Nuggets Friday Film Study: Porter Jr.’s inside scoring, Dozier’s impact and more

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

Following the nerve-wrenching conclusion of their back-to-back last night, the Denver Nuggets have reached the halfway point of the 2019-20 season with a 29-12 record. Denver is on a three-game winning streak, headlined by an impressive victory over the LA Clippers on Sunday, which was also the second night of a back-to-back.

While more players were added to the injury report this week, key second-unit players such as Michael Porter Jr., Monte Morris and P.J. Dozier stepped up and impacted the game in different ways. Porter Jr. showed his dynamic scoring ability in Denver’s win against the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday, while Morris has continued to increase his level of play over the past couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, an unfortunate injury to Jamal Murray opened up playing time for Dozier, one of Denver’s two-way players. Dozier immediately stepped up to the plate Wednesday and his size and skill set present a unique combination for the Nuggets.

With that being said, this week we will be diving into the impact that all three players had in recent games, with a focus on some of their best plays of the week.

Porter Jr dominates around the basket

Porter Jr. is a three-level scorer capable of getting buckets from all areas of the court. While his 40.7 percent 3-point shooting has been key to Denver’s offense, it has been his ability to finish around the basket that has really impressed this season, especially against Charlotte.

On the season, the 21-year-old forward has shot a staggering 75.4 percent from within three feet of the rim, which is where 38.4 percent of his shot attempts have come from. Although his handle isn’t air tight, Porter Jr. can get to the basket off of cuts, pushing the ball in transition or using his size to get around (or through) smaller defenders.

At 6’10” with a seven-foot wingspan, Porter Jr. is able to finish around the rim in a variety of ways, whether it is finishing through contact or avoiding contact around the basket.

In the play below against Charlotte, the former first-round pick rebounds the ball following Jerami Grant’s block and immediately looks to attack the basket. Despite Terry Rozier’s attempt to draw a charge, Porter Jr. adjusts to the bump and finishes the layup for the and-one opportunity.

In the second quarter, Porter Jr. scored 11-straight points for the Nuggets, with one of those baskets being an impressive drive along the baseline for a semi-reverse, double-clutch layup. Because of the screen that Mason Plumlee sets, Charlotte’s Willy Hernangomez is forced to switch on to Porter Jr., who immediately makes his move towards the baseline to get an edge on the slower center. The key part of this drive is how Porter Jr. constantly uses his body to shield Hernangomez and make him uncomfortable in his defensive positioning, thus ultimately creating separation to go up for the layup, which Hernangomez isn’t prepared to defend.

Finally, a pick-and-roll with Morris opens up Porter Jr. for a seamless roll to the rim, where Morris delivers an on-time pass. Not only does Porter Jr. catch the pass with one hand, he must immediately go up for the shot attempt, which is where he takes the contact from Charlotte’s Miles Bridges. The lengthy rookie forward is able to contort his body and float the ball in from his right arm, all while being in mid-air.

When Porter Jr. has been on the court this season, Denver’s offense has been +4.9 points per 100 possessions better, as the team’s effective field-goal percentage has increased by 3.5 percent during this time, good for 89th percentile in the league.

When digging deeper, a lot of this improvement in efficiency comes around the basket. Per Cleaning the Glass, Denver’s frequency of shots attempted around the rim has increased by 7.5 percent when Porter Jr. has been on the floor, while the team’s efficiency has increased by 5.5 percent with Porter Jr. on the court, which ranks in the 91st percentile.

What P.J. Dozier brings to the table

While Porter Jr.’s efficient scoring night captivated the Pepsi Center crowd on Wednesday, Murray’s injury opened up a path to playing time for the lesser-known Dozier, who was playing in his first regular-season game for the Nuggets.

Dozier is on a two-way contract and has played 18 games for the Windy City Bulls of the G League, where he has shown an ability to be a lead scorer and playmaker for a team’s offense. With averages of 21.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game this season, It’s no wonder why Malone continues to hammer home the fact that Dozier is an NBA player who can thrive at that level.

At 6’6”, Dozier brings plenty of size to Denver’s backcourt, which allows him to drive through smaller defenders and shoot over unsuspecting guards, which he did well against Devonte’ Graham and the Hornets Wednesday. In the play below, Dozier simply puts his head down and knocks Graham off his rhythm, which allows the taller Dozier to get off his floater attempt.

Of course, in Denver’s offense Dozier will have to adjust to playing without the ball alongside impressive playmaking big men such as Jokić and Plumlee, but he showed early on in his run against the Hornets that he is capable and willing to cut towards the basket when the defensive coverage calls for it.

Once Dozier gives the ball up to Jokić in the play below, he goes to fake a screen on Marvin Williams before darting towards the basket for the cut. As a result of Rozier going to double-team Jokić, all Dozier has to do is continue moving toward the rim and receive the pass for the easy layup.

Although the 3-pointer hasn’t been a key part of Dozier’s game throughout his career (career 32.2 percent in the G League), he was able to knockdown two shots from beyond the arc against Charlotte. If he can be an average 3-point shooter in the NBA, his size and energy will certainly lead to more playing time, especially as Denver navigates several injuries in its backcourt.

Morris’ steady play

Although one would never want to see a player go down due to injury, there is a reason that Nuggets head coach Michael Malone is confident in his team’s ability to respond and push through the injury to Murray. That reason is the play of Morris, who has picked up his play after a relatively slow start to the season.

Although his per-game averages are down due to a decrease in playing time, Morris’ per-36-minute numbers (14.9 points and 6.6 assists) are either on-par or better than those he posted last season. Morris rarely turns the ball over, while his 3-point shooting has stabilized above 40 percent once again.

READ MORE: Morris dissects film of his playmaking

January has been Morris’ best month of the season, as he has averaged 9.3 points and 3.8 assists per game on a 58.1 true shooting percentage. With Murray going down, Morris will be tasked with a starting role, which he thrived in last season. In six starts during the 2018-19 campaign, the former second-round pick averaged 15.0 points, 5.3 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game on a 64.8 true shooting percentage.

Against Charlotte, Morris continued to showcase his ability to initiate the offense and make the right pass to his big men, as he does in the play below once he gets past his defender and makes a wrap-around pass to Nikola Jokić for the easy layup.

While Morris can fit into any lineup as a capable ball-handler and playmaker, he developed a strong chemistry with Mason Plumlee last season that has continued in the 2019-20 campaign. Given Morris’ propensity for floaters, he is able to use that against the defense when it comes to setting up teammates for easy baskets, as he does in the play below.

Once Morris gets a step on the slower Bismack Biyombo, Charlotte’s Nicolas Batum rotates over to defend what looks like a shot attempt from Morris. Only this time, Morris is floating the ball up to Plumlee for an easy alley-oop.

Given his effective 3-point shooting (albeit on a limited sample of 1.6 attempts per game this season) and improved finishing around the basket (career-high 67.3 percent from within three feet of the rim) in addition to his steady playmaking, the Nuggets are in more than capable hands with Morris at the helm.

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