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Denver Nuggets Film Friday: Build on this

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Golden State Warriors Cary Edmondson-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 Nuggets’ season came to an abrupt end on Wednesday night when they lost Game 5 to the Golden State Warriors, but that doesn’t mean that the season was a complete loss since they won’t be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the year. There are aspects of play that we saw this season that Denver can build on next year with a healthy roster that will make them a championship contender.

This isn’t as simple as once Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. are healthy because the team has other glaring weaknesses that the presence of those two won’t magically solve. Instead, this is looking at the aspects of the game that this team learned to perform without those two on the floor. Murray and Porter’s talent, especially on offense, will only make life easier for everyone else, and they’ll need to fit in around the different actions the team will be looking to run.

We have the entire offseason to look at the negatives and what this team needs to improve on. There’s no point in focusing on those now when we can look at the good things that have already happened. It’s all about feeling good on a Friday, and, if I can look at the Nuggets playing good basketball for a few minutes, that’s a good way to spend that part of my Friday afternoon.

Aggressive Aaron Gordon

Throughout his career, Aaron Gordon has been a hit or miss player on the offensive end of the floor. This season, we saw inconsistencies here and there when he would try to do too much. However, when he was attacking the defense and using his size to his advantage, he was a nightmare for defenders to deal with. On this play, Gordon is matched up with Klay Thompson down in the paint. He just bullies Thompson out of the way to get to his spot and gets the layup to go. When he was playing this style of offense, he was tough to spot unless the opponent was able to keep a big on him, which posed a different mismatch thanks to his speed.

In Games 1 & 2, Gordon had shot 6-of-19 to score 15 points combined with only three free-throw attempts through two games, and the team had gotten blown out by a total of 36 points in the two losses. Starting in Game 3, he flipped the switch and played a different brand of basketball. After combining for seven 3-point attempts in two games, he attempted just one in Game 3, and he also got to the line for four free throws. This is a play that doesn’t necessarily fit into the half-court offense category, but it instead fits into the aggressive category. Gordon sees Jokic get the rebound, and he’s immediately looking to get out into the fast break. As long as Jokic hits him with the pass, he’s scoring or getting a trip to the free-throw line. He ends up with both as he converted the and-one. Gordon’s aggressiveness draws fouls on the opponent, and, when you have someone like Jokic that can thrive by also initiating contact, those are going to add up by the end of the game. Throw in the fact that he’ll have even more space to work inside with Murray and Porter back next season, and Gordon could be even more dangerous next season.

Bones is Legit

When the season started, I wasn’t hugely convinced on Bones Hyland. I was waiting to see him develop before I was ready to give a full opinion on him. Now that his rookie season is over, I’m all in. I have no doubt that he’s going to be a legitimate role player and possibly more moving forward in this league. His ability to create his own shot while also having the ability to set up others is something that isn’t easy to come by. On this play, Thompson is the victim once again of the onslaught from a Nuggets’ player. Klay picks him up in transition, and Bones starts going to work on him. The team is up eight with under 10 minutes remaining, and, aside from Will Barton, it’s the Nuggets’ bench vs the Warriors starters. Bones sets him up with a few dribble moves before blowing by him to the rim for the layup.

Remember, it’s not just his scoring that was impressive. Bones’ ability to drive and kick improved as the season wore on, and he became a full-time initiator by the time April rolled around. The vision on this play to find Austin Rivers is flat out incredible. He gets the screen from Jokic to get a switch onto Draymond Green. He turns on the jets to go to the basket which prompts the rest of the Golden State Warriors’ defense to rotate over to help, and they leave Rivers wide open for the corner triple.

Jokic Can Make it Work

I know your first thought is probably Duh, but just give me a second here. The Nuggets just went to the playoffs as a sixth seed in the stronger conference while playing nearly the entire season without their second and third-best players. Jokic wasn’t alone in his efforts, but it at times seemed like he was. Despite that, he always found a way to make it all work which is the prime example of his greatness.

On the floor with Jokic on this possession are Rivers, Hyland, JaMychal Green and Bryn Forbes. There isn’t a soul in the building that thinks the offense is going to run through anyone but Jokic. However, because of his willingness as a passer, the defense has to honor that someone else might get the ball. Andre Iguodala is a little long in the tooth, but he never stands a chance with Jokic who just dribbles right past him for the layup. No other stars on the floor? That’s no problem for Nikola.

This time, we have three holdovers from the last lineup, but we’ve swapped in Monte Morris for Forbes. It makes no difference who Jokic is surrounded by here. You have a center that’s running the fast break. It’s not a guard or even a hyper-athletic forward. Instead, it’s your 7” 250-pound center that caught the rebound and is busting down the floor before hitting Green on the cut to the rim. If the front office can put a lineup of healthy and athletic ballplayers around Jokic, he’ll find a way to make it work. There’s no maybe about it because we know that he in fact can do it.

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.