Denver Nuggets Season Preview: Will the offense take another step?
The 2018-19 Nuggets were one of the NBA’s most efficient offenses as they were seventh in offensive rating (112.1) and second in assists (27.4) and assist percentage (65.3). With championship-level expectations heading into the 2019-20 campaign, the key for head coach Michael Malone’s team is if that area will continue to evolve.
In the modern NBA, it all starts with improved shooting from downtown.
“We really regressed as a team last year [in] three-point shooting,” Malone said after Sunday’s practice.
Throughout Malone’s tenure, the Nuggets have trended upward in their long-distance shooting. The team was 26th in the NBA in three-point percentage in his first year as coach, shooting 33.8 percent. It significantly improved in his second season at the helm, rising up to 11th (36.8 percent). In the 2017-18 season, Denver was seventh in the NBA as it converted 37.1 percent of its attempts from downtown. However, in the 2018-19 campaign, the team regressed, slipping all the way to No. 17 at 35.1 percent.
READ MORE: Nuggets.com full season preview
Malone believes Gary Harris’ injury-riddled 2018-19 played a role in the drop off from deep. Since emerging as the Nuggets starting shooting guard in the 2015-16 season, Harris had connected on 38.9 percent of his three-point attempts entering last season. However, he was limited to 57 games last year and shot just 33.9 percent from behind the arc. Malone expects the 25-year-old to get back to his best this season.
“I think being healthy will lead to that and he'll get back to where he was a year before, when he was in the high 30s,” Malone said. “Hopefully, he’ll get into that 40 percent range and be that consistent knockdown three point shooter.”
Malone is also hoping for an uptick in long-range shooting from star center Nikola Jokić. In the 2017-18 season, the Serbian shot almost 40 percent from downtown while taking 3.7 attempts per game. Last season, those numbers went down as he shot 30.7 percent. If Jokić gets anywhere close to what he did the two years ago, he could be even more dangerous than he was last season where he had an MVP caliber campaign – averaging 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists in the regular season.
The additions of Jerami Grant and Michael Porter Jr. should also help in that area. Grant shot 39.2 percent on threes last season for the Thunder. He’s looked a seamless fit in his preseason action with the Nuggets, hitting 58.3 percent of his downtown attempts. Porter Jr. essentially had a red shirt season for Denver last season as he worked his way back to health and has shown promise in the preseason. While he’s only shooting 14.3 percent from behind the arc on seven attempts, he’s shown his range in several long range step back twos. He’s also shooting 75.9 percent on two-point field goals. It isn’t far-fetched at all to expect growth there as he continues to develop throughout the season.
The two men should also provide a much-needed boost in another area of the Nuggets offense—fast break points.
Last season, the Nuggets scored 11.4 percent of their points on fast breaks (17th), scoring 12.6 transition points per game (15th). In four preseason games, the team saw vast improvement – 19.3 fast break points per game (fifth). It’s important to not get too carried away by exhibition stats, especially considering Jokić and Millsap only averaged a combined 19 minutes per game. But what those stats do suggest is Grant and potentially Porter Jr.’s inclusion in the second unit provides a new wrinkle to Malone’s offense. This is arguably the most versatile roster he’s had and having the ability to adjust depending on matchups and opponents should provide a more varied offense than in years past.