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Film Friday: Defense wins championships

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NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

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.

2020 is over…. I think. Based on the events we have seen for the first week of the year, we might be in for a little bit of aftershocks. All I have to say on that, is stay safe and take care of yourself. At the end of the day, this is only the only life you have, and you need to make the most of every day. Any questions, comments or concerns? Come talk to me. Otherwise, let’s move on.

After making a deep run into the playoffs in the 2019-20 season, the Nuggets have stumbled out of the gate. Heading into the Thursday night matchup with the Dallas Mavericks, they are 3-4 and would be the eighth seed if the playoffs started today. While they’ve been solid on the offensive end of the floor, their defense has been letting them down. The Western Conference has too many offensive-minded teams for Denver to coast on that end of the floor. They’re second in the NBA in offensive rating, but they’re 29th in defensive rating.

In some situations, they have dealt with injuries that have held them back. This is not one of those years. Outside of Michael Porter Jr.’s mandatory quarantine for Covid-19, this team’s primary rotation hasn’t missed hardly any time. So, with all that being said, what are the issues that are causing this team to give up at least 106 points in all seven games this season and over 110 points in all but two.

Perimeter Defense

Nikola Jokic is an outstanding offensive player, and his defense has developed the longer he’s been in the league, but he is still far from being an elite rim-protector. On this play, Gary Harris gets too aggressive on a ball that’s nearly 40 feet from the rim. Cory Joseph gets just one step on him, and he has a free run at Jokic. Early in the game, Jokic can’t afford to pick up an easy foul, so he has to just hope to alter the shot.

I’m not trying to pick on Gary here, but this play was bad. The Nuggets are back on defense, and they should be set up with no issues. Instead, Harris just gets blown past by Joseph again. There are no defenders behind him, and he has to know his job on the floor. He’s the team’s best on-ball defender on the wings, and he hasn’t been that this season. He has a Defensive Box Plus/Minus of -2.6 which is 1.7 worse than the previous worst mark of his career.

Defensive Rebounding

Denver starts two traditional bigs in Paul Millsap and Jokic, and they struggle to rebound more than just about any team in the league. They’re 15th in offensive rebounding, but they rank 29th in defensive rebounding. The only team worse has been the Minnesota Timberwolves who have been missing star center Karl Anthony-Towns since the second game of the season. The defensive possession doesn’t end until you secure the rebound, and Denver isn’t making that happen right now.

The Sacramento Kings work well to get the switch of Millsap on a guard. That’s going to happen. However, giving up an easy tip-in at the buzzer can’t happen. Denver has a chance to go into the break up by nine. They don’t keep the Kings out of the paint, and Murray gives up the easy tip. Now, you’re only up seven, and the Kings have some momentum heading into the locker room. End possessions after the first shot. Don’t give them multiple opportunities to score because the best teams are going to take advantage of that.

Transition Defense

There are occasions when you’re going to beat down the floor by your opponent. Long rebounds and leakouts are going to happen. On this play, Denver just doesn’t hustle back. Harrison Barnes is ahead of just one Nugget with four between him and the basket, but he’s able to just drive right to the rim. That can’t happen. Even worse, Jamal Murray is in a position to try and take a charge, but he makes a business decision and ducks out of the way. When the majority of your defense is back and you give up an easy layup in a close game, that’s a problem.

This is the perfect clip to end today on because it is the culmination of everything we’ve talked about. It starts with Harris giving up an easy drive on the perimeter. Porter fails to slide over to cut off the drive which forces Jokic to help away from his man and gives up the lob attempt which fails but is secured for an offensive rebound which turns into second-chance points. The entire possession started when De’Aaron Fox had just gotten up the floor. It’s not a true transition possession, but the Kings don’t have to work to set up their offense because Denver puts up no resistance. That has to change sooner rather than later.

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.