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Denver Nuggets: Let’s take a step back or two

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Denver Nuggets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

3-point shooting at high volumes took over the NBA during the run by the Golden State Warriors. The Denver Nuggets are never going to be that team, but they need to start putting up more of those and less from this ugly mid-range area.

With the 3-point revolution that took place around the NBA, teams were putting up more and more 3-points attempts. Only five teams are averaging less than 30 3-point attempts per game, and one of those teams is the Golden State Warriors, although they’re so decimated by injuries to their shooters that it makes sense. With all of those 3-point shots, the mid-range shot was slowly beginning to die. For the Denver Nuggets, they’re not ready to let it go silently into the night.

The team ranks in the top seven in shots from 10-14 and 15-19 feet, and, if they were being more efficient on those shots, we wouldn’t be having a conversation. Here’s the problem. They aren’t being efficient on those shots. They’re 26th in the NBA in shooting percentage from 10-14 feet, and they’re around the middle of the pack from 15-19 feet at 16th in the league. Mid-range shots are the least efficient shot in the NBA, and the Nuggets aren’t even the best in the NBA at shooting them.

Why am I bringing this up? It’s time for them to start backing up just a little bit out to that 3-point line. Even if they aren’t knocking down shots from 3-point land, they’re a more efficient shot that results in a greater end-product for the team. This team has a ton of shooters on it, and they just aren’t hitting shots. Giving them more 3-point looks could help solve those woes.

The Struggles of Garris

Through the first month and a half of the season, the struggles of Gary Harris have been widely talked about. His offense has been lacking, but his defense has been so good that it has somewhat made up for it. He is expected to be a 3-and-D wing for the Nuggets, and he is to some extent with 73 of his 77 jump shots coming from 3-point land this season, but they don’t tell the full story.

He’s shot 10-of-18 from 16 feet out to the 3-point line, but, from three feet out to 16 feet, he has been absolutely brutal. He’s shooting 26.7 percent on his shots in that range, and a lot of them have come on floaters, that we’ve already talked about before. Yet, here we are, one month later with the same shots coming. Per NBA stats, Harris has taken 41 shots that they classify as floaters. He’s shooting just 12-of-41 on those attempts which is a nice 29.3 percent.

Gary, for whatever reason, has shied away from contact when driving to the basket this season, which has resulted in the number of floaters and runners that he’s putting up. He’s shooting 35.9 percent from 3-point range which isn’t lights out, but it’s not bad. It’s been brought down pretty significantly by shots above the break. When he’s been in the corner. he’s shot very well. He’s 14-of-25 from the corners compared to 19-of-67 above the break.

This offense needs an adjustment for everybody, but Gary is probably hoping for some change more than most. If he could get more corner looks, his 3-point percentage would continue to climb, as it’s typically classified as the “easiest” of the 3-point shots, and he could cut back on those floaters and mid-range jumpers. Part of that is on him to adjust, but the offense as a whole needs a rework.

Team Struggles

Remember when I talked about how inefficient mid-range shots are? Denver is shooting just 37 percent from 10-19 feet. They’re shooting 35 percent from 3-point range. That’s only a slight dip, and a major part of that has been the inefficiency of Nikola Jokic from 3-point range, as he’s shooting just 23 percent from long range. He’s taking 4.0 attempts per game from distance, and he’s not hitting them. However, he’s the exception to shooting less mid-range shots.

He’s shooting an incredible 56.8 percent 3-10 feet, so he should be taking more of those shots, but everyone else needs to back up. The next best mark after Jokic is Jerami Grant at 43.8 percent. and no one else is above 37.2 percent from that range. This team shooting 37 percent from mid-range is being elevated by Jokic, and no one else is shooting well enough from there to justify taking shots from that range.

This offense is built to cut to the rim and shoot off of passes from Jokic, but they’re settling in the mid-range off of his passes rather than driving and getting to the rim. Harris is shooting just 24.3 percent from this range, and Malik Beasley, who was coming off of an outstanding year, is shooting 11.8 percent from that range. Let’s back him up to get more opportunities from distance where he’s shooting over 40 percent for the year.

Let’s Get There

I’m not suggesting that Denver become the Houston Rockets with over 40 3-point attempts per game. I’m just saying that getting up maybe five more per game would be a major boon for this team. Right now, they’re putting up 30.4 3-point attempts per game which is 22nd in the league. Adding five to their current average would put them at 35.4 and 11th in the NBA in 3-point attempts per game.

If they’re able to maintain their percentage on 3-point attempts, which I’m assuming that it will improve this year as players begin to regress towards their previous shooting levels, those additional five 3-point attempts per game would move them into the top half of the NBA in points per game. Their offense is among the bottom 10 in the league, and the offensive boost would help to lighten the mammoth load that the NBA’s number-two defense is currently carrying.

The teams that compete for titles every year are great on both ends of the floor. Coming into this season, it has been the offense that has consistently been great. This year, that script has flipped, and it’s not extremely clear why. Players are shooting below their career averages, and the offense looks ugly and confusing a lot of the time. Getting back to shooting from long-range more while allowing Jokic to operate closer to the basket would be a benefit for everyone involved.