NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2017-18 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Denver Nuggets, who made a big leap on one end of the floor.
The Denver Nuggets were the most improved offensive team in the league last season, scoring 7.3 more points per 100 possessions (110.3) than they did in 2015-16 (102.7).
League-wide efficiency hit an *all-time high of 106.2 points scored per 100 possessions last season. Twenty-six of the 30 teams scored more efficiently in 2016-17 than they did in ’15-16.
* We can only really estimate efficiency for the last 40 seasons, because turnovers weren’t counted before 1977. But given the lack of 3-pointers and poorer shooting in the 50s, 60s and early 70s, it’s safe to say that the league hasn’t scored more efficiently than it did last season.
Of those 26 teams, the Nuggets took the biggest leap offensively. They shot better in the restricted area, on other shots in the paint, from mid-range, on corner threes, and on above-the-break threes. No team saw a bigger increase in total 3-point percentage from 2015-16 to ’16-17.
The Nuggets also swapped a lot of mid-range shots for 3-point attempts, getting more points per attempt out of their jumpers. In regard to both field goal percentage in the paint and effective field goal percentage from outside the paint, the Nuggets went from the bottom 10 in the league (23rd and 22nd) in ’15-16 to the top 10 (fourth and ninth) in ’16-17.
Four Nuggets – Jameer Nelson, Nikola Jokic, Danilo Gallinari and Gary Harris – ranked among the league’s 25 most-improved shooters.
Jokic’s development was the biggest reason for the team’s improvement. From the point Jokic became the full-time starting center (Dec. 15), the Nuggets had the league’s best offense, scoring 113.3 points per 100 possessions over their final 57 games (117.7 with Jokic on the floor).
From that point, he was one of three players to average at least 15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. And he was a more efficient scorer and had a higher assist/turnover ratio than the other two (Russell Westbrook and DeMarcus Cousins).
From Dec. 15 on, Jokic led the Nuggets in usage rate (using 25 percent of the team’s possessions while he was on the floor), rebounding percentage (grabbing 21 percent of available rebounds) and assist percentage (assisting on 29 percent of the team’s buckets while he was on the floor). He was the fulcrum of an offense that assisted on 64 percent of its buckets, a rate that ranked third in the league over the last four months and was up from 56 percent (17th) prior to Dec. 15.
Of course, while the Nuggets had the league’s best offense after Dec. 15, they also had the league’s worst defense, allowing 111.9 points per 100 possessions, over that same time. Their biggest problems were on the perimeter, where they ranked last in both opponent 3-point percentage and opponent turnover rate from that point when Jokic became the starting center.
Paul Millsap arrives having played on one of just three teams (the Hawks, Spurs and Warriors) that has ranked in the top 10 in defensive efficiency each of the last three years. His addition, along with the further development of the young core could help Denver take another step forward offensively.
But it will be the defensive end of the floor that determines whether or not the Nuggets can end a four-year playoff drought.
History: Season by season results | Advanced stats | Franchise leaders
2016-17: Team stats | Advanced splits | Player stats | Player shooting | Lineups
NUGGETS NOTES – GENERAL
- One of two teams (Charlotte was the other) with a positive point differential and a losing record last season.
- Ranked second in total rebounding percentage. Were one of two teams (Oklahoma City was the other) to rank in the top five in both offensive rebounding percentage (second) and defensive rebounding percentage (fifth).
- Have played at a faster-than-average pace in 37 of the last 40 seasons, ranking in the top five 25 times.
- Had 244 more turnovers than their opponents. That was the second biggest differential (behind Brooklyn’s 264) in the league.
- Had only five wins, fewest in the league, when trailing in the fourth quarter. Were 5-41 when trailing at any point in the fourth.
NUGGETS NOTES – OFFENSE
- Took 37 percent of their shots in the restricted area, the third highest rate in the league. No team scored more points within five feet of the basket.
- Counting Mason Plumlee (who they acquired in February), they had six players with an effective field goal percentage better than the league average (51.4 percent) on at least 500 shots. Houston (6) was the only other team with as many.
- One of four teams that took less than 20 percent of their 3-pointers from the corners.
- Ranked fourth in catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage (39.4 percent), but 29th in pull-up 3-point percentage (28.5 percent).
- According to SportVU, the Nuggets threw just 4.9 outlet passes per game, fewest in the league.
- Have ranked in the top five in offensive rebounding percentage in four of the last five seasons.
NUGGETS NOTES – DEFENSE
- One of three teams (the Lakers and Kings are the others) that have ranked in the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency each of the last four seasons.
- Forced just 11.9 turnovers per 100 possessions, the lowest rate in the league and the second lowest rate in the 40 years since the league started counting turnovers, higher than only that of the 2015-16 Knicks (11.7 per 100).
- Ranked 28th in opponent 3-point percentage (in the bottom five for the second straight season). According to SportVU, their opponents shot 35.7 percent on contested threes, the highest rate in the league.
- One of two teams (Brooklyn was the other) that saw a reduction in the percentage of opponent shots that came from the restricted area or 3-point range. The Denver opponents’ rate dropped from 63.0 percent (eighth highest in the league) in 2015-16 to 62.8 percent (ninth lowest) as the league average rose from 60.9 percent to 63.6 percent.
- Allowed just 1.05 points per possession in transition, the fifth best rate in the league.
NUGGETS NOTES – LINEUPS
- The Nuggets outscored their opponents by 5.1 points per 100 possessions with Jokic on the floor and were outscored by 6.6 with him on the bench. That differential (10.6 points per 100 possessions) was the 10th biggest NetRtg differential among players who played at least 1,000 minutes for a single team.
- Scored 115.0 points per 100 possessions with Harris on the floor and 114.9 with Jokic on the floor. Those were top-10 marks for on-court OffRtg among 222 players that played at least 20 minutes per game in 40 games or more. Only four Warriors and two Clippers ranked higher.
- Allowed 114.0 points per 100 possessions with Harris on the floor. That was the highest on-court DefRtg among that same group of 222 players. Emmanuel Mudiay (112.3) and Kenneth Faried (112.1) also ranked in the bottom 10.
- Lineup of Mudiay, Harris, Wilson Chandler, Gallinari and Jokic was one of four that scored more than 120 points per 100 possessions in at least 200 minutes together.
- Were outscored by 15.6 points per 100 possessions in 108 minutes with Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic on the floor together, a configuration they used for only five minutes after the team’s first seven games. After Nurkic was traded for Plumlee, Jokic and Plumlee played just 21 minutes together, and the Nuggets were outscored by 19.9 points per 100 possessions in those minutes.
NUGGETS NOTES – INDIVIDUAL
- Kenneth Faried and Emmanuel Mudiay were two of the 12 players who took at least 200 shots both at home and on the road and had a home-road effective field goal differential of more than 10 percentage points. Faried had an effective field goal percentage of 60.2 percent at home and 49.3 percent on the road. Mudiay had an effective field goal percentage of 47.9 percent at home and just 37.5 percent on the road.
- Gary Harris, had the biggest difference between his effective field goal percentage on catch-and-shoot jumpers (68.1 percent, third best among players with at least 200 attempts) and his eFG% on pull-up jumpers (35.3 percent, 150th among 167 players with at least 100 attempts) among 133 players who took at least 100 of each. He was one of eight players who shot better than 50 percent on at least 50 3-point attempts from the corners.
- Juan Hernangomez shot 40.7 percent from 3-point range, the best mark among rookies who attempted at least 100 threes.
- Nikola Jokic shot 65.0 percent on non-restricted-area paint shots, the best mark, by a wide margin, among 102 players who attempted at least 100. Only seven other players shot better than 50 percent on at least 100 of those shots.
- Jokic assisted on 26.6 percent of the team’s baskets while he was on the floor, the highest rate among centers that played in at least 40 games. The Nuggets were 15-4 when he recorded seven or more assists.
- Paul Millsap allowed 0.59 points per possession when defending post-ups, the best mark among 28 players who defended at least 100.
- Millsap was one of four players who took at least 100 pull-up jumpers and 100 catch-and-shoot jumpers and had a higher effective field goal percentage on the pull-ups (46.0 percent) than on the catch-and-shoot attempts (45.0 percent). He was one of three players who shot worse than 30 percent on at least 100 wide-open 3-point attempts.
- Mudiay was one of three players who shot less than 50 percent on at least 200 field goal attempts in the restricted area.
- Jamal Murray ranked second in usage rate among rookies that played at least 1,000 minutes. He also had the third best plus-minus (plus-77 for the season) among rookies and ranked second among rookies with 115 made 3-pointers.
NBA TV’s Nuggets preview premieres at 6 p.m. ET on Monday, Oct. 2. See the full preview schedule here.
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John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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