The Denver Nuggets were torn apart by Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz in Game 2, surrendering 125 points and allowing the Jazz to have an offensive rating of 139.3 while posting a true shooting percentage of 65.6. However, with a few defensive adjustments, the Nuggets should fare much better for the rest of the series.
1. Cutting down the doubles
The Nuggets kept putting two on the ball (doubling) almost whenever Mitchell had the ball in his hands. Yet, the star guard picked apart the team’s defensive gameplan, displaying a level of court vision that many may have been surprised by. Even the team he was playing against.
However, in Game 3, Denver needs to adjust that gameplan, cutting down on the amount of doubles they send at Mitchell and throwing different looks at the young pro. This is even more important with the return of underrated veteran Mike Conley.
2. Closing the airspace
Although fan favorite Michael Porter Jr. has never been known as a defensive stalwart and is in his rookie season, he’s a starter and going to be counted on for his play on both ends. Too often, when Mitchell switched onto MPJ, he was given too much breathing room on the perimeter and it often ended badly for the defense as Mitchell would blow straight by him.
Porter, who is clearly aware of the benefits of his length on the offensive end, needs to apply that same understanding to the defensive end. With his length at 6’10,” MPJ should understand that he has a significant size difference when he’s switched onto Mitchell (who’s 6’1”) and use that to his advantage. Besides, by now, Porter should realize that giving a player with Mitchell’s burst space to drive by him is far less than ideal.
3. Tightening up their positioning
If the Nuggets should choose to double Mitchell or corral him with multiple defenders when he’s on the move, there needs to better positioning by the team as they react to his movement. Below, there are three instances of Mitchell beating the team’s defense, and in each of them there was at least one player who could have improved his positioning in order to make the ball-movement for the team to defend.
Donovan Mitchell has a 35% Assist Percentage in the Playoffs so far (15% last PO). Also has a 1.88 AST/TO ratio.— Gilbertology (@Gilbertology_) August 20, 2020
His growth as a playmaker is real. The degree of difficulty on some of his assists has been really high. #TakeNote pic.twitter.com/RvCzJxGs60
With a starting lineup that’s still relatively new for Denver, it makes sense that the defensive chemistry isn’t quite there. Porter is having his first taste of the playoffs and is a rookie, so it makes sense that his learning curve is a bit steeper than his other teammates’. Nikola Jokic may be lighter around the waist and on his feet but his primary matchup, Rudy Gobert, is still much more athletic than he is.
However, team defense is all about effort and execution. MPJ will need to either be a quick study or just not on the floor when Nuggets head coach Michael Malone opts to double Mitchell and the same applies to Jokic, as his backup — Mason Plumlee — is much more lithe than he.
Denver already has their hands full with Mitchell but as Conley returns, it’ll be that much harder for the Nuggets to slow down Utah’s offense. Although they’ve been the worst defensive team in the NBA bubble, you can chalk up many of their issues with lack of chemistry due to inexperience (namely, Porter) and the absences of Will Barton and Gary Harris forcing them to play lineups that they haven’t often employed.
Nonetheless, Malone’s coaching will be seen in his team’s ability to execute better on the defensive end. It’s unreasonable to expect Denver to suddenly be one of the best defensive teams remaining in the bubble but they can definitely be better. Frankly, they’ll need to be if they don’t want to have an early trip home.