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.
Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, assuming he progresses well back from his knee injury, are going to be the driving forces towards the ceiling of the Nuggets this season. However, the guys that will make the difference between this team making a trip to the playoffs and make a run towards a possible championship are the other three guys in the starting lineup. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. are going to be the ones that turn this team into one of the most feared lineups in the NBA.
When the Nuggets traded for Gordon back in March of 2021, the team very quickly showed that their starting five was one of the league’s best even in minimal minutes together. In 110 minutes across five games, the lineup of Murray, MPJ, Gordon, Jokic and Will Barton had a net rating of 18.5. They were eviscerating teams on offense, and they were a nightmare to deal with on defense. They’ve dealt with injuries for two years and never had all the puzzle pieces to make everything fit together.
Now, that’s no longer the case. Everyone is back, and this team is only going to continue to improve as the season moves along. Murray will get more healthy and knock the rust off. Jokic will be more difficult for defenses to handle with more weapons around him to worry about. However, it’s the three guys starting alongside them that will make the biggest different in this team’s success this season.
MPJ is Back
This play is a perfect demonstration of the aspect of his game that the Nuggets sorely missed last season. Denver gets the defense scrambling following the entry pass to Jokic. While they’re collapsing on him, he passes across the court to KCP, and MPJ slides towards the corner. Teh defense is closing out on KCP, and that leaves Porter wide open for the triple. With all of that spacing on the floor, they’re making it harder for the defense to guard everyone, and they get punished when they leave someone open.
I love this play because it shows how MPJ affects the defense when he’s on the floor. At this point in the game, MPJ is 5-of-10 from the floor and 2-of-5 from 3-point range while KCP was just 1-of-2 and 1-of-1 from downtown. The logical expectation for the Portland Trail Blazers to make when MPJ catches the ball is that he’s going to put up the shot because he has a little bit of space. Two years ago, MPJ is probably doing just that. However, the play he makes shows his maturity. After catching the ball and getting the defender to collapse on him, he dribbles towards the rim. This draws in the defense, and it gives KCP the free run to the rim for the basket.
Aaron Gordon is Set to Thrive
Aaron Gordon is a talented player that has been one of the more confounding players in the league since he entered the NBA back in 2014. His athleticism and size make him a difficult matchup, but he hasn’t always been in a role that maximizes his skillset. Last season, he was tasked with being the number two or three scorer depending on the night. Now, he gets to be that guy that adds to the offense by taking advantage of the space everyone else creates. This play shows exactly that. With Murray, MPJ & KCP on the floor, along with Jokic who has a gravity of his own, there is a lot of room for a guy like Gordon to operate. While the defense is concerned with staying out on the shooters, Gordon slips past them into the lane for the easy dunk. There’s going to be a lot more plays exactly like that available to him this year.
This play happened early in the game when the defense didn’t seem like they were completely set, but it still demonstrates exactly why Gordon could have one of the best years of his career. Surrounded by multiple shooters, Gordon can be tasked with slashing to the rim while leaving the outside scoring to the other guys. On this play, there isn’t a defender in the paint because they’re all stretched out around the arc, rather than clustered around the rim. Once Gordon uses the screen from MPJ, he has a free run to the rim. This works in conjunction with the rest of the offense moving forward in the game. Defenders could sag off their man to help slow down those drives, but, if they do that, it leaves open a trio of sharpshooters to make them pay.
KCP Will Fit in Just Fine
This offseason, President of Basketball Operations Calvin Booth made the big swing to to move off of longtime franchise stars in Will Barton and Monte Morris while bringing back KCP and Ish Smith. Smith figures to be mostly a reserve piece for them, but KCP was seen as the glue guy to really round out the starting lineup. It’s early in the season, but the move already looks like a huge success for the Nuggets. I like this play because it shows KCP’s ability to know how to float to the proper space. The league’s best off-ball shooters know how to move until they have space while expending minimal energy. With the ball whipping around the floor, he just makes a subtle slide to his right where there’s plenty of space to knock down the open look.
The two reasons KCP was brought in was to shoot 3s and play defense. He gives Denver another long wing that can defend multiple positions. Specifically, we’ll likely see him on the toughest guard assignment while Murray gets the easier matchup to conserve energy for offense. On this play, KCP just shows the veteran savvy that has kept him around in this league for so long. After getting over the screen, he stays in contact with his assignment. When Clarkson hesitates for just a split second, that’s more than enough time for KCP to pop his hand in to generate the steal and start heading the other way. As I said, it’s early in the season, but Caldwell-Pope already looks like one of this summer’s best moves across the league.
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.