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.
I can say with 100 percent certainty that, when I started with Denver Stiffs, I never thought I’d be writing about a season-ending injury to Jamal Murray or Nikola Jokic. I didn’t think they were invincible superhumans, but you never think that the big injury is going to happen to one of your guys. Now that it has, where do the Nuggets go for the remainder of the year to remain in a title hunt? Their championship odds went from a seventh-best average of +1700, which translates to a 5.6 percent chance of a championship, down to a ninth-best odds of +3750 or a 2.6 percent chance.
Denver started things off with a big win over the Miami Heat that wasn’t as close as the 123-106 final score would indicate. Miami was without rotation players Goran Dragić and Victor Oladipo, but they were healthy otherwise with one of the deeper benches in basketball. The major key to Denver’s success in this time without Murray is going to be winning differently. If they try to have one of Austin Rivers, Monte Morris, Facundo Campazzo or P.J. Dozier take on that exact role, they’re doomed.
Instead, they have to play differently. They’ll have to win differently. You can’t replace a player of Murray’s caliber with a guy off the bench or in free agency, because, if they were that good, they wouldn’t be on the bench or in free agency. Jokic’s role is only going to grow. He was already averaging a career-high 29 percent usage rate which ranks 22nd among players with at least 100 minutes, and it will likely clear 30 percent by the end of the regular season. Let’s take a look at how they’ll be winning.
No such thing as too much Jokic
Jokic is the frontrunner to win the MVP award for a reason, and his case can be sealed up with a flourish over the team’s final 17 games. A major key for his scoring success on the offensive end is going to be getting him the ball in advantageous matchups. Jokic’s size and strength allow him to easily win matchups against smaller defenders such as Duncan Robinson on this play. Robinson and the Heat tried to front Jokic throughout the night, but his height allows for teammates to lob the ball into him for easy shots at the rim. Working for Jokic to get switches gives both players an advantageous matchup. It also gives him the chance to create space as a screener, which is how he averages 4.9 screen assists per game, which ranks fifth among all NBA players.
If we wanted to put together a highlight reel of Jokic’s best passes, we’d be here for days. His ability to find shooters and cutters no matter where they are is truly special, and few passers, let alone centers, in NBA history, have vision at or above his level. Combine his vision with his gravity as a scoring threat, and he makes plays like this look routine. The defense is so worried about Jokic getting into the paint for an easy bucket that the entire defense is shaded to his side of the floor. Jokic whips a pass on a line to Dozier for the triple. Allowing Jokic to operate as the hub of the offense will make everyone else’s life easier.
Keep cooking MPJ
2.5 years into his NBA career, Michael Porter Jr. is only getting better, and he’s going to have a lot of teams kicking themselves for not drafting him. Porter doesn’t have Murray’s ball-handling abilities, but he is improving while being just as good of a shooter. The team needs that second player that can get them a bucket at will. Porter is that dude. He gets a 1-on-1 with Trevor Ariza, but he knows how to get separation and elevate for the easy two points. He can’t fully replace Murray, but this is him going in the right direction.
Since the All-Star Break, Porter has taken his game to another level. Per 36 minutes, he’s averaging 23.2 points and 9.6 rebounds while shooting 57.4 percent from the floor and 43.3 percent from 3-point range. This play right here is what really gives off the Murray vibes. There is plenty of time left on the clock, and he could easily work for another shot. Instead, he has the confidence in his shot to rise up and drill this. These are the shots that give your team a boost and can start a run or kill one for your opponent.
Everybody else just fit in
None of you are going to be Murray. All of you can chip in to be a part of the solution to help replace him, but none of you will bring what he brought by yourselves. Instead, you’ll bring the most to the team simply by filling your role. For Aaron Gordon, that means playing physical defense on opposing wings while cutting to the basket. On the year, Gordon averages 1.52 points per possession on cuts. On this play, he sees the entry pass to Jokic, and he knows he’ll be found if he cuts hard to the rim. Always do that on offense, and they’ll find chances for you to freestyle.
Will Barton is one of the final pieces to this puzzle. He averages just .82 points per possession in isolation which falls in the 40th percentile. Meanwhile, when he operates in handoff situations, he scores 1.09 points per possession which has him in the 79th percentile. He can create, but that’s not what the team needs him to do. He needs to play off of Jokic as he does on this play. Jokic gets him some space with the screen, and it’s an easy jumper for Barton. As long as he’s playing within the offense, they can get a really good flow going that has everyone involved.
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.