Denver Nuggets Mailbag: Early season offensive production, Michael Porter Jr.’s role

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@Eric_Spyros

With the 2019-20 season underway, it’s time to answer the pressing questions that have come up during the Nuggets’ first seven games of the season. Despite a 5-2 record, the team continues to search for a rhythm on both ends of the floor. The Nuggets own the 12th-ranked defense and 19th-ranked offense, but a comfortable win over the Miami Heat showcased what the team is capable of.

With that being said, let’s answer some of the questions we received this week.

All opinions and ideas expressed below are our own and do not reflect any views of the Denver Nuggets’ front office and coaching staff.

Are we going to change our game style to allow a more flowing offense!? We’ve got so much talent on our roster yet can barely score over 100 points. Would love to see a much more run and gun offense that can obviously also pull up and drain threes like they’re going out of fashion. – Matty Ross-Watson (Facebook)

Matty shares a common concern amongst Nuggets fans to start the season. Simply put, the Nuggets have not played their usual brand of offense throughout their first seven games. As mentioned above, Denver’s offense is below league average so far this season, mainly as a result of shooting struggles, particularly around the rim, and limited ball movement.

The Nuggets have shot just 58 percent around the rim this season, which ranks 25th in the league. While Denver ranks 11th in 3-point percentage (during non-garbage time minutes), it also ranks below average in mid-range shooting percentage (37.7 percent). Furthermore, Denver ranks 12th in passes made per game and 18th in assists per game, which are down significantly from their ranking in those categories last season (fifth and second respectively).

While the Nuggets did look to push the pace more during Tuesday’s win over the Heat, that won’t solve all of the team’s issues on the offensive end. There is no real correlation between winning and playing at a fast pace. Four of the five teams that played at the highest pace last season didn’t make the playoffs.

While playing at a fast pace can often make for a more enjoyable viewing experience, Denver’s offense is predicated on breaking down a defense in the halfcourt using ball and player movement. Now on the subject of 3-pointers, let’s discuss that in the next answer…

Why do they seem to live and die by the three? Are they afraid of two-point shots? (Especially when 3s aren’t falling!) – Brian Macias (Facebook)

Brian, it’s interesting that you feel this way about the Nuggets’ offense. At Media Day, head coach Michael Malone expressed his desire for the team to shoot upwards of 37 3-pointers per game this season. However, throughout the early stages of the season, that hasn’t translated on the court, as Denver ranks 26th in 3-pointers attempted per game. Perhaps this is a result of Denver needing to pick up its ball movement, as Malone was sure to specify that he would like to see many of these increased 3-point attempts come as a result of driving to the paint before kicking the ball out to an open shooter.

Digging deeper into the shooting numbers and you will find that the Nuggets have connected on just 34 percent of their “wide open” (no defender within six feet of the shooter) 3-pointers this season, which ranks 21st in the league.

While it can seem like the Nuggets (and frankly any team in the modern NBA) relies too much on the 3-pointer on cold shooting nights, one thing Denver isn’t is afraid of two-point shots. Nearly 69 percent of Denver’s shot attempts come from inside the arc, where, as mentioned earlier, they are struggling to convert. Given the quality of 3-point shooters in the rotation and the team’s ability to generate good looks from deep, I would even suggest that an increased focus on attempting more 3-pointers could add value to the Nuggets’ offense.

Michael Porter Jr.’s playing time to start the season has certainly been a hot topic of discussion among Nuggets fans. The highly-touted forward thrived in his preseason action and has a dynamic skill set on the offensive end.

However, there are always pros-and-cons to joining a very good team that has strong depth across the board. Ahead of Porter Jr. are two veteran forwards who bring different skills to the table. Will Barton III adds another element of playmaking and shooting to Denver’s offense, as he has averaged 14.2 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game on a 55.0 true-shooting percentage.

Behind him is Torrey Craig, who provides physicality on defense and on the boards. Craig’s insertion into the starting lineup during Denver’s first-round playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs helped turn the series around, as he provided capable defense against DeMar DeRozan (and later Damian Lillard in the conference semifinals).

As a rookie, Porter Jr. will have to continue working hard to carve out a role in the rotation. With his ability to score one-on-one and knockdown catch-and-shoot jumpers, he should have no problem fitting into Denver’s offense. While he will have to continue fitting in on the defensive end, Malone has simply opted to rely on his veteran forwards early in the season.

How's Bol Bol doing? Is he still recovering from his foot injury? – James Evans (Facebook)

All indications have been that Bol is continuing to recover well from his foot injury, although he is yet to be cleared for five-on-five basketball activities. Once that is the case, Bol will spend a good portion of the season in the G League as he continues to develop his game and body.

Well Henry, it’s hard to accurately answer this question without more details. For instance, where in Canada is the train leaving from? If it is leaving from Toronto, that would lead to a vastly different answer than if the train left from Vancouver. Also, we must take into consideration that Canadian trains are built with different crafting materials than American trains, which is sure to impact their top speeds.

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