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Denver Nuggets Film Friday: Just try it

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.

Growing up, I’m sure we all had a food or two that our parents said we just needed to try, and we would like it. Or we needed to at least try something to say we didn’t like it. Well, we’re taking that mentality to the basketball court where Michael Malone needs to open his mind a little bit this year with the way that he runs his team, and this goes for both ends of the floor. This will now be the seventh season under Malone, and this team needs to make changes and innovations before they stagnate and regress.

The offense runs through Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, and, considering their high level of play, that is rightfully so, but it wouldn’t hurt to add more variety into his current scheme. Specifically for the playoffs, having the ability to throw a different offense at your opponent gives you the chance to exploit matchup advantages or makes you less predictable. Think of it like the 2015 NBA Finals when the Cleveland Cavaliers’ entire offensive game plan was to throw the ball to LeBron James on one of the wings, and he would either back his defender and attempt a shot or try to pass to a shooter or cutter. The Golden State Warriors knew that was coming, and it was easier for them to stop because they had nothing else to worry about.

On defense, things will be more difficult for Malone to scheme up. He doesn’t have the elite defensive center that other teams possess. He also doesn’t have a pure on-ball guard stopper such as Patrick Beverely or Jrue Holiday. Instead, he has to find ways to prevent defensive lapses with the crew that he does have. That will obviously be much easier said than done, but the best coaches always find a way.

We Got Shooters

Fun fact, this lineup of Murray, Jokic, Michael Porter Jr., Will Barton and Monte Morris only saw the floor for 12 games together last season. They played a total of 151 minutes due to injuries to everyone outside of Jokic. It’s also a lineup I think Malone needs to flesh out even further. In their 151 minutes last season, they had a net rating of +23.6, including a defensive rating of 101.9 despite being a largely offensive-minded unit. Among five-man lineups that played at least 150 minutes together last season, this group was first in the NBA in net rating. Why does this lineup matter so much? Defenses can’t really stop it because the combination of Jokic and the shooters stretches them too thin. On this play, all five Nuggets start within a foot or two of the 3-point line, which leaves the paint wide open because Jonas Valanciunas has to be out to guard Jokic, who can shoot from anywhere. With Morris having a free run to the rim, this forces Barton’s defender to rotate over from the corner which gives Barton the easy 3-point bucket. The defense was in a no-win situation here. If Justise Winslow stays with Barton, Morris has an easy layup. If he rotates, Barton gets the easy shot, and no one is able to help onto Barton because the offense has the defense so spaced out.

Remember when we talked about the fact that defenses can’t leave the paint open because of Jokic? This is why having shooters around him makes that so difficult. Jokic gets the switch onto Malcolm Brogdon. Brogdon has decent size for a guard, but he’s still no match for Jokic. Brogdon’s teammate Myles Turner recognizes that which forces him to try and slide to Jokic to help, but Jokic just sucks the defense towards the paint by moving towards the rim. Then, when Turner finally commits, Jokic flicks the ball out to Murray for the easy triple. This play isn’t just about these two guys though. The other three shooters on the floor are on the opposite wing giving the stars room to work, but the defenders can’t just leave them unattended as all three will knock down open jump shots. Part of the reason Malone hasn’t used this lineup more is health, but, when they are healthy, he needs to explore getting all of these guys on the floor.

Let MPJ Be A Creator

Ok, I have one gigantic caveat for this one. MPJ has to show that he can effectively handle the ball without turning it over for this one to work. Through two seasons, we have seen signs of growth in that area, but he still struggles at times with his handle. He can set up others when he’s facilitating, but he’s often sharing the floor as the third option for ball-handling. On this play, Jokic and Murray are both off of the floor, and he’s the main offensive threat. He takes advantage of the slower defender guarding him that knows Porter will shoot from anywhere, and he drives towards the rim. When the defense rotates, he’s able to dump the ball off to Paul Millsap for the layup. Porter doesn’t have the Kevin Durant-level handle, but his ability to rise up and shoot at any time isn’t fully utilized as a spot-up shooter or slasher. Put the ball in his hands.

Again, Porter is the primary offensive threat with this lineup, and everyone on the floor knows it. He has a matchup advantage on Kevon Looney, and he knows just how to exploit that. When he gets Looney to overcommit to the threat of the jump shot, he bursts towards the rim, which forces the help defenders to rotate back to prevent the layup. Once Porter recognizes that, he hits JaMychal Green in the corner for the 3-pointer. Porter’s not going to be the primary initiator with the other two big guns on the floor, but he has to be involved in the offense more because it keeps him engaged. When he’s engaged on offense, it generally leads to him being more engaged on the defensive end as well.

Start P.J. Dozier

I think there’s a case to be made for starting both of P.J. Dozier and Gordon when Murray returns from his injury. I think Dozier should even start in place of Murray until he returns from injury with Barton as the other guard with Morris running the second unit. Dozier and Gordon are the two best on-ball defenders on this roster, and it doesn’t matter if they come up short on the offensive end because they offset those losses on the other end. Having even just two above-average defenders on the floor would help boost the starting lineup. Dozier is always willing to guard the other team’s best offensive player. It really doesn’t matter how big they are. On this play, he’s guarding the 6’8” Brandon Ingram, who has a wingspan of 7’3”. Dozier stays close to Ingram around the screen, and he uses his own length to stick a hand in and swat the ball away to generate a steal.

We’re doubling up here because both of these plays are fun to watch. On the first one, Dozier does multiple things right here. He rises up vertically to contest the shot attempt without initiating contact. Once he notices that the offensive player is about to pass the ball, he swings his arms down for one of the smoothest steals I’ve seen in my lifetime. His length and athleticism allowed him to shut down two different events on one play.

On the second play, Dozier is on the opposite block guarding his man in the corner, but he’s keeping an eye on the ball where Facundo Campazzo is guarding the ball-handler. Dozier sees Campazzo start to get beat, and he flies over to rotate before rising up for the volleyball block that nearly sent the ball off of the floor. Having a defensive-minded guard on the floor is something that every team wants to have. While Dozier is limited offensively, which can mess up the spacing alongside Gordon, he brings enough to the floor defensively, and as a ball-handler, that he needs to be in the starting lineup. This also could shift Barton to the bench, where they need more shooting and creation alongside Morris.

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.