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Denver Nuggets Film Friday: Time to overreact

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-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.

It’s weird what happens when your entire guard rotation isn’t hurt. The Phoenix Suns bounced the Nuggets out of the playoffs last year in the second round in four straight games when the Nuggets were starting Facundo Campazzo and Austin Rivers. On Wednesday, Denver started Monte Morris and Will Barton on the road, and they walked away with a 12-point win while shooting over 50 percent from the field and over 40 percent from 3-point range.

What’s the appropriate way to react to one game in an 82-game season? You overreact as hard as you can because we are anything but reasonable here. That’s what we’re doing today. By the time we write our next edition of Film Friday, we’ll have a few more games under our belt. For now, we only have this one to work with, so we’re going to get wild with the results from the first night of the Nuggets 2021-22 campaign.

This Nuggets’ team is going to go through a lot of waves this year. There’s no doubt about that. They’re also still playing without starting point guard Jamal Murray, who, based on comments on the broadcast, is having to be protected from himself in rehab as he’s trying to get back as soon as possible. If this team maintains this level of play until he gets back, they’re going to be a pain in the butt for opponents to deal with.

Will Barton Is BACK

Will Barton is going to be one of the most important players for the Nuggets this year. He’ll have to be a glue guy between the starters and the reserves, and he has to be a veteran leader as the third-oldest remaining player in the locker room. Barton plays with a level of swagger that no one else on the roster really has. When he’s on, he sees nothing but the rim, and he always thinks he can get a shot off. That’s what we saw last night, especially on this final shot near the end of the game. He gets the switch with Jae Crowder guarding him and the shot-clock winding down. He responds with a pull-up triple that effectively seals the game for the Nuggets. On the night, he was 8-of-14 overall and 4-of-8 from 3-point range with a +20 plus/minus in his minutes on the floor with zero turnovers. Throw in the five assists and six rebounds, and Barton was everything we could ask for.

This play isn’t anything overly fancy out of Barton, but it’s important for what it demonstrates in this offense. When Murray was healthy, he and Nikola Jokic had a great two-man game between them. With Murray out, someone needed to fill that role, and no one was able to step up last year with all of the injuries to the team’s guards. Barton can be that guy. He and Jokic go to work with a simple ball screen that sends two defenders with Barton. Once that happens, Barton swings the ball to Jokic which forces Chris Paul to rotate. Jokic hits the shot over him, but, even if he had passed the ball to Morris, who was wide-open on this play, it all started with Barton stepping up to fill an unfamiliar role that was needed in the offense. Barton did everything the team needed him to last night, and he makes this team a whole lot scarier when he does.

The Bench is… Yikes

Denver’s starting lineup were all +18 or better in their minutes on the floor. Meanwhile, the bench had no one better than -6 with Austin Rivers, Jeff Green and JaMychal Green all being -10 or worse. The Suns did a better job of staggering their starters with their bench unit than the Nuggets did, and that will be easier for Michael Malone when Murray returns from injury. However, until then, this unit cannot be a sieve when the starters are getting a rest. On 12 offensive possessions, the unit of Rivers, Green, Green, Facu and P.J. Dozier scored eight total points while shooting 3-of-10 from the floor. The trio of Rivers, Campazzo and JaMychal shot a combined 2-of-10, including 0-of-5 from 3-point range. This shot by Campazzo is a perfect demonstration of the flaws of the team’s second unit. He drives into the lane where he’s semi-contested with a reasonable look at the rim. However, it’s still a shot that you don’t want him taking with 16 seconds still on the shot clock. The team is trying to go for the two-for-one, but they were too focused on trying to get a shot up rather than getting a good shot. Campazzo even could have driven further into the lane after he saw that Javale McGee wasn’t going to contest his shot. Instead, it goes down as a miss, but it’s really just a nine-second turnover.

I think the worst part about the misses by the Nuggets’ second unit was that they were pretty much all decently open. Dozier hits Green at the top of the key where he has plenty of time and space to get the shot off. Granted, his long release makes it to where the shot is somewhat contested by the time he actually lets the ball go, but he’s still decently clear. This is roughly what all of the 3-point shots for this unit looked like, with some even more open. This group doesn’t have a ton of knock-down shooters, and their opponents know that. If Malone isn’t going to stagger them more moving forward, they’re going to run into issues where the offense goes cold because they can’t hit open shots.

Unselfish Play Wins Championships

Denver had 25 assists on 44 shots against the Suns. Of those 25, just two of them came from Jokic. Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter Jr., Campazzo and Barton all had four or more. Last season, Jokic was the only player on the roster that averaged more than 4.8 assists per game. This team was moving the ball around to get everyone involved, and they made a team that was sixth in defensive rating last year leave wide-open shooters all over the place. This wasn’t a game where just one player completely took over, as four of their five starters were in double-digits. Instead, the passes got everyone involved, which is something that made them overly successful throughout last season. This play was MPJ’s fourth assist of the night. His five assists tied his career-high, and it was just the third time in his career that he had five assists in a single game. He had done it once in each of his first two seasons, and, assuming this willingness to pass persists, Denver’s offense just got a lot more dangerous. He comes off of the screen and pass from Morris and draws three defenders towards him because of his willingness to rise up from anywhere at any time. Once that happens, there is no one that can get between Jokic and the rim. This is why passing makes such a huge difference with this team.

This find from Gordon to Barton is just beautiful. He’s moving to his left, and he’s not much of a ball-handler to begin with. Once he picks up his dribble, Devin Booker slides over to try and double-team him. Barton reads it perfectly and cuts to the rim for the easy dunk early in the game. The reason teams such as the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs were so dangerous during their runs was their willingness to find someone else for the best shot. Denver’s offense is talented enough to do that. There will still be moments when Porter, Murray or Jokic takes over, but they don’t have to do that with this lineup. As long as everyone is willing to look for the next guy, this offense could cause serious problems for their opponents.

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.