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Denver Nuggets Film Friday: What’d we get

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NBA: Playoffs-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.

There are still free agents available that will be signed, but the majority of the major moves are over. Some teams swung trades to add talent. Others broke out the check book to grab a few marquee names. The Nuggets opted to do what the best teams usually do. They’re running it back with a few name changes thrown into the mix. The Nuggets had eight possible free agents this offseason. So far, three of those eight are back in Denver for at least the 2021-22 season.

Last season, the Nuggets’ roster was one of the many across the league that ran out of steam at the end of the year due to a litany of injuries. Jamal Murray and P.J. Dozier both missed the entirety of the playoffs, and guards Monte Morris and Will Barton were dealing with injuries during the final month of the season as well. This doesn’t include Michael Porter Jr. who struggled with a back injury through the team’s second-round series with the Phoenix Suns. Now, the Nuggets wanted to make sure their depth was a strength to avoid injury shortcomings in the future.

The Nuggets understand that their window to compete is open right now with the breakouts we’ve seen from Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. Denver couldn’t afford to sit on their hands in free agency, and they didn’t. They broke out the checkbook to make smart signings of players that can actively fill out the rotation, and they’re still going to be under the luxury tax. Compared to other team’s, Denver is in pretty good shape. So, what all did they come out of their mini spending spree with?

The Thrill is Back

Barton opted out of his player option for the 2021-22 season and elected to become a free agent. However, he almost immediately re-signed with the Nuggets on a 2-year/$32 million deal which would make it appear that he likely had some sort of agreement in place with Denver to run it back for at least one more year. What specifically is Denver getting back in this re-signing? They’re getting plays like this. Barton gives the team another ball-handler on the floor with the starters alongside Murray, once he returns, Jokic and Monte Morris. Additionally, Barton gives bench units another player that can handle the ball and create their own shot which, as we saw in the playoffs, they don’t have many that can consistently do that. On this play, Barton gets a little help with a screen from Jokic. Once he gets that separation from his defender, he starts driving to the rim for the layup.

Here’s another way that Barton brings value to the roster when he’s on the floor. He can get to the rim and put up shots, and he can knock down 3-point shots, as he’s shooting 36.1 percent from 3-point range during his time in Denver. However, he can also make mid-range jump shots which is a key function of the Nuggets’ offense. Murray, Porter and Jokic all excel in this area, and Barton, while not as efficient as those three, can knock those shots down at a good clip. On this play, he gets rookie Desmond Bane switched onto him and proceeds to dribble to the free-throw line before rising up and knocking down the shot. With his ability to heat up in a hurry, those are the types of shots that can open up the entire offense to give the team four lethal scorers on the floor at a time.

Rivers isn’t Gone Yet

Arguably the best part about Austin Rivers returning to Denver is the fact that we have another year of interviews coming our way. It’s rare that free agents or players with recognizable names come to Denver. Rivers hadn’t played more than three minutes in a game since February 7th before signing with the Nuggets and playing 13 minutes on April 21st. After joining Denver, with all of their injuries, he was quickly inserted into the heart of the rotation. Specifically, when the playoffs rolled around, Rivers started nine of the 10 games for Denver with his highlight moment taking place in Game 3 against the Portland Trail Blazers. Rivers put up 21 points while knocking down 5-of-10 on 3-point shots. This play right here is the pinnacle of what we could always expect to see out of Rivers. He has a one-on-one opportunity against C.J. McCollum with the shot clock winding down. Ever confident in himself, Rivers uses the stepback to gain separation and knock down the 3-point shot which stretches Denver’s lead to eight points with just under four minutes remaining.

Similar to Barton, Rivers can create his own shot. He has the size and skills to play both guard spots which gives the team additional depth, but his most important skill is his ability to get himself open and put points on the board. On this play, Javale McGee uses a screen to get Rivers free from Cameron Payne, and Rivers immediately goes to work against Dario Saric. He drives down to the left block and uses the shot fake to get Saric moving laterally towards the basket before turning around to put in the hook shot over the big. Denver would ultimately lose this game, and Rivers isn’t going to be a huge part of the offense this season. However, he will be a consistent rotation player that gives the team another bench guard that can handle and initiate the offense.

Green Keeps Us Old

Thus far, Denver has added one player from another team in free agency in the form of Jeff Green from the Brooklyn Nets for a 2-year/$10 million deal. Denver was “forced” to allow veteran Paul Millsap to walk this offseason due to other financial commitments, but they still managed to maintain that veteran savvy with a player like Green. Green has been in the NBA since the 2007-08 season with over 1000 total games under his belt, including 78 postseason contests. He’s constantly teased teams with his upside throughout his career, but he’s really settled into a good role over the last few years as a role player alongside stars. With the Nets, Green had two main jobs when he was on the floor. He needed to try hard on defense, especially as a center in small-ball lineups, and, on offense, he needed to knock down 3-point shots when the ball found him. While sharing the floor with James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the opportunities were limited, but Green excelled when called upon. He shot 41.2 percent from 3-point range last season including 55.6 percent from distance in the playoffs en route to a 27 point game against the Milwaukee Bucks when he shot 7-of-8 from 3-point range. Green doesn’t do anything special on this play, but he does his job well. He uses a screen to get Durant room to work before sliding to the arc and knocking down the shot. Similar to Millsap, Green wasn’t ever going to be the guy, but he knew what his role was with this team.

On the defensive end, Green was often tasked with guarding the bigger forwards which allowed Durant to preserve his energy for the offensive end. That’s what Millsap was often tasked with and, while Green is unlikely to be starting, he will be one of the rotational bigs off of the bench. On this play, Green is matched up with Julius Randle, who prior to the playoffs, was one of the NBA’s best players as he was voted to the second team All-NBA and Most-Improved Player this season. Green gets beat initially with the shot fake, but he sticks with the play and eventually gets the block and rebound to end the possession for the New York Knicks.

Two Greens, One Team

Jeff and JaMychal Green are two different players, but they are pretty damn similar. Jeff measures in at 6’8” & 235 pounds while JaMychal comes in at 6’8” & 228 pounds. JaMychal shot 39.9 percent from 3-point range last season, and, more than likely, these two are going to play very similar roles next season. For JaMychal, he already knows how to fit in with this Denver offense. The ball is on the opposite side of the floor from Green, but he doesn’t stand still and wait for the ball to get to him. Instead, he slides up the arc to the wing which gives Monte a much easier pass to make before knocking down the 3-point shot. When you’re not a ball-handler, you have to get yourself open, and that’s exactly what JaMychal knew how to do.

This wasn’t Millsap, but this play absolutely looks like something he would have done. Green is playing along the baseline and guarding his man. He sees Gary Harris get beat off of the dribble by Bradley Beal, and, rather than giving up a free run to the rim or forcing Jokic to try and get over to contest the shot. JaMychal slides over and gets the block to end the possession. Again, Green isn’t going to be a starter, but he’ll be a primary big off of the bench. He’s shown that he can help fill the gap that Millsap is leaving with Jeff at his side.

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.