If you’re not familiar with Film Fridays, 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.
First of all, this isn’t going to be an article with a tie-in to the hit TV series The Wire. For those of you that thought otherwise, I apologize for getting your hopes up with the title. Secondly, this article is being written prior to the team’s Thursday night matchup with the Golden State Warriors. Therefore, all stats and claims will not be updated with new information that could come out of that game.
The Nuggets are 5-6 heading into tonight’s game, and, with a roster that’s been largely healthy outside of the absence of Michael Porter Jr. (Covid-19), that record is unacceptable. Against teams with records over .500, they’re just 1-4, and the one win came over a Philadelphia 76ers’ squad that was missing nearly all of their starters and trotted out just seven total players. Their other two losses came at the hands of the Sacramento Kings.
Throughout those losses, there has been one overarching theme that has remained constant in all of them. This team has shown no ability to play a full 48 minutes. In some games, they’ll blow the first or second quarter and be in a big hole. In others, they’ll take a lead into the locker room but come out sluggish and let it slip away. The game is played for 48 minutes, but Denver has been playing parts of games. Early in the year, all the teams are close together, but, if they don’t change this behavior, those losses are going to add up and bite them later in the year.
Defense Feeds Off The Offense
The image above is the score to start the second half against the Brooklyn Nets. Keep reading to see what happens. There’s a glaring issue with this team with the roster they have. The defensive end of the floor should be independent of the offense, but it isn’t. If they’re missing shots and committing turnovers, the energy level on defense just disappears, and they give up easy buckets like it’s their job.
Six minutes later, and that 16-point lead has evaporated. A bad offensive possession leads to a quick transition basket for Kevin Durant that has now made it a one-point game. Throughout this six minute stretch, Denver has scored 13 points while giving up 27 points. They gave up a total of 36 points in the quarter, and the Nets shot 68.2 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from 3-point range. Meanwhile, Denver shot 42.9 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point range while getting outrebounded 13-5 in the quarter.
The Nuggets are now down by five. After being up by 16 to start the quarter, they’re down by five after less than 10 minutes on the floor. This clip ends similar to the previous one. Denver has a bad offensive possession, and it translates to the other end. Denver has four players back on defense while there are just three on offense for Brooklyn. Should be an easy stop right? Nope, no one picks up Taurean Prince, and he gets to the rim for an easy layup to extend the lead.
Denver’s identity is on the offensive end of the floor, and the standing of that identity directly impacts their defense. When they struggle to score, their energy drops, and they aren’t going to slow anyone down. I’m not sure what Michael Malone needs to do to get that to change. If he doesn’t change it, he’s going to have to make sure the offense never has a cold spell.
Keep Quarters Close
I mentioned at the start of this whole thing that the Nuggets’ main issue has been playing a full 48 minutes. Looking through their games, wins and losses alike, they’ll have a quarter that they lost by a good margin. Even in the win over the 76ers, they lost the final quarter by nine points. The idea that you’re going to win all four quarters is next-to-impossible. However, you can’t just have a quarter where you get blown out. If you’re going to lose it, keep it within five. They keeps deficits from ballooning too large, and it also can protect you from blowing a massive lead.
This play comes from the team’s 12/29 loss to the Kings. The ball has just gotten up the floor, and Denver’s defense should be set. Once Will Barton is screened off the ball-handler, the entire defense falls apart. Isaiah Hartenstein and Barton both stay with De’Aaron Fox, but Bol Bol stays in the paint while P.J. Dozier is going with the roll man and leaving his assignment. Four of the five defenders are inside the pain with three shooters around the arc. The entire defense collapsed and left two shooters that both have a career 3-point percentage above 39 percent wide open. Those mistakes let teams climb back into games.
Same game. Less than a minute later, and the Nuggets do the exact same thing. Hartenstein, Barton & Dozier are all in the paint. At the beginning of the play, you see Dozier notice that he’s too far from Hield. He slides slightly, but he’s not anywhere close enough to contest a shot. What happens? A 40 percent 3-point shooter gets a wide-open look at the basket, and the Kings are now on a 9-4 run less than two minutes into the quarter. Denver went on to lose that quarter by 14 points.
This team is too hot and cold. They followed this quarter up by winning the third quarter by 16, but they lost the final quarter by 14 and the game by 10. You can afford to lose a quarter, but you can’t afford to get blown out in a quarter. This offense is explosive and can score with the best teams, but they’re going to have off nights. When that happens, you have to stay close throughout the game to have that chance late to swing it in your favor.
Convince The Defense It’s Always The 1st Quarter
The Nuggets’ defense leaves something to be desired this season. They’re not going to be an elite or top-10 unit. If you think that’s going to happen, you need to reevaluate your eyes because that’s not the way this team is constructed to play. Even if they’re not an elite group, they’ve shown flashes of being a capable group. In the first quarter, they’re 11th in defensive rating. In the remaining three quarters, their rank, on average, is 22.3 in the league. That big of a drop is inexcusable. Maybe the team needs to hire a hypnotist to convince the defense it’s always the first quarter. Anything would be better than what they’re doing now.
Remember when we talked about the offense translating to the defense? Turns out, it goes both ways. In the game against the Dallas Mavericks, they were buzzing around early on the defensive end. Dozier gets in front of a pass, and Millsap takes it the other way for a layup. This team ranks 26th with just 9.1 percent of their points coming off of fastbreaks. They’re 25th with just 10.6 fastbreak points per game. This isn’t a high-paced team, but they’re 1.2 points worse compared to last season in that category.
This is the play that the team feeds on, and it’s the plays they need to be going for all game. Dozier gets blown by, but the rest of the defense shifts to force the pass. Once that happens, Jamal Murray is able to recover and get into a passing lane for a steal. Dozier hustles down the floor, and he’s rewarded with a huge alley-oop dunk. The team finished the game with eight fastbreak points. Four of them came on these two possessions less than four minutes into the game. Your energy levels are going to dwindle as the game goes on, but four fastbreak points over the remaining 49 minutes, this game went to overtime, is just unacceptable.
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.