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Denver Nuggets Film Friday: The new duos

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Brooklyn Nets Dennis Schneidler-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.

When trying to come up with a topic for this week’s Film Friday, I was inspired by a tweet from my boss that he put up Wednesday that put a visual spin on some of the Nuggets’ duos from this season. The image, seen below, shows the various net ratings for each of the qualified duos for the Nuggets so far this season. Most of these are things that have been fleshed out, but there are a few under the radar pairings that we are looking at today.

Obviously, pretty much anyone you pair with Jokic has been outstanding. Of the 11 qualified players on the chart, there are only two that have negative net ratings, with one of those two being the recently acquired Bryn Forbes, who has shared the floor for a whopping 35 minutes with Jokic, so we’ll give him a bit of a break. However, when you dig deeper into the chart, you’ll notice certain pairings that have been outstanding this season yet seem to fly under the radar a bit.

Why aren’t those duos getting more run? When looking at other pairings that have more minutes this season, it becomes even more confusing because a lot of the underutilized groupings have better net ratings and should be on the floor more. Those are the pairings we’re looking at today and what they’re doing on the floor that has made them so successful so far this season. One quick note before we get started. The idea for this article came from Ryan’s tweet, but, due to a game taking place since that tweet, we will be using updated numbers from NBA.com.

Aaron Gordon & Davon Reed

The Aaron Gordon and Davon Reed duo has played just 99 minutes together this season, but they have a +12.1 net rating. That’s 12th among all Nugget duos that have suited up for at least 30 minutes this season, but they’re one of many duos that haven’t even played 100 minutes together yet. For one, Reed needs more minutes in general. He’s averaging just 15.2 minutes per game as a true 3-and-D wing, and that just can’t happen on this team. Does either one of Gordon or Reed do anything extremely spectacular on this play? Not at all. Instead, the positioning and gravity of Reed results in the easy bucket for Gordon. Justise Winslow is guarding Reed in transition out on the wing. He has to stay out on him with Reed shooting 44.1 percent from 3-point range this season which means Gordon only has to slip past one defender. By the time Winslow realizes it, he can’t rotate over in time and fouls Gordon who makes the shot anyway.

This play isn’t so much of what this duo does on the offensive end or anything they do specifically on the defensive end. It’s another small thing that will kind of fly under the radar for the most part. In transition, Gordon is functioning as the defensive signal caller. He tells Reed to pick up Eric Bledsoe while he guards his man. Reed, unlike a lot of the Nuggets’ backup guards, is a more than capable on-ball defender. He stays with Bledsoe to stop his drive before switching him to Monte Morris, while Gordon sort of floats in space, due to Brandon Boston Jr. shooting just 29.6 percent from 3-point range, he can sag off of him. With Bledsoe’s drive stopped, he has nowhere to go before spinning right into Gordon. Reed’s ability to defend in transition is what makes this play possible. Yet, we’re getting an average of just 6.6 minutes per game of these guys together while Gordon has shared the floor with Facundo Campazzo for 335 minutes with a net rating of -13.5.

Austin Rivers & Monte Morris

This is a duo that I think we may actually get more minutes from once Jamal Murray returns, and it makes a lot of sense on the offensive end. They have a +14.4 net rating with a solid 102.1 defensive rating. Their +14.4 mark is tied for fifth among all duos that qualify for today’s exercise. Morris and Rivers both have the ability to create their own shot, and Rivers is more of a shoot-first guard while Morris prefers to set up his teammates which is why they pair so well. That doesn’t mean Rivers is incapable of setting up his teammates. On this play even, the roles are reversed. Rivers plays the role of setup man with Morris as the shooter. Rivers’ ability to drive to the basket forces the defense to rotate over to try and help on him, but, after setting up the defender with a slight head fake, he takes one extra dribble and finds Morris for the open triple. Having another ball-handler on the floor enables Morris to act like a spot-up shooter rather than requiring the ball in his hands to make a play.

Two plays in a row directly contradicting myself? That’s right. That’s exactly what I’m doing here. For his career, Morris has been a 38.5 percent shooter from 3-point range, but he’s shooting just 36.1 percent from downtown this season. On standard 3-point jump shots, he’s shooting 39.9 percent compared to 25.9 percent on pull-up 3-pointers. On this play, just like the last one, he’s shooting a stationary jump shot. Rivers drives in and draws the attention of every defender on the floor. Rather than force up a contested layup. He finds the open Morris in the corner who cashes the easy triple. We’ve seen 258 minutes of this duo, which slides in at 24th among all Nuggets’ 2-man lineups this season. Other duos ahead of them in minutes include Campazzo and Bones Hyland with a net rating of -6.0 and Rivers with Campazzo, who have a net rating of -10.2.

Nikola Jokic & Zeke Nnaji

I didn’t want to include any Jokic duos. It didn’t seem fair as basically every player that suits up with Jokic has a great rating because of how good of a player Jokic is. Regardless, I’m breaking my own rule for a couple of reasons. For one, I think this pairing should play more, in the right situations. For two, I think Zeke Nnaji should be playing more in general. I have a guy that is shooting 50 percent from 3-point range this season, and he’s not getting more minutes with one of the best passers in the NBA. That doesn’t make any sense. Jokic and Nnaji are tied with Morris and Rivers with a +14.4 net rating. They have a somewhat high defensive rating of 110.1, but they more than make up for that with their 124.6 offensive rating. Similar to Morris, and most NBA players, Nnaji is a much better shooter when he’s not moving compared to when he is. In fact, he has yet to take a 3-point shot this season that wasn’t a catch-and-shoot opportunity. On this play, he’s doing all that Jokic could ask for. He’s open, and he’s ready for the ball. Nnaji’s ability to knock down 3-pointers at a high clip puts the defense in a bind. If they crash on Jokic, as they do on this play, Nnaji makes them pay with his shooting. If they stay out on Nnaji, you’re giving Jokic a one-on-one opportunity around the basket. That’s bad news for the defense. Jeff Green has shown flashes this year, but Nnaji is absolutely the best shooting power forward on the squad.

On the last play, we have an example of Nnaji’s shooting directly impacting Jokic around the rim. On this play, we have a perfect example of his indirect impact. Nnaji pulls his defender, Rodney McGruder, with him to the corner. McGruder doesn’t want to give up the open look to Nnaji because he knows he’ll knock that shot down. After Jokic gets the switch onto Killian Hayes, the Detroit Pistons have no chance of defending him on this play. McGruder could rotate over and give up the open look, and it wouldn’t matter because you’re then dealing with two players at a big advantage for Denver on one play. Nnaji still has room to grow on the defensive end, but his ability to space the floor and knock down open shots is more than enough to get him on the floor with Jokic. Even if it’s only a few more minutes here and there, it needs to be more than the 5.2 minutes per game that they’re playing together now.

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.