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.
Entering Friday morning, the Nuggets are 17-10 with more losses than they’d like. Their defense has struggled and made them sweat, however, thanks to an offense that ranks second in offensive rating and at times looks completely unstoppable, they’re punching with every team they face on any given night. Their 117.2 offensive rating is second to only the Boston Celtics, and it would be the sixth-best offensive rating in the history of the NBA.
Despite Jamal Murray still working his way back from his knee injury along with various injuries and absences to the rest of the roster, this team continues to churn out offensive outbursts nearly every night. Of their 27 games played, they’ve scored 120 or more points in 11 of them, and they’re 13-0 when they score 115 or more points. This team’s defense needs work, as evidenced by the fact they’ve given up 120 or more points in 10 games, but the offense is approaching that rare and special air that few teams are capable of reaching.
This team has the pieces to improve on the defensive end this year, but we’re taking a look today at what this offense does that makes this group so special along with what they can improve upon to go to another level. One note, we won’t be harping on players getting healthy. There’s nothing that can be done about that, and the team has to play with the players that are available to be on the floor.
Starts with Him
No matter what advanced metric you look at, Nikola Jokic is in a league of his own on every one of them. He’s tied for fourth in defensive RAPTOR score, while leading in RAPTOR WAR, Total RAPTOR and being second in offensive RAPTOR. Among players with at least 20 games and 25 minutes per game, he’s first in offensive rating and second in player impact estimate. The team is worse across the board when he’s on the floor vs when he’s off. Close game on the road? Why not just have your 7’ center hit a stepback jumper from mid-range to take a lead late in the game. I mean… Every team has a guy that can do that right? Wrong. On the year, Jokic is 11-of-16 on shots from 16-feet out to the 3-point line. It’s a small sample, but he’s shooting better on shots in this area than some guys are shooting at the rim.
What does his ability to hit shots like this cause? It causes space for everyone else around him to open up. Bruce Brown is not the biggest guy on the floor at only 6’4.” As a result, he needs a little more room around the basket to get shots up, and that’s why he plays so well off of Jokic. This play is the perfect example of it. Jokic is doing some two-man game with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on one side of the floor, and he ends up with room to roll to the basket. Taj Gibson either has to stick with Brown or give up a short jumper to Jokic. He contests, and that gives Brown the easy layup behind Gibson. Jokic is averaging a career-high 9.0 assists per game, and he is sixth in the NBA in potential assists per game at 15.5 and fourth in assist points created. Not only is he setting guys up with room to score, he’s giving them great chances to score with such a high assist point score.
AG is Thriving
To start the year, you could have made an argument for multiple players as the team’s second-best player, but, after what we’ve seen over the past month, there’s no question that right now it’s Aaron Gordon. Gordon was miscast as a primary creator last year, but that has completely flipped this season. Now, his job has been as simple as being bigger or faster than whoever is guarding you, and we’ll get you the ball. This play from the end of the team’s win over the Utah Jazz is a perfect example. Gordon is spotting up on the right wing beyond the 3-point arc. When his man slides over to help, Murray feeds the ball to Gordon. Gordon gets his man with the shot fake, and he’s able to drive right past him to the rim. Once Gordon beats his man, there’s no big in waiting to contest the shot, and Gordon is going to win those more often than not considering he’s shooting 79.7 percent on 138 attempts at the rim this year.
You have to feel a little bad for Damian Lillard on this one. The Portland Trail Blazers guard gets switched onto Gordon, and the matchup was over from the jump. Gordon just bullies him to get the inside position, and he just has to wait for Jokic to get him the ball. He’s been doing this all season long. When he’s not cutting to the rim for a dunk or hanging out in the dunker spot waiting for a pass, he’s been taking advantage of these switches onto guards. He’s averaging 16.9 points per game while shooting 61.3 percent from the floor. In 75 games last year, he had 19 games with 20 or more points, and he’s already got nine in 24 games this season. This is the role that the team had envisioned for Gordon when they traded for him, and it is paying off just over a quarter of the way into the season.
Offseason Paying Off
The Nuggets made two primary additions this offseason that weren’t draft picks. They traded for KCP, and they signed Bruce Brown away from the Brooklyn Nets. KCP was brought in to play defense and knock down 3s. On the year, he’s shooting 45.3 percent from 3-point range on 4.5 attempts per game. He’s seventh in the NBA in percentage from downtown, but none of the six guys in front of him are shooting as many per game as he is. The main reason for his success has been as simple as knowing where he fits in the offense. Rarely has he attempted to be a primary creator. In fact, 94.3 percent of his 3-point shots have been assisted this season along with 87.8 percent of his shots inside the arc. In the play above, KCP is just playing the modified two-man game with Jokic. He’s playing extra deep beyond the 3-point line to stretch the defense out even more. As Jokic backs his man down, KCP’s defender either has to give Jokic the one-on-one opportunity or the free look for KCP. He helps, and Jokic dishes to KCP who makes the defense pay. It’s nice when things work out how you plan them to.
Brown has given the team another primary ball-handler. Whether he’s coming off of the bench or playing in the starting lineup, he makes the lineups he’s on the floor with have more options on what they can do with his ability to create. We talked above about how Brown isn’t the biggest guy on the floor. He’s spent more time away from the rim this season, and, when he entered the NBA, that didn’t look like a tool he had in his bag. He was more of a slasher that shot just 30.1 percent during his first two NBA seasons. This year, on a career-high 3.2 attempts per game from downtown, he’s shooting 39.5 percent from 3-point range. On the play above, Brown is hanging out on the 3-point line just waiting. With the way this team moves the ball, he knows that it will find him if he’s open. Jokic dropsteps towards the baseline before whipping a pass past Gordon to find KCP in the corner. With a defender flying towards him, he makes the extra pass to Brown who knocks down the wide-open look. Sometimes, offseason moves just don’t quite pan out. Right now, these two are absolutely crushing for the Nuggets.
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.