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.
After losing four straight games for the first time all season, the Nuggets got back to their winning ways against the Detroit Pistons last night, but the game was much closer than the final score of 119-100 might have you think. The two sides were tied at 86 at the end of the third quarter before the Nuggets blew things open in the final period. Denver’s defensive woes continued with a hot shooting night from 3-point range carrying the Pistons for much of the game.
They shot 44.4 percent from 3-point range, which is 9.2 percent better than their season average. Over this stretch of games since the All-Star Break, specifically during their last five games, teams have given them fits with their physicality. Referees are letting teams ratchet things up on that end of the floor, and the Nuggets aren’t adjusting to it. Then, after getting knocked around on the offensive end, they struggle to regroup on the defensive end.
Over their last five games, opponents are shooting 39.2 percent from 3-point range against them. Meanwhile, the Nuggets are shooting just 34.8 percent from downtown in that stretch. In the playoffs, defenses are always allowed to get more physical, and the Nuggets will have to make that adjustment. It’s possible they’re in cruise control right now, but, with a shrinking lead in the Western Conference, they need to find the fix that will get the ship back on course.
I’m Not Seeing Enough Movement
Looking at this play from January 1st against the Boston Celtics, there isn’t anything overly dynamic that the Nuggets are doing here to generate an open look for the shooter. Instead, it’s just the simple act of deliberate motion. Denver corrals the rebound and is pushing up the floor. Aaron Gordon runs through the defense and pulls the lone center to the corner while Bruce Brown brings his man to the corner. That leaves the other three defenders out along the 3-point arc.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope receives the pass from Nikola Jokic and immediately starts driving towards the rim. He has a step on Jayson Tatum, and, with Al Horford in the corner, there isn’t a defender waiting on him. This forces every defender to rotate over to help. When they do that, that leaves Brown open in the corner for the triple. Brown was the first guy back on offense, and he moved the least of the five guys out there. The other four all served a purpose, even Michael Porter Jr., who’s shooting prowess forced Marcus Smart to stay out on him rather than helping the rest of the floor.
Compare that play with this one against the Brooklyn Nets from Sunday afternoon. The play is designed for Jokic to get the ball around the right block. The Nets do a good job of denying that option, but there is still about 8 to 10 seconds left on the shot clock. Despite that, the only person that moves during this clip is Jokic while he’s trying to fight for position along with Murray who goes for the dribble move into the stepback jumper. Far too often, we’re seeing possessions that consist of actions like this with nothing else going on. When Murray is feeling it and shooting well, he can do the iso-ball stuff, but the team can’t default to that option as offense when they have more consistent options available.
Sometimes it’s a scheme. Sometimes it’s talent. For the Nuggets, I think their defensive issues come down to a lack of trust between the guys that are on the floor. Everyone is convinced that everyone else isn’t going to do their job. As a result, guys aren’t fully committed to their assignment because they’re hedging over to help other guys. Our first example is this play by Aaron Gordon.
Earlier in the year, Gordon looked like one of the NBA’s best defensive players because he was playing fast, loose and confident. He wasn’t guessing, and he knew what his teammates were going to be doing. On this play, he’s kind of in no-man’s land despite having multiple teammates to pick up potential cutters. Jokic and KCP cut off a potential passing lane to the role man, and MPJ is going with the role man. There is no reason for Gordon to sag so far off of the guy he’s guarding, especially when it’s Cameron Johnson, who is shooting 40 percent from 3-point range this season. However, because he doesn’t want to give up an open dunk, he shades over just in case someone else doesn’t complete their assignment.
Compare the last play to this one. Watch the movement of every guy on the defense. This was from the third quarter of the team’s game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night when they won the quarter 36 to 26 and held the Raptors to 45 percent shooting for the quarter. Every guy on this defensive possession is locked in on their assignment, and everyone is moving on a string together.
Jokic switches following the screen to stop the ball handler and give Murray time to recover. When the ball starts swinging back across the floor, he hustles back into the play, but Brown is in a strong position against Fred VanVleet which allows Jokic to get back in the play. MPJ is guarding his man Chris Boucher along the baseline and out to the arc, but he also stays close enough that Fred can’t dribble into the 15-foot pullup along the baseline. Jeff Green has rotated over off of his man in the corner, but that shooter isn’t forgotten about. Murray puts himself in a spot to close out on the two shooters on that side of the floor. This is beautiful defensive basketball, and Denver can play it for possessions, minutes and quarters at a time. Now, they just have to start doing it for halves, games and series.
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.