: To a certain point yes. You are what your record says you are and the Nuggets record says they are pretty darn good. There’s some underlying issues that are cause for concern though. The fact that the Nuggets pace has cratered, that they make fewer passes than almost every team in the NBA, that almost everyone is shooting worse than they were last year, these things matter. Denver also hasn’t exactly seen a murderer’s row of opponents. They’ve faced only three teams who made the playoffs last year and one of those is the Orlando Magic. Bank wins early and make the most of a soft schedule, Denver’s done that but I think there are certainly some problems that can’t be ignored.