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The Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Clippers, New Orleans Pelicans, Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs were the top six teams who made the highest percentage of uncontested 3-pointers last season.
The Denver Nuggets ranked dead last in that metric. They shot 32.5 percent on uncontested threes.
Statistics like “3-pointers attempted per game,” “3-point field goal frequency” and “uncontested 3-point percentage” paint the picture of modern-day NBA offenses that are predicated on “pace and space,” as well as shooting. It’s a skill that separates teams into the haves and the have-nots and helps to paint a gruesome picture of why Denver struggled so much last season.
As a team the Nuggets took 24.8 3-pointers per game, a healthy number and good for 12th overall in the league last year. The bad news is that they only made 32.5 percent of those shots — good for 28th league wide.
Individually, those percentages don’t look any better. Every long-range shooter on the Nuggets’ roster shot a worse percentage last year than they did in 2013-14, as seen below…
The glass-half-full optimists may blame this decline on the tumultuous culture last season under Brian Shaw and the fact that based on their careers last year is just a blip on the radar.
The Nuggets will certainly expect their shooters to return to their 2013-14 form, which will help. But let’s not act like those numbers will take Denver’s offense to new heights. Gary Harris needs to improve his numbers dramatically and take a big step forward offensively, while rookie Nikola Jokic certainly has the potential to develop into a classic pick-and-pop five man and a legitimate threat from distance, but could initially struggle adjusting to the physically of the NBA.
As of now Mudiay’s inability to grasp the concept of basketball gravity should be his main focus to improve upon. Mudiay may be able to equal Lawson’ s driving ability and I expect him to about approach the 11.9 drives per game Lawson had last season, but what he won’t be able to do is provide the extra bit of spacing Lawson did with his shooting. That lack of spacing will force head coach Michael Malone to pair Mudiay with Randy Foye or hopefully an improved Harris in an effort to spread the floor for the paint-tied Kenneth Faried and Jusuf Nurkic who both figure to log heavy minutes as long as they remain on the roster.
What Denver has left is Danilo Gallinari, the one guy on the roster who when healthy can be a reliable knockdown shooter from distance. Gallinari shot a respectable 36 percent from deep last year and showed towards the end of the season that he is returning to his 2013 self.
Where the Nuggets really failed to address their need for a shooter was in the draft, perhaps because of how much value they assigned to Lawson or due to the lack of true shooters available. While Devin Booker probably wasn’t attainable at 13 once Phoenix was on the clock, it would have been nice to have a mid-first round guy like Justin Anderson or R.J. Hunter in camp to provide a bit of spacing.
Denver may still scour the free-agent bargain bin for guys like Robbie Hummel, who they reportedly kicked the tires on earlier this month but looks to be headed to Europe, and could also find shooting by dangling a piece of their loaded frontcourt to someone that needs size. Either way there’s still a lot of time for things to percolate between now and training camp.
What fans must keep in mind is that this is essentially Year 1 of a rebuild and Denver is still stocked with draft picks. The Nuggets will inherit Houston and Portland’s first-round picks if they each make the playoffs (somewhat doubtful with regards to Portland considering their free-agent exodus this summer) and the late lottery is a prime spot to find specialized players like shooters.
The rebuilding process for anyone not named Miami or Cleveland isn’t an overnight thrill ride that will see your team competing for a playoff spot next year or even the year after that. As I wrote last week, the Nuggets finally have a culture, foundation and vision in place that they can build upon this coming year, and for a team in the early phases of a renaissance that’s good enough.
With such a young nucleus and the departure of Ty Lawson, whom the Nuggets continually leaned on over the last few years, Denver will likely struggle to win many games in the West this year. However, surpassing last year’s win total will not be the Nuggets’ measuring stick for the season. If Denver can improve both their offensive and defensive efficiencies, like Malone and the front office has preached, and show signs that they are continuing to follow the plan in place, next season will certainly be deemed a successful one.
*All statistics courtesy of NBA.com