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.

I’d like to start this week’s Film Friday with a quick Happy Holidays and a Merry Christmas to all who celebrate. It’s the season of giving, and asking for gifts from loved ones. With that in mind, I’m taking a look at what should be on the Christmas list of the Denver Nuggets this holiday season. As the reigning NBA champions, the Nuggets are at the top of everyone’s target list on a nightly basis, and they have been taking some licks early in the year with the third-best record in the West and the seventh-best record overall. 

Unlike some teams that have some big contracts that they can move or a little bit of extra cap space, the Nuggets are largely rolling with the group that they already have because they have very little money to play with. Granted, with the strong play they’ve gotten from younger players over the last couple of seasons, relying on the development of their youth isn’t necessarily a bad plan. 

They got “lucky” last year by developing a big lead in the Western Conference that gave them the ability to really coast at the end of the regular season to give their young players some more minutes, but things look like they’re going to be a bit tougher this year. They’re 1-2 against the two teams ahead of them in the standings, and the top seven teams are all within five games of each other a couple months into the year. Denver won’t need everything on their list, but two out of three wouldn’t be bad. 

A Supporter Emerges

Through 29 games, we’ve seen a bit of a revolving door off of the bench in terms of consistency. Christian Braun has had strong games where he looks to be breaking through to another level before stringing together a couple of quiet games afterwards where his youth shows through. This play is a great example of what Denver needs to see from him if they want to repeat as champions. With Bruce Brown gone, Denver needs a wing that can handle the ball and play well off of Nikola Jokic. Brown excelled in that area last season. On this play, Braun gets the handoff from Jokic and just waits long enough for the screen to generate separation before knocking down the big triple. It’s not the craziest play, but it’s the routine play that needs made. Sometimes, that’s all Denver needs out of their second unit players. 

Denver needs a combo guard to emerge, but they could also use one of their various wing defenders taking another step. There’s one specific one in the form of Peyton Watson that is the perfect combination of length and athleticism to be a problem for opponents when the playoffs roll around. The play above perfectly demonstrates what he can bring for Denver. Watson is behind the play the entire way. He never even looks like he’s running at full speed. Despite that, he closes in a hurry, and he swats the shot into the fifth row. If he can become a consistent defensive stopper off of the bench, Denver has more than enough scoring options to put around him to round out any unit. 

Health is Wealth

Among the 5-man lineups in the NBA with at least 100 minutes on the floor together, the Nuggets’ starting five ranks eighth in net rating at +12.6. Denver has had that full starting five for 12 games, and they have a record of 9-3 in those 12 games. The issue though is that this group hasn’t been quite as healthy as they were last year. It’s a long season with plenty of time to get their chemistry built up, but they haven’t gotten there yet this season. 

This play is a prime example of what this starting group does to a defense that makes them so dangerous. This was a five-point game with under six minutes remaining in the game. Then, Denver just decided that they wanted to end it by picking apart the Toronto Raptors down the stretch. This play isn’t anything crazy, but every player on the floor is playing their role which is why they all succeed. Aaron Gordon is in the dunker spot which holds his defender under the basket to keep him from helping on Jokic. Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. are too good of shooters to be left open with Jokic at the free-throw line to set them up with a pass. Additionally, on the prior possession, the set up on the floor was nearly identical, but it ended in a triple in the corner from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope off of a Jokic assist. The only way to beat this offense is by hoping that they miss more shots than you do, because, no matter what you take away, they have three more ways to beat you.

In this offense, the defense typically only has to worry about Gordon and KCP as the cutters with Murray and MPJ more often floating around the perimeter. The starters for Denver entered the game with an eight-point lead and around six minutes left on the clock in the first half. Then, they just became a hot knife through butter on the offensive end. They weren’t missing shots because they were getting open looks in the paint with regularity. On this play, Murray passes it to Jokic. After setting up OG Anunoby, who was second-team All-Defense last year, with a head fake, he cuts to the rim and has an easy layup because the rest of the defense isn’t expecting a free cutter. Denver led by 17 at the half, and the starters combined to go 11-of-18 from the floor in the quarter.

Stay within Yourselves

The Nuggets are the reigning NBA champions for a slew of reasons. One of the biggest ones was their commitment to what they do well. No matter what struggles they dealt with in the middle of the year or in playoff games, they stayed firm in their ways, and it carried them to a championship. This season, Jokic has attempted 30 or more shots in two games. The Nuggets are 0-2 in those games. In his career, Jokic has attempted 30 or more shots in 13 games, and two of them were double overtime games. The Nuggets are 5-8 in those 13 games. Meanwhile, in the 176 career games where he has 10 or more assists, the Nuggets are 132-44. Murray was injured, and that adjusts the numbers somewhat this year. However, Denver still has talented guys on the bench to help ease that burden to where the system doesn’t shift that dramatically.

On the play above, I don’t put the entire blame on Jokic. The team is down by 20 coming out of the half, and they’re just trying to get something working. That’s a shot that Jokic hits better than anyone else in the league, so I get the thinking behind standing around the arc watching the shot. However, that’s also an issue this team runs into when the offense is struggling. Guys stop moving, and they’re waiting for someone else to make a play for them. With 10 seconds still on the shot clock, you have time to make a play by cutting. It may open up a shooter next to you, or you may catch your defender sleeping to give you a free dunk. This play isn’t unique to this game, and it wasn’t even unique to that quarter. Movement remains king in this offense, and it’s that motion that gives the team life. Even when shots aren’t falling, you have to stick to the system that’s in place. 

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.