The Denver Nuggets are a strong team in the Western Conference, and they’re one of the top-10 teams in the NBA easily. However, we’ve seen a bad trend of play that has been present all season long, and it became more obvious during the team’s recent loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
There is one thing above all else that Denver does not do well, and that is playing uptempo basketball and running in transition. Against the Grizzlies, they were just getting ran past every time up the floor. The game ended with them being down by just eight, but the game never seemed that close. The Grizzlies led by as many as 19, and it seemed for much of the night that they were up even more than that.
In their first two matchups with the New Orleans Pelicans this year, the Nuggets got ran out of the gym, and one of those matchups was at home. Teams like the Pelicans and Grizzlies play fast by getting the ball up the floor as soon as they rebound it, and they have the young wings to do that. In a one-off game, it can be harder to expose on certain occasions, but, in a seven-game series, that is the type of thing to get abused by a well-coached team.
First Quarter Slowness
Denver’s the second-slowest team in the NBA in terms of pace over the course of full games. In the first quarter, they’re the third-slowest team. They don’t play with a fast pace in large part because they have a good offense in the half-court setting. However, that slow pace comes back to bite them when they’re shooting poorly from the field because teams are taking their misses and turning them into easy buckets.
In their losses, they shoot just 42.6 percent from the field in the first quarter, and they’re tied for the slowest pace in losses as well. When they start games slow, they allow teams to get out to a lead, and their offense isn’t exactly going to shoot teams out of the gym to get back into the game.
As bad as their general shooting is during the first quarter, their 3-point shooting makes you want to turn your TV off and set the whole thing on fire. In losses, during the first quarter, they shoot 26.8 percent from 3-point range. Denver has never been known as flamethrowers, but, when that percentage jumps up to 39.7 percent in wins, you’ve got to hit your shots early in the game.
Fastbreak To The Paint
Where is the best shot in the game of basketball? It’s at the rim. When you don’t get back in transition, what shot are you most likely to give up? That’s right. A shot at the rim. In the loss to the Grizzlies, Memphis had an eye-popping 76 points in the paint. Denver had 22. Memphis leads the NBA in points in the paint per game, but they average just 56. They got 20 more points in the paint because they were getting out and running.
With Mason Plumlee out, Denver’s athletic center is on the shelf, and Nikola Jokic isn’t getting back to get ahead of guys charging towards the rim. Even if he was doing better at getting back in transition, he’s not an elite rim protector. Despite having a bevy of athletic wings that could keep your guys fresh during the game, Denver is still largely trotting out a shortened rotation every night.
Teams like the Grizzlies, New Orleans Pelicans and Houston Rockets, who have all given Denver fits this season, get out in transition and get to the basket. The Nuggets need to change their style of play when teams start doing that. Whether that results in giving more minutes to the guys at the end of the rotation or changing up how often you’re making your rotations, something needs to be done differently.
Make The Changes Now
The Cleveland Cavaliers, during their second run with LeBron James, had the ability to flip the switch when the playoffs happened. They would cruise through the regular season for months on end and coast because they were stacked with so much top-end talent. Then, the playoffs rolled around, and James would drag his team to the NBA Finals. Some teams can do that, but I don’t think that Denver is one of those teams.
Denver needs to look to make their changes to combat these uptempo teams now, so they have that ability in their arsenal when the games really start to matter. Under Michael Malone, they’ve been largely the same team on a nightly basis. They don’t get away from what they do which helps them to remain consistent. That works when you’re keeping consistent with a strength, but, when it’s a weakness, that is when you get exposed.
One unfortunate thing for Denver when it comes to playing their bench wings more is that none of them are defensively minded outside of Torrey Craig. They could help with the transition defense from the standpoint of getting in the way in transition, but they wouldn’t be as good in the half-court setting. Whatever Malone decides to do, he has to make sure that he does something.