© 2024 ALLCITY Network Inc.
All rights reserved.
Offense is up around the league but down in Denver; why the Nuggets aren't worried about their poor three-point shooting
Jamal Murray has been working overtime to try and snap out of an early-season shooting funk.
Twenty four hours before Denver’s Oct. 23 date with Sacramento, Murray was at Pepsi Center going through an impromptu workout with his father Roger. The evening session lasted from 7-11 p.m with Murray getting up shots from all over the floor, trying to find the sweet stroke that he discovered last season when he shot 38 percent of 5.4 three-point attempts per game.
For a night, the extra reps paid off. Murray, who was shooting 12-39 from the field to begin the season, sunk six of his 10 field goal attempts and went 3-6 from three-point range against the Kings on his way to a team-high 19 points. But whatever extra juice the nighttime workout gave Murray wore off quick. Forty eight hours later against the Lakers, Murray shot 8-17 from the field but went just 1-5 from three in Denver’s 121-114 loss.
Murray’s not the only one in the Nuggets’ locker room who hasn’t looked like his typical self from beyond the arc so far this season. As a team, Denver is shooting just 29.2 percent from three, good for 29th in the league, through five games. Only Oklahoma City, who has one rotation player with a sufficient amount of attempts that is shooting better than 30 percent from distance, is worse.
On the year, Murray is shooting 8-27 (29.6 percent) from three-point range. Gary Harris, who shot a tick under 40 percent from three last season and 42 percent in 2016-17, is just 6-23 from beyond the arc. Trey Lyles, a 38 percent three-point shooter last season, is 1-12 from distance. Paul Millsap saw his three-point percentage plummet to near 30 percent over his final two seasons in Atlanta but shot 35 percent from beyond the arc last year. This year, he’s 1-8 from three. Torrey Craig, Juancho Hernangomez and Malik Beasley are a combined 8-30 from three-point range. Nikola Jokic (40 percent) and Monte Morris (50 percent) are Denver’s only two rotation players shooting better than 33 percent from three.
As a result, the Nuggets’ offensive attack isn’t operating at peak performance. Denver’s offense ranks 11th overall, per NBA.com, but it hasn’t popped in the same way it did a year ago when the Nuggets led the league in offensive efficiency over their final 41 games of the season. From Jan. 12 through the end of the year, the Nuggets averaged a league-best 113.6 points per 100 possessions. This season, Denver is scoring 109.7 points per 100 possessions — ironically not posting the typical gaudy offensive numbers you’ve come to expect from the Nuggets’ offense as scoring around the league is up significantly this year.
Players and coaches aren’t panicking just five games into the season, but many are perplexed by the uncharacteristic shooting numbers. Denver lost just one rotation player — Wilson Chandler, who last season shot 36 percent from three — this offseason and every member of Michael Malone’s current 10-man rotation was on the last year’s strong three-point shooting roster.
“We’re getting open shots. We’re getting the shots we want. We just have to make them,” Murray said. “I think we know everybody in this locker room can shoot.”
Murray’s assessment of the Nuggets’ offense is accurate, and Denver’s team-wide shooting slump could be attributed to bad luck and a random cold streak that every team will encounter throughout the 82-game regular season. Maybe the Nuggets are getting theirs out of the way early.
Denver is generating great looks. The ball just isn’t going in the hoop. As ESPN’s Kevin Pelton noted, Second Spectrum data says Denver ranks fifth in the league as of Saturday in net shot quality, behind just Utah, Milwaukee, Atlanta and Dallas. The Nuggets are also shooting especially poor when they’re open. Denver is just 23-79 from beyond the arc according to NBA.com on “wide open” threes, when the closest defender is at least 6 feet away from the shooter. The Nuggets are 29th in that category, again ahead of only the Thunder.
Some of those misses have been ugly too.
The goal of every NBA offense is to generate open layups and threes. Even better if those threes come from the corners. Denver’s getting open looks from that distance but aren’t taking corner threes to the extent that the Bucks, Hornets and Hawks are — the top three teams in terms of corner three frequency this year. On the season, the Nuggets are taking the fifth-fewest corner threes per game, per NBA.com. Denver is shooting just 7-26 (26.9 percent) on shots of that variety while the rest of the league is hitting them at a 38.1 percent clip.
The Nuggets are also missing Will Barton. Barton underwent successful surgery to repair core and hip muscle injuries on Oct. 23, The team said Barton will be reevaluated in six weeks, and if that timetable holds, Barton will miss at least Denver’s next 18 games. The Nuggets will miss Barton’s three-point shooting. Barton has shot 37.0 percent from beyond the arc in each of the last two seasons.
The Nuggets are taking steps to cure their three-point shooting bug. Denver practiced on Pepsi Center’s main floor for the first time all season Saturday and did so again Sunday. The Nuggets wanted to take advantage of a vacant arena that during Denver’s off days is typically undergoing a transformation from a basketball or hockey venue to an 18,000 seat auditorium, motocross track or UFC Octagon. The Nuggets are also hoping that shooting in their cavernous arena will get them acclimated in time for Monday’s matchup with the Pelicans. Denver will need to have a bounce-back performance from beyond the arc to keep pace with New Orleans, who is the second-most efficient offense and the 15th-most accurate three-point shooting team in the league this season.
Malone is also planning on playing the Murray-Morris backcourt more, which logged 13 minutes together in the Nuggets’ loss to the Lakers. Malone wants to up Morris’ minutes. Morris is coming off a career-high 20 points in Los Angeles and has impressed Nuggets coaches with his poise and point guard savvy despite playing just 25 minutes at the NBA level last year. Morris has handed out 22 assists to just two turnovers this season.
Denver is also hoping that playing Murray off the ball some will jumpstart his offense and get him more open looks. Murray played off the ball during his lone season at Kentucky and at times over his first two years in the NBA next to Jameer Nelson and Emmanuel Mudiay. Murray has proven he can be dangerous when he’s on the move, curling and flaring off screens. The pair could play alongside each other opposite opposing bench units.
“The best thing is I get to go out there and play the two, mess around a little bit,” Murray said of playing with Morris. “I already know the plays, which is great, and he does a good job running his team and controlling the tempo and I really like playing with him.”
Most likely, Denver’s poor three-point shooting will even out. The Nuggets are generating healthy looks for shooters who throughout their careers have been able to make defenses pay for leaving them open beyond the arc. Five games is a small sample size, and the Nuggets’ early-season shooting struggles could be attributed to Denver just needing to scrub off the rust from a long summer.
The Nuggets aren’t worried. Harris said following Sunday’s practice that the Nuggets “know shots are going to fall,” and up and down Denver’s roster its players and coaches share that same belief. It would be convenient if the Nuggets found their stroke against Anthony Davis and Co., who early on this season look like one of the league’s top teams.
“We spend a lot of time with shooting,” Malone said. “We shot the ball really well last year. I have no doubt in my mind that those shots will start to fall.”