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Film Fridays: Death by 1000 cuts

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Detroit Pistons v Denver Nuggets Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Today is the first installment in what I hope will become a regular reading for you. Each Friday, I’ll be looking at some recent Denver Nuggets’ games, lineups or something else from a film aspect to try and bring you a piece of content that you’re not getting somewhere else. Feel free to give any feedback positive or negative in the comments or find me on Twitter.

The Denver Nuggets came into the season with a multitude of athletic wings with a variety of skill sets. After the trade deadline, they sent two of those, Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez, which opened up the rotation, but we’re still seeing largely the same rotations out of head coach Michael Malone. There are a couple, that feature those remaining wings, that we aren’t seeing nearly enough of.

Nikola Jokic is arguably the best center in the NBA, and he’s been one of the five best players in the NBA this season regardless of position. (I said it. Come at me.) One of his best skills, as we all know, is his ability to pass and find open cutters. A lineup that featured him surrounded by four wings and slashing guards doesn’t get enough run, and it frankly doesn’t make much sense.

Grant is Gelling

On Tuesday night, Jerami Grant put up a career-high 29 points on 12-of-15 shooting. He went 3-of-5 from 3-point range, and he went 2-of-2 at the free-throw line. The dude was getting buckets every time down the floor, and a lot of them were coming on plays like the one above. He makes an opportune cut at the right time, and Jokic finds him right in stride for an easy dunk that the defense can’t get in front of.

Jokic’s gravity and ability to finish inside of 10 feet forces opponents to send help when he gets down inside. Grant has been the best this season at taking advantage of that help, and he’s converting at such a high clip that Jokic has all the confidence in the world when he feeds him the ball.

Grant is likely going to be in Denver’s closing lineups because of his ability to switch on defense, but it’s his offense that is going to be underrated. He fits so well alongside Jokic, and his role with him has continued to grow. However, there are some other guys that need to be in the lineup alongside he and the Joker.

Give Porter to the People

All year long, Nuggets’ Twitter has been clamoring for Michael Malone to give Michael Porter Jr. more minutes. When he’s cooking, it’s next to impossible to stop him, and it adds another deadly element to this offense. However, even when he’s not lighting up the scoreboard individually, he can show off his fit alongside Jokic which is what this is all about.

Against a historically-great Milwaukee Bucks team, he waited till his man wasn’t paying attention, and he went flying towards the hoop. Malone’s main issue with giving Porter consistent minutes has been play on the defensive end of the floor, which had been trending up in the three months prior to February. Additionally, when he plays well, the team wins. He has a net rating of +7.8 in their wins, and he’s just -18.9 in their losses.

Jokic and Porter have a +1.1 net rating among 2-man lineups for Denver, and they have an offensive rating of 113.3 during their 224 minutes that they’ve shared the floor. For a comparison, the team’s most-used two-man lineup features Jokic and Will Barton, and they’ve been on the floor for 1386 minutes together. That’s a little over 1/6th of the minutes. If Denver really thinks Porter is a key cog in their future, why does he essentially not play with the team’s best player when they work well together?

Barton’s a Baller

I’ll be the first to admit that I was wrong about Barton. Last offseason, I was convinced he needed to head to the bench or be traded to another team. I was wrong. I love watching him play when he’s cooking individually, but he can also play well within the offense. As I just mentioned, Barton and Jokic are the team’s most-used lineup of two players, and they’ve been extremely effective with a +9.3 net rating in their minutes.

Barton does what Grant does so well when he’s playing off of the ball by cutting when his man goes to help towards Jokic. That’s exactly what he does here to Tony Snell. Snell cheats just enough, and that leads to an easy dunk by Barton. In addition to Barton’s cutting, he’s bounced back after a bad shooting season last year to shoot 38.0 percent from downtown. That spacing he affords Jokic allows for wide-open looks when defenders overhelp.

Just with the four guys we’ve talked about so far, Jokic being the fourth, they’re not getting on the floor together. This lineup specifically has played in just 65 minutes together. In those 65 minutes, they’re +7.1. They’ve strung those 65 minutes across 16 games, so they played about four minutes each across those games on average. That’s just not enough for what these groups are able to do.

Monte Morris Just Works

Picking the final guy for this five-man group is an interesting choice to make. I went with Monte Morris for a couple of reasons. One is that he bring some ball-handling to this group without requiring the ball in his hands to make a play, but he can also knock down shots at a consistent rate. He shoots 38.7 percent on 3-point, and he is a good cutter as a guard.

Morris doesn’t bring a ton on the defensive end of the floor, but he’s still got a 106.9 defensive rating which isn’t terrible. Morris is one of the smartest players in the league, and he does a great job of taking care of the ball, as evidenced by his leading the league in assist:turnover ratio among rotation players. Morris fits great alongside just about any player which is why he’s perfect in this lineup.

When looking through five-man lineups that Denver has used this season, ones featuring multiple starters have been used the most which makes sense. The specific five-man lineup that we looked at today has a net rating of +9.5 in just 28 minutes together across 12 games. They’ve played together, on average, for just over two minutes in each of those games. When groups like this are playing together, it all just works so well.

This lineup is never on the floor. It makes sense with each player serving a specific role, and they also know how to play off of each other, which isn’t something that a lineup with so much scoring potential. They have an offensive rating of 119.7, and, with the rebounding ability of Porter, averaging 11.1 per 36 minutes, they have the pieces to put a lot of stress on opposing defenses. Similar to how the Houston Rockets are forcing opponents to play against an offense they’re not used to covering.

So, Mr. Malone, can we agree that using this lineup a little more could possibly be a good idea? It doesn’t have to be the starting or closing lineup, but, utilizing it for stretches against bench units that are overmatched could turn into a huge boon for this team.

For those of you that are still here, remember to leave your feedback in the comments or over on my Twitter, and have a fantastic film-filled Friday.