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.
A little over two weeks into the NBA season, the Denver Nuggets find themselves 5-3 and nearly smackdab in the middle of the Western Conference. They’re 3-0 at home and 2-3 on the road while sitting 11th in offense, but a major struggle early on this season has been their work on the defensive end where they sit 24th with a defensive rating of 114.5. Their net rating of -0.8 has them tied for 16th in the NBA.
The part that might be the most troubling about their early defensive issues has been the opponents they’ve played. The teams they’ve played have offensive ratings of 12th, 13th, 15th (twice), 27th (twice) and 30th (twice). They haven’t gone up against a murderers row of opposing offenses, and, yet, they just can’t seem to get stops with any regularity. While they’re not meant to be a defensive juggernaut like the Boston Celtics last season, they can’t be as bad as they’ve been while still having title aspirations.
Some of their issues can be attributed to their health, as they’ve been juggling rotations every night while managing Jamal Murray’s minutes along with missing Bones Hyland and Ish Smith for the last few games. However, some of their problems are just as simple as rotating slowly or being out of position. They rank ninth in personal fouls per game, but they’re averaging 22 fouls per game in losses vs 18.4 in wins. The offense will figure itself out, but the defense has to come along with it.
Guards Aren’t Really Guarding
As of Friday morning, the Nuggets were giving up the third-most points to opposing point guards at a little over 28.5 points per game. Could the argument be made that Murray doesn’t have all of his lateral mobility back yet? Absolutely. Could the argument be made that he thought he had center help at the rim? Absolutely. However, the main issue that I see on this play is how easy it is for Russell Westbrook to beat Murray off the dribble and get to the rim. He gets him backpedaling with a simple crossover move before driving past him for the layup. Russ went 6-of-12 and scored 18 points in this game. He also went 2-of-4 from 3-point range. That’s the only game so far this season that he’s made more than one three in a game.
If this play is the scheme’s fault, then that needs to be fixed. However, Bones Hyland can’t be off of Damian Lillard in this situation. You’re attempting a comeback, and you’re going to give one of the streakiest scorers in the NBA that much space on a corner three? We can’t be doing that. Bones is under the basket helping on Jerami Grant, who’s in the dunker spot with Michael Porter Jr. on the opposite block. If Bones stays closer to Lillard, it’s likely that Anfernee Simons dishes the ball to Grant for the dunk. However, MPJ has a chance to stop a potential dunk, but Bones has no chance of stopping Lillard from his shot in the corner.
Help Your Bigs
This one again goes to the guards not winning their matchup on the perimeter, but they’re not alone in their shortcomings. The part that hurts the most here is the fouls that the bigs rack up when they have to try and help. Nikola Jokic has three or more fouls in five of the eight games this season while MPJ has four or more in five of his seven games. Often, their fouls weren’t on the guys they were guarding. Instead, it was on players they were sliding over to help. After Kentavious Caldwell-Pope gets beat, Jokic has to help onto Luguentz Dort. Dort gets the rebound, and Jokic racks up the foul even though his man was nowhere near the play. Keeping Jokic and MPJ on the floor and out of foul trouble is critical to this team’s success.
Does MPJ need to close out as hard as he does? Probably not. He should give Stephen Curry space to land especially in the first quarter when he doesn’t need to pick up extra fouls. However, as soon as Bruce Brown helps off of Curry for some reason, that forces Porter to either watch Curry get the free shot up or attempt to close out. He closes out too close, and he ends up fouling him while Curry also makes the shot. This is similar to the Bones play from the last section. There are certain players you can shade off of. The guy that has made 200 more 3-point shots than any other player in NBA history isn’t one of them.
Slow the Ball Down
This partially goes towards the team’s struggles on offense with taking care of the ball. They’re 18th in the league in turnovers per game, and those turnovers often turn into points for the other team as they give up the 9th-most points per possession on transition opportunities. This play by Dame is a prime example of everything we’ve looked at today. Following a Denver miss, Portland has around six to seven seconds to get down the floor and get a shot up. Bruce is out and ready to pick up Dame. For some reason, he’s several feet beyond the arc. Following the light screen from Jusuf Nurkic, Lillard blows by the entire defense and gets a layup at the rim. If Lillard is going to pull up from 30 feet and beyond in that situation, then you let him do that. If he makes it, tip your cap and move on. Guarding that far out stretches the entire defense out to you which leaves no one at the rim, and DeAndre Jordan doesn’t have the lateral quickness to stop Lillard.
Your lead is gradually dwindling away. You lead by as many as 19 at one point. You’re now only up 10, so why are we jogging down the floor? Aaron Gordon is unable to handle the pass which results in the turnover. However, OKC isn’t sprinting down the floor, so you have time to get back and get in position. Instead, they jog the whole way down. Once Dort sees that he has a lane to the hoop, he turns on the jets and won’t be stopped. That was the perfect time of play that could have resulted in another foul for Jokic that could have been avoided. Reducing transition opportunities will require more effort on both ends of the floor, but it’s an essential that it gets done.
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.