It’s safe to say that the Nuggets are off to a great start this season. As of today, Denver is 9-2, with victories over Boston and Golden State. Denver hasn’t lost a game at home, with their only losses coming at Los Angeles and at Memphis, respectively. While a 9-2 record would indicate the team has been firing on all cylinders, this isn’t the case. Denver hasn’t seemed like the team they were last season…on offense that is things aren’t flowing as well as they did last year. There haven’t been as many easy cuts to the basket for a beautiful Jokic pass. Again, despite of this, the team is 9-2. I’m going to ask the question we’ve all been wondering: should we worry about Denver’s offense?
I’m going to get straight to the point here: no we shouldn’t worry about Denver’s offense. Not yet. Last year the Nuggets’ offense had a 112.5 offensive rating. This was sixth best in the league. Denver shot 37.1% from 3, which was seventh best in the League. To compare those stats to this year, Denver currently has a 111.7 offensive rating, which is 9th best. This really is not very far from their ORtg from last year. Even with this being the case it’s pretty evident that Denver’s offense hasn’t been as very good. I think this can largely be chalked up to two things: 3-point shooting and defense.
The Nuggets are currently the 28th best 3-point shooting team in the league, shooting a terrible 30.8% from behind the arc. This is going to be my main argument as to why we shouldn’t worry about the team’s offense. Frankly, Denver just isn’t hitting it’s open 3’s. The team has gotten a lot of good looks, they just haven’t been going in. This is best seen with Gary Harris. Harris averaged 39.6% from three last year. What is he shooting this year? Get ready…29.4%! This is a huge swing from last year to this year. Harris isn’t hurt, nor is he playing poorly in fact. Harris is still managing to score 18.5ppg while shooting 45.7% from the field. His field goal percentage is weighed down by that awful 3-point percentage. I think if Harris was shooting the 3 ball the way he did last season, or even close to it, he could easily be averaging 25ppg right now. Gary Harris isn’t the only player suffering from not being able to shoot the 3.
Jamal Murray is only shooting 30% from 3. Jokic is shooting almost 37% from 3, but is only attempting less than 3 per game (a problem he’s having with his overall game right now). Before his injury, Will Barton was shooting the lights out of the ball, shooting over 55% from 3. Juancho Hernangomez and Monte Morris have also shot the ball pretty well from long range. The issue is Trey Lyles is shooting 20% from 3 while attempting 3.5 per game. Beasley and Craig aren’t shooting well from 3 either.
While I think Denver won’t shoot as well from 3 as they did last season, I think they’re much better than the 28th best 3-point shooting team. The 3-point shot has really held back their offense this year.
I also want to talk about Will Barton’s injury. Barton was shooting over 55% from 3 in a small sample size before he went down with injury. In the games Barton played, the team averaged 32.5% from 3. Not good, but that’s also better than they’re shooting right now. Barton’s injury isn’t only about Barton’s absence as much as it’s about who replaced him in the starting lineup.
Torrey Craig has started every game for the Nuggets since Barton’s injury in game 2 of the season. Craig is shooting 14.3% from 3. He’s only averaging 2 attempts from 3-point range a game, but Craig isn’t a threat from deep. This is really important because it affect’s the Nuggets’ spacing. Defenders can lay off of Craig and focus more on the other Nuggets on the court. I think that because of this, Denver should entertain the idea of starting Juancho Hernangomez. Yes, his defense isn’t as good as Craig’s. But what Juancho does give Denver is spacing, and a totally different starting offense.
Another aspect of the Nuggets’ season so far has been their amazing defense. Man, I never thought I’d be saying that. With the Nuggets playing so well on defense I think it’s safe to assume their offense will drop down a little bit. I don’t think the team really made any personnel moves to help the defense, rather the team is just really in sync and is making great rotations. They really have each other’s back. I think there’s reason to believe that with the Nuggets putting so much more effort on the defensive end, they may just be tired on offense. This is something they could definitely work on and get better with. Players like Harris and Murray have great shots that haven’t changed from last season.
I think the drop in 3-point percentage could be from their legs, which are being used more on the defensive end thus being more tired on offense, leading to lower-quality attempts from 3. Nikola Jokic, for example, is actually playing really well on defense. It’s evident that the amount of effort he’s putting out on that end of the field is affecting his offense because the guy just isn’t shooting as much. Like, it’s kind of a problem.
Denver’s defensive rating last year was 111. This was 26th in the League. This season, The Nuggets have a crazy 103.1 DTrg, which is tied with Milwaukee for second in the NBA. Denver’s defense, while it most likely won’t be a top 3 defense all season, is for real. This increase in defensive quality is bound to mean a slight drop in offensive efficiency. However, I think this is definitely something Denver can work through. Players like Murray and Harris aren’t going to shoot under 30% from 3 this season. It’s just not going to happen. Expecting an increase in overall team 3-point percentage is only going to help improve the offense.
So no, we shouldn’t be worried about the Nuggets’ offense. If the team continues to shoot poorly from 3 for the next few months, then yeah we should be worried. If and when that time comes then we will re-evaluate. But as of right now, Denver should be just fine.