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Denver Nuggets Film Friday: Standing pat

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-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.

The trade deadline has come and gone, and the Nuggets have stood completely pat with the roster that they have. No one was sent out, and there were no additions made. Unless the team finds someone on the buyout market, which is still possible, the team is set for the remainder of the year. So, while just about every other team was involved in trades over the last few days, Denver sat out of the feeding frenzy, and we now have to break down what this team’s plans are for the remainder of the year.

For one, they didn’t make an all-in push. There was no superstar pursuit completed to try and win a title this season. Denver is aware of their injury issues and how those will hamper the team’s ability to win the team’s first championship in franchise history. They also know that they’re closer to contending than they are to tanking, which is why they weren’t one of the many teams that was shipping out veteran talent in search of future draft capital.

When Nikola Jokic is on your roster, you’re always going to be a tough out because he’s just that good. Denver’s plans for the deadline, if they did swing a deal, were likely going to always be looking to next season with the hopes of having their full starting five healthy, and, as that never materialized, they were content to ride out the year. So, as no changes were made, what should we expect to see down the stretch of this season?

More Aaron Gordon

Aaron Gordon is in his eighth NBA season, and it only took him playing nearly a full year with Nikola Jokic for him to finally figure out that he can be the big kid on the playground. Over the last couple of months, we’ve seen a mini-evolution with Gordon inside the 3-point line. Rather than exclusively trying for dunks and layups off of cuts, he’s been using his size when he gets matched onto a smaller defender, and he’s become greatly successful at it. On this play, Gordon is being guarded by RJ Barrett down on the block. Barrett measures in at 6’6” and 215 pounds, and Gordon just bullies him like he’s matched up with a high-school point guard by getting to whatever position he wants on the floor.

It will be interesting to see how Gordon’s offensive touches are affected when Jamal Murray returns to the lineup, as Murray will command more shots than Monte Morris is currently taking. However, Murray will give Gordon even more room to work, which bodes well for his upside. Murray can create his own shot, and he was shooting over 40 percent from 3-point range prior to his injury last season. This opens up a lot of space inside the arc for a guy like Gordon, who is a great cutter and slasher. This play is a great example of what Murray and Gordon can do together. With Gordon’s improved back to the basket game, he can score more inside. He gets a mismatch that he likes and goes to work. Andrew Wiggins wants to slide over to help guard him, but he can’t leave Murray open from outside, and it’s curtains.

More Nnaji & Nikola Minutes

This is a pairing that I explored a few weeks ago, and I think the lack of movement at the deadline is only more of an indication that they’re going to keep this duo coming. Denver added no new bigs to the frontcourt, and Nnaji has seen an uptick in his minutes of late as he’s played at least 20 minutes in each of the last four games. Nnaji isn’t going to be a create-his-own shot scorer off of the bench. Instead, all he has to do is be ready for the ball to come to him and to knock down shots. On this one, he’s over in the corner with Jokic near the top of the arc. Jokic has everyone on the defense convinced he’s taking a shot, but Nnaji is ready for the ball to find him and he rises up for the easy triple.

The 2-man net rating for Jokic and Nnaji is a sparkling 11.3, and they have a fantastic 125.3 offensive rating. We’ve seen Jokic do the 4-5 two-man game with Michael Porter Jr. over the last few years along with a lot of it this season with Gordon. However, running it with Nnaji adds a new wrinkle to the offense because of his shooting ability. Nnaji runs around the screen set by Jokic, and he is left with a ton of space. That gives him the ability to rise up for the easy jumper. That doesn’t just happen by accident, and we should see even more of it moving forward.

Morris to the Bench

We’re operating under the idea that Murray will return as the full-time starter and play his usual 30-35 minutes per game once he’s up to speed. That will send Monte Morris to the second unit which will then cut into the minutes of guys on the second unit that are currently playing. The main thing we’re going to see is what a consistent initiator can do for this second unit. Morris instantly becomes the best offensive playmaker in terms of his ability to create his own shot along with creating shots for others, and that opens the floor for everyone else. On this play, it’s just a simple pick-and-pop between he and JaMychal Green. Once Green sets the screen and the defenders both double-team Morris, that leaves Green wide open for the easy 3-pointer.

This play is another example of what happens when your ball handler is capable of creating his own shot. The defense is required to honor that, and they’re unable to appropriately guard both shooters without being out of position. Morris gets around the screen and hits Jeff Green for the easy mid-range jumper. Morris’ role on this team is often overshadowed by the big names at the top of the roster and by the fact that he doesn’t explode for huge point totals. However, when this team gets Murray back, Morris’ steadying presence with the bench will show just important he is.

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.