- Starters struggled defending the perimeter again
- Jamal Murray gets some threes to go down
- PJ Dozier shows a litany of skills
- Mason Plumlee hosts a block party
- Bol Bol shows incredible flashes but has a long way to go
Here are my five (short) takeaways from a glorified scrimmage against the Toronto Raptors:
Perimeter Defense is few and far between
In their final game action before the 2020 bubble playoffs, the Denver Nuggets allowed another team to shoot a high three-point percentage, something head coach Michael Malone was fuming about post game. The Raptors shot 51.4% from three as a team, hitting 18-of-35 from the perimeter on some contested, some uncontested shots.
"It's almost comical how bad our three-point defense is."— Ryan Blackburn (@NBABlackburn) August 14, 2020
-Malone post game
I tend to think that some of Denver’s more embarrassing three-point defensive possessions will be eliminated in the playoffs. The Nuggets will be playing their starters heavier minutes, and we have seen Denver lock in during the most important stretches of the season. In addition, Denver has been on the receiving end of some unlucky hot shooting by the opposition this season, so it should regress to the mean at least a little bit.
Malone is right to be concerned, but the Nuggets starters are also right in that they know how to lock in. Who ends up being MORE right will determine Denver’s playoff future.
Jamal Murray finally got some threes to drop
Before today, Murray was shooting 23.5% on threes inside the bubble in his first three games. A quick 3/3 burst in his 11 minutes today brought that initial percentage up to 35% in a hurry. Murray’s shot looks good, and after some bad misses against the Jazz and Lakers, he appears to be rounding into form a bit with his jumper.
The Nuggets are going to need the best version of Murray they can get if they want to have a chance in bubble play. Michael Porter Jr. has stolen a bit of the spotlight, but before coronavirus shut down the NBA, Murray was averaging nearly 22 points and six assists per game on efficient three-point shooting in the 15 games leading up to the hiatus. If he gets back to that level with Porter on the floor as well, the Nuggets are dangerous.
PJ Dozier shows out in an excellent playoff audition
The one player for the Nuggets who was consistently good throughout this game was Dozier. The three-year combo guard had 20 points and eight assists off the bench on 6-of-9 from the field, 5-of-6 from three, and 3-of-3 from the free throw line. He was efficient with the basketball and had just one turnover on the day. At the end of the game, it was clear that Dozier didn’t belong on the floor in garbage time as he looked like the best player on the floor for several minutes in a row.
With Gary Harris and Will Barton potentially out going forward, the Nuggets have needed to find players who could step up and offer consistent minutes in their stead. Porter has been the most notable player, but Dozier has taken advantage of his opportunities as well. In the bubble, Dozier has averaged 10.3 points and 4.3 assists while shooting 47.6% from three-point range. The plus-minus isn’t good, but the production is excellent, and it’s clear that the Nuggets have a potential contributor in the playoffs in Dozier.
Mason Plumlee was solid protecting the rim today
It hasn’t been a great bubble for Mason Plumlee. The Nuggets have struggled with him on the floor in place of Jokic, which is understandable given Jokic’s skill set and importance. The Nuggets need great things from Plumlee in these moments as he has a lot of pressure on him.
Today, he delivered on the defensive end. He hustled around the perimeter as much as anyone trying to run offensive players off of the three-point line, and when he challenged shots at the rim, he did that well too. Plumlee finished with 10 points, three rebounds, two assists, and four blocks on the day, which underscored just how much he was flying around and doing what he could to give the Nuggets a boost.
As I said above, the Nuggets will need Plumlee to be at his best in the playoffs. If he’s not, it changes everything the Nuggets have built their bench offense and overall rotation around. I hope they don’t have to change things up so drastically, but I suspect they will.
Bol Bol is so talented and so inexperienced
It really is insane that Bol fell to the 44th pick in the 2019 draft. Regardless of injury red flags or effort concerns, the talent level is unbelievably high. He continues to make impressive plays on both ends of the floor in these scrimmages that point to his ceiling being something we haven’t seen before. The shooting touch, the shot blocking at the rim and on the perimeter, and even the open court skills are special.
The passing acumen was something I didn’t expect. Being 7’2 with arms the length of a four-door sedan certainly helps, but his vision, intuition, and natural ability to execute passes is something the Nuggets have to cultivate going forward. Denver has always struggled offensively without Jokic on the floor, but give Bol some playmaking and floor spacing responsibilities at center and I think Denver’s offense will flourish down the line.
The defense remains a concern overall, and his lacking strength really stood out today against some strong guards and forwards on Toronto’s bench when Bol was switched on either end. Still, it was pretty encouraging to see Bol continue to do stuff. He finished with eight points, four rebounds, two assists, and three blocks in 15 consecutive minutes off the bench to finish the game.
If this is the last time we see Bol Bol before next season, it will have been an enjoyable run. The rookie was extremely fun, and Denver’s ceiling is limitless if he taps into his potential.