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.
As of this writing, superstar center Nikola Jokic is in the league’s health and safety protocols along with star point guard Jamal Murray. During the team’s Wednesday night loss to the New York Knicks, it was quickly apparent how different the team is with Jokic on and off the court on offense. I know that isn’t exactly groundbreaking stuff, but the offense went from one of the league’s best to one of the league’s worst in a snap.
Michael Porter Jr., who had been torching nets to start the year, couldn’t find open space to get his shot off. Aaron Gordon couldn’t find lanes to cut to the rim because DeAndre Jordan didn’t have the gravity to pull his man away from the rim. However, we’re not here to discuss the offense today. Instead, we need to talk about the defense, because, while Jokic has never been seen as a defensive-minded guy, this defense fell apart without him on the floor.
Thanks to his basketball IQ, Jokic often just finds a way to be in the right spot at the right time on defense. When his teammates get beat off of the dribble, he’s just far enough from the rim to deter guys from taking that floater, or he’s far enough out that they don’t have the driving lane they thought they did. Whether Jokic is or isn’t on the floor, this team needs to talk more on defense because they have real flaws that need to be fixed now.
On this play, Jeff Green was functioning as the center for Denver to match the smaller lineup the Knicks were putting out there with Julius Randle as their center. Randle had been feasting all game, although most of it had been around the rim rather than away from it. However, on this play, Green is guarding him to take away the mid-range jumper rather than a driving lane. He has his back to the ball while denying the ball to a guy that is shooting 39 percent on shots from 10 feet out to the 3-point line. With Green having his back to the ball, Jalen Brunson is able to attack Murray off the dribble, and Green isn’t ready to react to try and help on Brunson or to crash the glass because he doesn’t realize the ball is driving past him. Randle draws the foul on him, and the Knicks get a chance to take a lead they would never relinquish.
This play is a little different from the one that Green was dealing with, but it also shows exactly what I was referring to when it comes to Jokic’s spatial awareness off the ball. He’s guarding Nikola Vucevic in the dunker’s spot on this play. DeMar DeRozan has the ball on the opposite block with Bruce Brown guarding him. When it looks as though Brown might get beat, he shades over just enough to discourage DeRozan from trying to go down the lane towards the rim where he could shoot or dump it off to Vucevic, who would likely have an easy shot. Jokic moves all of seven feet on this play, and that seven feet directly results in a missed shot for Chicago just by being in the right place.
At one point in his career, Jordan was an All-Defense center whose athleticism made him a force inside the paint. Opponents didn’t want to drive towards him, and, when they did, he was forcing a lot of misses while swallowing up rebounds. He’s not that guy anymore, so there needs to be accountability from everyone on the floor to chip in. On this play, Jordan does his job. He stays home and slides towards the driving Immanuel Quickley before rising up to alter the shot without fouling. Since he doesn’t have the same burst that he used to, he’s not able to bounce back up for the board quickly enough, and Randle flies in from the 3-point line for the tip-in after Kentavious Caldwell-Pope didn’t box him out. Denver ranks 11th in defensive rebounding after being ninth last season. They need to finish possessions by crashing the glass or at the very least keeping the offense off of the boards.
This play exemplifies why it’s important to always finish possessions. Defensive rebounds lead to fewer points for your opponent and more transition opportunities for your team. As of this morning, Denver ranks 1st in the NBA in transition points per possession at 1.28. Michael Porter Jr. is second in the NBA at 1.97 PPP on transition opportunities, and they’re one of only two teams, Boston Celtics, that have three players in the top 18 in that category. Jokic crashes the glass following the miss that Aaron Gordon forces, and they’re immediately off to the races. They know they have the numbers advantage after the Portland Trail Blazers player fell down, and they take advantage of it by getting Gordon the free dunk before the defense is set. Get in position to finish your plays, and good things will happen.
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