The Denver Nuggets may have the future regular season’s MVP in their roster, but they need more to be considered a contending team in the West. In that case, they will need to fix their defensive vulnerabilities, which hurts their chances to be a Top-3 team in the West like they were the last two seasons. More importantly, they have to find the best fitting personnel for their superstar core.
Denver had a balanced roster with Jerami Grant and Garry Harris as its starting duo in the wings. Grant was a tremendous help-defender coming off the weak side to correct Nikola Jokic’s and Jamal Murray’s defensive slips. However, with Grant leaving for Detroit and Harris out with injuries the balanced approach was lost and the Nuggets are in a tough position, when they defend.
Wing and Center Cover
The Nuggets are in dire need of adding wings and a center that can defend, especially inside the paint. The Nuggets allow their opponents to shoot 70-percent from the restricted area. In Pick&Roll situations, Mike Malone’s squad allows the opponents’ roll man to shoot 55.5-percent. While defense in the post is adequate, the off-ball reaction in the defensive phase is pretty slow and definitely sloppy.
Denver became smaller in the forward and center position with Jerami Grant, Torrey Graig and Mason Plumlee leaving the team and that has an impact in their defensive rebounding. Mike Malone’s team is 23rd in defensive rebounding this season with 33.4 per game, the Nuggets are giving their opponents second chance points that really hurt them especially in the closing minutes when taking into consideration their inability to defend consistently.
Hurting In The Clutch
The Nuggets are on a 4-7 record in close games. They are on minus-8.0 in clutch situations, while they allowed their opponents to shoot on a 50-percent clip during the last five minutes of a close contest. In 11 games, which got down to the wire, the Nuggets concede 13.0 per contest. Furthermore, 5.1 off the 13.0 points come inside the paint and that means easy baskets for their opponents.
To sum it up, the Nuggets are getting pounded in the closing minutes due to the lack of size and defense, especially inside the paint. Also, Denver will need to find a rim-protector soon to improve the defense in the restricted area. At the same time, the small lineups of Monte Morris, Will Barton or Facundo Campazzo in the perimeter are definitely going to be an issue for Mike Malone’s team, especially in the postseason.
Personnel to surround Jokic, Murray and Porter Jr.
There is also a bright side for the Nuggets, who certainly become better in the defensive end when Garry Harris is on the floor. Also, PJ Dozier can offer size and defense in the wing, however they definitely need to see Michael Porter Jr. amping up his play in both ends of the floor to have a chance in the tough West. Porter Jr. have been experienced many setbacks this season after his excellent performances in the “bubble”.
He missed time due to the league’s health and safety protocols, after coming off the gate with great performances in the early stage of the season. In the last nine games, Porter Jr. seemed off and the Nuggets were struggling in lineups that did not adequate cover his deficiencies in the defensive end. For example, Porter Jr. and Will Barton are on a minus-15.4 in the 77 minutes they were together in the floor. In those minutes, the Nuggets get pounded in the defensive end allowing 130.4 points per 100 possessions.
Becoming a Champion-Caliber Team
The forward out of Missouri is definitely a star in the making with the Nuggets having a potential big three in their hands, Although, Denver still a great team as it is, the trio of Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Nikola Jokic can outscore any opponent, if the franchise put the right personnel around them. Jokic is on the midst of an MVP-caliber season, Murray shows his incredible shot-making ability, when he is fully healthy, and Porter Jr. can become a heavy-weight scorer having the ability to put the ball in the basket in several ways.
All the Nuggets need now, it’s to find the perfect combination of role players to become a steady heavy-weight powerhouse in the Western Conference for the years to come. Garry Harris and Monte Morris is a good start, but adding a versatile defensive wing and a rim-protecting big can turn this team into a contending franchise in the near future.