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Denver Nuggets Film Friday: What’s our path?

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NBA: Playoffs-Phoenix Suns at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-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.

With the dead part of the offseason just around the corner, every team and their fanbase is looking at their team through rose-colored glasses and working to convince themselves on a path for their team to win a championship next season. Sadly, only one team can win the title, and there are only a few teams that can even realistically compete for one. Thankfully, the Denver Nuggets are one of those franchises.

As a fan of the Nuggets, you don’t have to jump through 17 hoops to find a path for the Nuggets to win a title in the 2021-22 season. There is already a path for them to do just that, and that’s what we’re going to go through today. Every team has a different path. For teams such as the Brooklyn Nets, it’s about the health of their three superstars. For groups like the Memphis Grizzlies, the path is a little more complicated.

First things first, the Nuggets need to stay healthy. Over the final three months of the season, Denver was dealing with serious injuries to Will Barton, Jamal Murray, Monte Morris and P.J. Dozier along with nagging injuries to other guys. That just can’t happen. Every team is going to get hurt, but Denver needs to focus on working on their soft-tissue injuries ahead of next year rather than losing multiple guys frequently throughout the year with hamstring injuries. We’re not discussing injuries today, but I at least wanted to address it before we got any further.

The Next Step for MPJ

If Denver is going to make a push for a title next season, Michael Porter Jr. has to take the next step in his development. Porter is one of the best shooters in the NBA from everywhere on the floor, and he’s a matchup nightmare with his high release. However, he needs to improve his handling next season to take his offensive game to the next level. Porter will likely never be his team’s primary ball-handler, but he needs to be able to handle the ball without turning it over. On this play, Porter doesn’t do anything particularly special. He has a mismatch with Jonas Valanciunas guarding him. He sets up his man with a jab step before taking two dribbles to his left and rising up for the easy jumper. Even just being able to handle the ball with more consistency would put him into another echelon of scorers.

The defensive end is where the Nuggets need Porter to take the biggest step forward. Veteran forward Paul Millsap is now gone, and Porter’s role on the defensive end is only going to become more magnified. His length and athleticism should allow him to bother opponents more than it currently does due to his lack of lateral agility. On this play, O.G. Anunoby drives to his left, but Porter rotates and slides with him before rising up with the block. If he can work on his lateral agility to stick with guards and quicker forwards, his size will enable him to alter more and more shots every night.

Everybody Go to the Rim

Are you allowed to shoot 3-point shots still? Yes. Are you allowed to take the occasional mid-range jumper? Yes. However, Denver needs to focus on getting to the rim more. With players such as Aaron Gordon, Porter and others, the Nuggets have players that are mismatches inside that need to be more involved. Look at Gordon on this play. He’s working a little pick-and-roll with Nikola Jokic that is designed entirely to get their defenders to switch rather than be a traditional play call. Once the two defenders are both locked on Jokic, Gordon rolls to the rim for the easy dunk. With a passer as gifted as Jokic, Gordon needs to work on his chemistry with Jokic to get himself involved in the offense with more easy shots in close.

This is why you always need to be moving off of the ball when you’re sharing the floor with the reigning MVP. Jokic always has his eyes up to look for his teammates, and he has no problem passing the ball to find the guy with the best shot rather than attempting a difficult one himself. On this play, guard Facundo Campazzo is open along the 3-point line when he notices his defender paying extra attention to Jokic. He takes advantage by working his way into the lane for the easy layup off of the feed from Jokic. He could have attempted the shot from 3-point range, but he knew the best shot was under the basket. If every player took the time for a few more cuts every game, they’d see more and more easy shots rather than taking contested jumpers.

Crowd the 3-point Line

In their losses, the Nuggets allowed opponents to shoot 40.5 percent from 3-point range, which was the 9th-worst mark in the league. In their wins, that mark was 34.1 percent. That was still the 7th-worst mark in the league, but that was still a 6.4 percent improvement. The end of this defensive possession is what the Nuggets should always be striving for. Austin Rivers helps off of his man to force the pass, but he quickly recovers to force a contested 3-point shot. Rather than playing off and giving up an open 3-point look, he puts in the effort to force a miss, and that’s what the team needs to be doing at all times.

We’re using this play as the final demonstration for a few reasons. For one, within two seconds of the clip starting, two different players, including Joe Harris, who shot 47.5 percent from 3-point range this season, are wide open. If you roll the clip a few more seconds, you still have two players wide open while the Nuggets have three players standing in the paint. This team needs to work on defensive communication because they give up 3-point shots with too high of a frequency to realistically compete for titles.

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.