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Film Friday: Michael Malone needs a reset

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NBA: Denver Nuggets at Washington Wizards Brad Mills-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.

This Denver Nuggets’ team is spiraling in the wrong direction, and it’s not clear that the tailspin is going to end. They’ve lost five of their last eight games, and each of their three wins has a slight asterisk next to them. Anthony Davis played just 14 minutes in the win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite missing their top two point guards, it took losing the fourth quarter by 11 points for the Oklahoma City Thunder to drop to Denver 95-97, and Denver shot the lights out against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have the third-worst record in the NBA.

They’ve dealt with a severe amount of injuries throughout this stretch that shouldn’t go understated, but, even with injuries, some of these losses shouldn’t be happening. There’s no reason that Denver should be losing to the Washington Wizards when they put up 128 points. For the last few years, Michael Malone has pulled the right strings more often than not, but that is not the case right now. If it weren’t for Nikola Jokic playing at an MVP level, there’s no telling where this Denver team might be right now.

Malone needs a reset of some kind sooner rather than later. The Nuggets sit in eighth place in the West, and they’re not closing the gap as they sit 8.5 games behind the first place Utah Jazz while being just three games ahead of the 12th-place New Orleans Pelicans. If Malone can’t get things rolling right over this next stretch, we could see this team go from the Western Conference Finals in 2020 to missing the playoffs altogether in 2021.

Help Jokic Out

Is it possible that this play is a called isolation possession for Jokic? Yes. Is it also an example of a somewhat troubling trend that the Nuggets are running into as of late? Also yes. On multiple occasions throughout the team’s loss to the Wizards, Jokic would catch the ball, and the rest of the team stopped moving. You put four players on one half of the floor with Jokic at the opposite elbow. Jokic is the greatest passing center in the NBA and possibly all time, but the defense can cover four players with two defenders because they’re all bunched up. Even if it is an isolation possession, move around and make your defenders follow you. Jokic will pass out of the spot if he has an open shooter. Instead, Malone is putting all of the responsibility on Jokic to score, and opposing defenses are aware of that.

The entry pass to Jokic occurs with 14 seconds on the shot clock. There is plenty of time for them to run another action to possibly get another shot. Instead, Jokic is expected to generate a scoring opportunity on his own. Because he’s as talented as he is, that’s not a problem, and he’s able to convert the contested floater. Stop making Jokic win the game by himself. The roster, especially with the emergence of guys like Zeke Nnaji and R.J. Hampton, has guys everywhere that can make plays for you, but you’re not giving them the chance to do it.

Look at this play as a great example. Jokic is in the game, but his job is more or less just to get in the defense’s way. Neither of the screens he sets on this play are particularly stout ones, but he does just enough. Facundo Campazzo gets around the screen to find a wide-open Nnaji for the easiest bucket he’ll ever score in the NBA. This play happens early in the shot clock during a key point in the game with fewer than 4:00 left on the game clock. It also happens against Boston’s starting five. This isn’t against the end of the bench. Ease Jokic’s total workload by getting other players involved which will make Jokic even more of a threat because the defense has to cover everyone else on the floor that much more.

Let Porter Play

Michael Porter Jr. makes mistakes. There is no doubt about it. He takes shots that he shouldn’t. His dribbling needs to take a step forward, and his defense still needs a good bit of work. However, you have to let the kid play through it at some point. He’s missed all three of his summer league opportunities because of personal injuries followed by Covid-19 last year. Porter’s highs are truly special, and he looks like he can be that third star for the Nuggets alongside Jokic and Murray. The problem is he’s often relegated to being just a jump shooter. Get him involved. On this simple dribble hand off, it’s nothing fancy, but it gets him a wide-open look for an easy shot. Once he sees one or two go in, he’s going to put them in in bunches, but making him a sniper in the corner isn’t going to do that.

No other Nuggets’ wing is able to block this shot. You could make a case for Nnaji, but he hasn’t proven it yet. Porter is starting to get better at defense when he’s on the ball. He still needs work off the ball, but he’s getting better at using his length to alter shots without fouling. After averaging 4.0 fouls per 36 minutes last year, he’s down to 3.0 per 36 this season. Jaylen Brown beats him initially off the dribble, but Porter stays with the play and recovers to swat the shot off the backboard. He’s going to make mistakes on defense, but he’s not going to learn from them on the bench. He has to play the game between the lines. There’s a reason the game is played on the court rather than on paper.

Same Mistakes Different Day

Malone is a defensive coach, but this team continues to make the same mistake over and over on defense. Look at this possession as the biggest example. After leaving Davis Bertans, who had already scored 29 points at this stage of the game on only 3-point shots and free throws, wide open for one shot attempt. Denver gave up an offensive rebound, and they left him open for another triple that stretched the deficit even further. This is an issue that’s been happening all season long. Denver’s off-ball defenders overhelp, and they leave their man unattended to the point they can’t get back when the ball is kicked out to them.

This is a good pass fake by Russell Westbrook, but Green has to be aware of what’s going on on the floor. Bertans has been cooking your team all night, and everyone else is covered to your guy. Where are you going? You’re guarding the only player on the floor that is shooting above 33 percent from 3-point range, and he’s already knocked down all four of his attempts on the night. Why are you giving him any room on the outside? Again, Malone needs to coach his guys to make the right play rather than going for the hero play. These examples were just from one game, but trust me that you can go through the rest of Denver’s matchups and find several more examples of this issue.

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.