Here’s what I noticed last week that should give Denver Nuggets fans some excitement and positivity, despite an up-and-down season overall.
Jamal Murray making ‘the leap’ as a scorer
At one point, Murray’s progression was simply a good sign of things to come rather than THE sign that he was returning to Bubble tendencies. However, with as prolonged as his hot streak has been, he has redefined his own season.
Averaging a career high in points, rebounds, field goal percentage, and three-point percentage, Murray has taken a step forward in many of the ways Nuggets fans hoped he would. The most important of those is a willingness to let threes fly. Averaging 6.7 threes attempted per game (also a career high) Murray is making 40.4% of those shots, including 41.3% on 4.1 pull-up threes per game.
Murray has always been ambitious with his shot making, but his aggression stepping into certain shots has taken his outside game to another level. He hunts certain shots when he’s in rhythm, and with the efficiency that he’s hitting those shots, he’s turning himself into one of the most dangerous scoring guards in the entire NBA.
In addition to pull-up threes, Murray has maintained elite efficiency going to the basket as well. According to Basketball Reference, Murray is shooting 59.2% on shots between zero and 15 feet away from the rim. That’s second among all guards behind Zach LaVine (among players to attempt at least 200 field goals). Murray is assisted on 37.7% of those looks, but the others are created on his own.
Murray is crafty driving toward the paint, shooting from odd angles, changing the tempo on his drives to gain separation, using a variety of moves. He has spent a lot of time perfecting certain moves so that he can free himself up for clean shot attempts. At that point, he’s shooting into a big basket, especially right now. He’s on a streak of nine games with 20+ points, which is tied for the 22nd longest streak in the NBA this season. Interestingly, the longest belongs to LaVine, who is currently on a 19-game streak of 20+ points. Tonight’s matchup between the two should be interesting.
Michael Porter Jr. at power forward
Nuggets have found some success starting Michael Porter Jr. at PF over the last few games. They have a 2-1 record as a starting unit, and they had major success against Cavs as well (though that was mostly a Murray 50-piece).
The Nuggets play with more spacing, ball handling, and cutting offensively when Porter slides to power forward. Though their ultimate goal is to get him to a place where he can handle the ball and be a playmaker at small forward, that’s just not what his skill set calls for. The Nuggets have been at their best offensively with multiple ball handlers and an elite outside presence at the 4 in Porter.
The floor opens up for the Nuggets when there are multiple ball handlers and outside shooters. In a lineup with Murray, Porter, Nikola Jokić, Monte Morris, and Will Barton, the lowest three-point percentage is Morris’ 37.5% mark. Everyone has to stay attached and attentive to their man in configurations like this one.
In addition to the offensive advantages at power forward, Porter moves to a more natural position defensively while his role being simplified.
At power forward, Porter is the back line defender. His job is to see everything in front of him, rotate in time, and put himself in position to either contest shots on the strong side or rebound misses while on the weak side. When he’s the low man on the pick and roll action, he’s big enough to prevent shots down low and also quick enough to get out to the perimeter and contest for threes.
He will need to be quicker when he isn’t facing Darius Bazley and the Oklahoma City Thunder, but it’s a good sign that he can make this rotation. It’s the weakest part of Denver’s scheme, and Paul Millsap has struggled to get out to shooters when having to rotate from the paint. This is something Porter can do.
Here are the net ratings in popular lineups with Porter at small forward versus power forward:
Lineups with Porter at the 3
- Porter-Millsap-Jokic: +0.9 Net Rating in 210 min
- Porter-Green-Jokic: +1.4 Net Rating in 113 min
- Porter-Nnaji-Jokic: +2.8 Net Rating in 45 min
Lineups with Porter at the 4
- Porter-Jokic: +12.6 Net Rating in 204 min
- Porter-Green: +23.7 Net Rating in 68 min
- Porter-Hartenstein: -12.7 Net Rating in 33 min
There’s something to Denver finding more success with him sliding up a position. It vacates the small forward position, but if Denver could figure out those rotations behind Porter, they could be onto something to help them in a playoff series.
Facundo Campazzo is becoming a pest
Among all players to play at least 300 minutes in the NBA this season, Facu Campazzo is second in the entire NBA in deflections per 36 minutes.
The above and below video are two possessions in a row where Campazzo gets a steal. He made life hell for the Thunder, even in garbage time.
Ever since the Valentine’s Day game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Campazzo is averaging the third most deflections per game in the entire NBA at 4.6 per game. It coincides with his minutes going up to 28.6 per game during that stretch, but the effort hasn’t dropped in the slightest. Facu continuously hustles around, sticking his nose in the offense’s business trying to be as annoying as possible.
There are still things he struggles with that he can’t control. His height probably shows its greatest weakness when he’s on the weak side trying to rotate over to prevent layups off of pick and roll, back cuts, etc., but he does everything in his power to get involved. In addition, he’s doing so in a much smarter manner than the beginning of the season. The foul rate has gone way down, and the success rate on getting into passing lanes has gone way up.
I still have questions about him in a playoff setting, but I don’t have any questions about his willingness to go 100%. To get through a regular season, the Nuggets need players like that.
Good to see PJ Dozier again
It had been 15 games between appearances for PJ Dozier, so it was great to see him get back on the floor against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night and do many of the things Nuggets fans were hoping to see.
He still looked rusty in the first half, but the second half afforded Dozier the opportunity to start kicking off some rust. The Nuggets were up by 30, and Michael Malone was more than willing to give Dozier an opportunity to get his legs back under him. The South Carolina product looked good handling the ball in the pick and roll, both getting to the rim and showing a nice pull-up three-pointer.
In addition to the offense, Dozier pulled down six rebounds (five defensive boards) in just 14:30 of game time. At 6’6” with a long wingspan, this is one of the major parts of his game that the Nuggets have missed. He doesn’t give up any size when he moves to small forward unlike some of Denver’s other guard options. When the Nuggets get back a fully healthy roster at some point, expect Dozier to stay out there much of the time because of what he can do on the defensive end.
R.J. Hampton taking another body
Hampton is quickly becoming one of my favorite players to watch when the game is decided. He flies around, using his athleticism in many different ways. The most fun way for that to manifest itself is when he’s stealing souls with some of his dunks.
I mean, holy cow. How many players in the NBA have that level of burst and athleticism on a short runway? It’s a great reminder of how talented and athletic NBA players are in general.
Hampton has had his athleticism manifest itself in other helpful ways for Denver. He rebounds the ball well, runs a good fast break, and gets into passing lanes defensively while staying in front of his assignment. He’s going to be a very good NBA player given time to work out what position he plays offensively. As long as he can improve his finishing around the rim on non-dunk attempts, he’s going to be a valuable offensive player. Very few players can knife to the rim the way he showed above.