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 little under two weeks into December, the Denver Nuggets are 12-13 and sitting in eighth place in the Western Conference. They’re the most beat up team in the league in terms of top players missing time, with Jamal Murray yet to return from his torn ACL back in April while Michael Porter Jr. and P.J. Dozier have been lost for the year with back and knee injuries of their own. Throw in Nikola Jokic missing five games while Will Barton has been nursing an injury for a few weeks, and this team is just constantly struggling to hold the ship together. This doesn’t even discuss the fact that they’ve dealt with multiple players missing time on the covid-19 list.
Teams that deal with a lot of injuries at one time tend to see more injuries pile up on top of each other with players taking on more and more minutes. The most recent example being these very same Nuggets last year. Following the injury to Jamal Murray, the team saw Monte Morris, Will Barton and Dozier all go down with various injuries over the next few weeks before they found themselves starting Facundo Campazzo and Austin Rivers in the playoffs with no other guards available, along with giving significant minutes to Shaquille Harrison off of the bench.
Right now, we’re seeing the cracks in the foundation of the team dealing with all of these injuries at the same time. Jokic, who is still in his physical prime and one of the top five players in the NBA, is struggling to have the signature take over moments on a nightly basis that he was able to do last year en route to his first NBA MVP trophy. He’s still more than talented enough to do so, just ask the New Orleans Pelicans, but, as we’ve seen on this long road trip the team is finally about to finish, he just struggles to bring that high level of play every single night without as much help to support him. If the team doesn’t figure something out soon, this team could easily slip out of the playoffs altogether with how tight the Western Conference is, as there are eight teams within four games of each other between fourth place and 11th place.
Jokic is Wearing Down
Including the playoffs, Jokic has attempted eight or more 3-point shots in 22 games. The team is 10-12 in those games. Three of those games have been this season, including last night against the San Antonio Spurs where Jokic was 2-of-8 from outside. Whenever a frontcourt player is taking more shots from outside, it’s generally an indication that they’re too tired to go to battle inside. Jokic can still do that, but we’re seeing him settle for a lot of these attempts. Looking at the play above, Jokic has a good look at the basket. Drew Eubanks is closing out on him, but he stays on the ground. Normally, we’re used to seeing Jokic drive to his left and drawing the foul because the center won’t be able to slide to get in front of him in time. Instead, Jokic takes the jumper. I don’t think he’s too tired to drive on this play. I think he knows that he has to conserve energy for later in the game, as he did the night before when he had to lead the charge to tie the game before scoring the team’s first 11 points in overtime.
As a tall guy that’s a great shooter, Jokic always has a good look at the basket. However, that doesn’t mean that he always needs to take it, especially from 3-point range. On this shot, he’s being guarded by Andre Drummond who is in decent position. There is plenty of time left on the clock to try and run an action to get someone open, but Jokic takes this contested triple anyway. With Porter and Murray out of the lineup, Jokic knows that more of the scoring is on him, and the rest of the team isn’t hitting 3-point shots at a consistent enough rate right now. The reigning MVP is capable of handling this workload, but it’s going to wear him down sooner rather than later which will make him far less effective for the stretch run when it really matters.
Someone Needs to Knock Down a Shot
With Porter out of the lineup, the team needs to step up with their ability to knock down 3-point shots. They rank 19th in 3-point percentage, and, while guys like Barton, Campazzo, Jokic and especially Zeke Nnaji are performing great from outside, the rest of the roster is lagging behind. The main name that is up for debate right now is Jeff Green. Green has slid into the starting roster in place of Porter, and, unless the team adds a new face, that’s not going to change. Jeff has shot 34 percent from 3-point range for his career, and he hit 41.2 percent of his shots from outside a year ago. Right now, he’s shooting 32.2 percent from downtown despite getting a good amount of open looks, with over 32 percent of his outside shots being classified as open or wide open. The shot above is one of those wide-open looks. With Jokic on the floor, he draws a lot of attention towards him, but, due to his passing abilities, he can hit shooters when extra help comes his way. Green is standing on the right wing, and he catches the pass from Jokic. He has plenty of time to get the shot up, and he still manages to miss it. This miss isn’t the reason Denver lost the game, but it’s just a piece of the pie that adds up over the course of a game.
Morris has been far from the biggest culprit of shooting struggles on this team. He’s shooting 34.3 percent from 3-point range this season, which is still seventh on the team among rotation players, but it’s also the worst mark of his career outside of his rookie year where he attempted just one triple in three games. With Murray likely still a month or two away from returning to the floor, Morris is going to continue to start, and the team needs his shooting to regress back to his normal levels. Right now, he’s shooting a scorching 54.7 percent from 2-point range, including a blistering 57.6 percent from 10 feet out to the 3-point line. On the play above, there’s not much else that Morris can hope for on this look. He’s getting to step into the shot, and he has a lot of separation between him and the defender yet still clanks it off the back of the rim. Morris doesn’t need to flirt with the 50/40/90 club as he has over the past few years, but the team can’t afford for him to continue to struggle knocking down good looks.
Hold the Line
Among players with at least five minutes per game this season for Denver, Zeke and Markus Howard are the only bench players with a positive net rating. Facu and JaMychal Green, who have played the most minutes of any non-starter, are the two worst players on the team in net rating with ratings of -18.1 and -18.5 respectively. While the bench has struggled on both ends, they’ve been particularly bad on the offensive end, with six players all sporting offensive ratings below 100. JaMychal, who has only shot below 37 percent from 3-point range twice in his career, excluding his rookie season, is shooting a paltry 22.4 percent from 3-point range. It gets even worse when you consider that over 40 percent of his 3-point attempts are classified as open or wide-open looks. Looking at the play above, JaMychal has one of those extremely open looks, and it’s coming at a key point in the game. Denver is down by 13, and Jeff is the only starter on the floor. They need the bench to keep the game close or to cut into the deficit while the starters catch their breath before playing the final minutes of the game. Green gets a great look, and he misses it short. There’s no reason for him to come up short on this play. He’s able to set his feet and shoot normally, and he shouldn’t be overly tired, as the quarter just started.
One player the team really needs to get rolling with consistency is Bones Hyland. With the loss of Dozier, there is a role up for grabs as one of the first guards off of the bench. Hyland can be that guy, as he showed in the game against the Miami Heat where he scored 19 points in 20:32 of play. He shot 5-of-8 from 3-point range in that game while making his lone attempt from inside the arc. Having a microwave scorer coming off of the bench can be a huge boost to your offense, but he just doesn’t have that consistency right now as he’s shooting 36.7 percent from the floor and 33.8 percent from 3-point range. This shot that he missed in last night’s loss to the Spurs isn’t anything overly difficult or specific. He gets a decent screen that generates a switch and some separation between him and the defender, but he just misses the shot. The team needs him to be a scorer because he’s one of the only players on the bench that can create his own shot off of the dribble. Even if the bench just treads water with him on the floor, that’d be an improvement over where they are now.
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.