Denver Nuggets Mailbag: 3-point shooting, Jerami Grant’s fit and more

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

The past two weeks of basketball have provided plenty of ups-and-downs for the Denver Nuggets.

Denver is 3-3 since the all-star break, with impressive victories against teams such as the defending champion Toronto Raptors mixed in with disappointing losses to non-playoff teams such as the Golden State Warriors.

With 21 games remaining before the playoffs, the Nuggets are currently third in the Western Conference and find themselves in a tough battle for playoff positioning. Each victory from here on out is crucial, as is settling on a rotation of players for the playoffs.

Without further ado, let’s get to some of the burning questions we received from fans this week!

Denver’s 3-point shooting has been a hot topic for over two seasons now, as several of the team’s best shooters from three or four years ago have regressed as the team has attempted fewer 3-pointers.

It’s no secret the 3-pointer is one of the most valued shots in today’s NBA. In the 2017-18 season, Denver ranked eighth in 3-pointers attempted per game and seventh in 3-point percentage. Those numbers dropped to 16th and 17th respectively during the 2018-19 campaign, while the Nuggets currently rank 26th in the number of 3-point attempts per game this season and 17th in percentage.

When looking further into the splits, it’s clear that 3-point shooting has played a key role in the outcomes of Denver’s games. In their 41 wins, the Nuggets have shot 38.9 percent from downtown, compared to just 29.2 percent in losses. Interestingly enough, the number of attempts doesn’t vary greatly depending on the outcome.

Denver has also shot better from beyond the arc away from Pepsi Center. The Nuggets have connected on 36.6 percent of their 3-pointers on the road compared to 34.7 percent at home.

Given the altitude in Denver, several players (most recently Malik Beasley prior to the trade that sent him to the Minnesota Timberwolves) have commented on how that can affect a player’s grip on the ball when in the shooting motion.

In fact, when looking at how other teams have shot at Pepsi Center, once could make a case for the impact of location on 3-point shooting. Ten teams have shot 30 percent or worse from deep in Pepsi Center this season, while only 11 teams have shot above 35 percent in Denver this year.

Another factor can be attributed to the types of 3-pointers Denver has generated this season. 14.8 percent of the team’s attempts have been classified as “open” (defender is between four and six feet away) and 16.6 percent of the attempts have been “wide open” (no defender within six feet of the shooter).

However, while the Nuggets have shot 40.2 percent on their “wide open” attempts, they have connected on just 32 percent of their “open” attempts, which ranks 28th in the league. Denver has five players in the rotation that have shot at least 37.5 percent from beyond the arc. An increase in attempts could help stabilize the shooting and can also help overcome accuracy struggles.

Does it seem like Grant is coming into the game and learning how to play with the other guys? – Ken Cramsey (from Facebook)

Given that Jerami Grant was Denver’s marquee addition in the 2019 offseason, his transition was a hot topic through the first two to three months of the season. After starting and playing heavy minutes in recent seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Grant found himself in a reserve role in Denver and averaged less than 25 minutes per game in each of the first three months of the 2019-20 campaign.

However, injuries throughout the rotation in January and February opened up additional opportunities for Grant and he certainly didn’t disappoint. The 25-year-old averaged 30 minutes per game and received more playing time with Nikola Jokić, which is a great way for any player to feel more comfortable in Denver’s offense.

In January, the former second-round pick averaged 13.6 points per game, which he improved on in February with an average of 14.6 points per game on a 62.7 true shooting percentage. Head coach Michael Malone has certainly noticed Grant fitting in more and that process has been aided by veteran Paul Millsap.

“You can see as the year has gone on that Jerami is fitting right in,” Malone said at a recent practice. “He's getting along with guys, getting comfortable playing with them and being with them off-the-court as well.”

Meanwhile, Millsap has helped Grant transition to the Nuggets as the two man the power forward position together.

"(There's been) steady growing," Millsap told Nuggets.com when asked about the dynamic between them. "Jerami is obviously a great guy and talent, so I'm just trying to help him develop into the player that he wants to be."

This is a question that has come up several times during the Nuggets’ season. With losses to the Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers and most recently the Golden State Warriors (the latter two coming at home), Denver has certainly had its fair share of struggles against the teams toward the bottom of the standings.

“We talk a lot. But instead of talking, let’s be about it,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said, following the loss to Golden State. “Let’s do it. Forget the talk. Go out there and do your job. That’s on all of us, myself included. We have to do a hell of a lot better of a job than we’ve done as of late.”

If one would like to have an optimistic view, the Nuggets won’t be facing any rebuilding teams in the playoffs come April, thus there are fewer opportunities for letdown games.

What it comes down to is bringing consistent energy on both ends of the floor regardless of opponent. Denver has thrived following disappointing losses (the most recent example being the comfortable win over Toronto following the blowout loss in LA), but has struggled to maintain that focus over the course of the regular-season grind.

Both Nuggets fans and Malone are certainly hoping that Tuesday’s loss was the last of its kind as Denver prepares for some intense battles in the spring.

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