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Denver Nuggets Film Friday: Leave it all behind

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.

A week ago, we focused on things the Nuggets did this season that they can build upon next season and moving forward in order to increase their success. This week, we’re taking some time to focus on the negative things that this team needs to leave behind heading into next season if they’re hoping for their playoff run to last longer than a round or two.

The best teams are the ones that are still playing. There were zero upsets in the first round of the NBA playoffs, as the top four seeds in both conferences advanced to the second round. They all have unique rosters that set them apart from everyone else. While a team like the Boston Celtics are less reliant on an individual superstar and focus more on the team, the Dallas Mavericks are getting by thanks to heroics from Luka Doncic and Jalen Brunson.

Denver has a superstar in Nikola Jokic, and they’ve surrounded him with other bright young talents such as Jamal Murray, Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. Now, it’s important to look at the rest of the roster to make the adjustments necessary around that group to make the team competitive. If changes aren’t made, Denver will see another exit that sends them home from the playoffs earlier than they would like.

Point of Attack Defense

In this section, there’s no one guy that’s more guilty than anyone else. The Nuggets are bad on-ball defenders, and they have been for a while now. They’ve had guys here and there that can put a few possessions in a row together on that end, but they rarely can just fully lock someone out on defense. On this play, Gordon is guarding Keldon Johnson out along the 3-point line. He sees the potential screener to his left and assumes he’s going to have to fight over it. As soon as he overslides, Johnson easily blows past him. Gordon was the team’s best defender in the starting lineup, and he can’t just get beat that easily off of the dribble next year.

This play is a great example of the issue that poor perimeter defense poses to this Nuggets’ team. Monte Morris is moving with Malik Monk across the floor. He tries to help onto Russell Westbrook, even though Russ doesn’t have a driving lane. This leaves him late on his rotation to Monk, which gives up the open driving lane. Jokic is then forced to either contest it and risk the foul or just give up the free dunk. Jokic knows he can’t give up free fouls, so he just lets it go. Reducing the number of attempts that Jokic faces inside from attacking guards and wings will help preserve his energy for later in games.

Throw out the Bench Offense

As currently constructed, the Nuggets’ bench offensive system flat out doesn’t work. Can they occasionally get a basket or go on a small run? Yes. Does that mean that the system shouldn’t be scrapped as it’s currently constructed? No. Denver’s second unit lacks motion and creativity. More often than not this season, it was up to Bones Hyland or someone else to make a hero play while the other four guys stood there and watched the guy dribble.

On this play, Monte has the ball out near the 3-point arc. The other four guys on the floor move approximately one foot a piece while their defenders get to stand still and guard them. Morris takes a few dribbles in and puts up a contested two-point shot just inside the arc with around eight seconds left on the shot clock. Were the Nuggets up by 22 with three minutes left in the game, so we’re nitpicking here? Yes. That’s what you have to do with the best teams to get over the hump. You have to pick those nits.

This lineup features just one starter in the form of Gordon. He’s not a primary ball-handler, so you can’t even make the argument that this only works because he makes the play for someone else. Instead, it works because just one guy is moving which sets up everyone else. Bones brings the ball up and hits DeMarcus Cousins with the entry pass as he’s cutting down the lane. When Cousins feels the defense collapse on him, there is a clear lane for Gordon to follow him up for the easy basket. Austin Rivers and Davon Reed stay in the corners as potential shooters, and Denver scores because the entire unit isn’t simply standing still.

Play Full Games

During the regular season, the Nuggets had the fifth-best net rating in the first half of games. In second halves, they were 23rd. The main source of the issue was on the offensive end, as they went from being the top-ranked offense in first halves to the 23rd-ranked offense in second halves, while their defense remained unchanged. The play above obviously has Jokic involved, which changes some of the math, but it shows a significant play in the way the game will play on. Jokic sets the screen for Bones before rolling towards the rim. He catches the ball which forces the helpside defense to rotate over before JaMychal Green gets the easy dunk. This team’s first-half offense and second-half offense always looked quite different.

Is this really the best shot that we could have gotten here? A contested mid-range jumper against a bigger defender with 11 seconds left on the shot clock? There are times when the offense is going to devolve into hero ball, or a guy will get an iso attempt against a bigger defender. However, when there is time to work with, there’s no reason to force up a look, and that’s far too often what we saw from Denver as games would wear on.

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.