One Team, One Stat: Nuggets struggle to defend three's (again)

NBA.com Global on Oct 06, 2018 06:48 AM
One Team, One Stat: Nuggets struggle to defend three's
FILE - DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 3: Jamal Murray #27 of the Denver Nuggets high fives his teammates before the game against the Miami Heat on November 3, 2017 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images)

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com

NBA.com's John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2018-19 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Denver Nuggets, who struggled to defend the 3-point line for a third straight season.

THE STAT

The Nuggets ranked last in opponent 3-point percentage, allowing their opponents to shoot 37.8 percent from beyond the arc.

THE CONTEXT

The league is taking more 3-pointers every year. It has set a record for 3-point attempts in each of the last six seasons, with more than 22,000 more attempts last season (71,340) than it had five seasons prior (49,067 in 2012-13).

The bottom 11 teams in opponent 3-point percentage last season were all below-average defensive teams. The Nuggets ranked 26th defensively, in the bottom 10 for the fifth straight season (the Sacramento Kings is the only other team in that club).

The addition of Paul Millsap (who was on a top-10 defense in each of his last three seasons in Atlanta) was supposed to get the Nuggets out of the bottom 10. But a wrist injury sidelined Millsap for a 44-game stretch in the middle of the season and the defense wasn't much better in the 38 games he played (108.4 points allowed per 100 possessions) than it was in the games he missed (109.2).

Nuggets' opponents shot well from 3-point range in games which Millsap missed (37.0 percent) and in games in which he played (38.6 percent), with him on the floor (37.5 percent) and with him off the floor (40.5 percent). None of those marks would have ranked better than 24th in opponent 3-point percentage.

Their problems started in transition. Nuggets opponents shot 43.1 percent from 3-point range in the first six seconds of the shot clock, the highest opponent mark for any portion of the clock, according to Second Spectrum tracking.

According to Synergy play-type tracking, the Nuggets ranked 15th in the percentage of their opponents' possessions that were in transition (14.8 percent), but 30th in opponent effective field goal percentage in transition (63.8 percent), and 29th in points allowed per possession in transition (1.15).

Transition issues can be addressed with better habits. In half-court situations, the Nuggets have to do a better job of protecting the corners. They allowed their opponents to take 26 percent of their 3-point attempts, the highest opponent rate in the league, from the corners. Nuggets opponents didn't have as big a discrepancy, but league-wide 3-point percentage was 39.3 percent from the corners and 35.6 percent from elsewhere around the arc.

Last season wasn't the first in which the Nuggets had trouble defending the 3-point line. They've ranked in the bottom five in opponent 3-point percentage in each of coach Mike Malone's three seasons on the bench.

The Nuggets have a ton of offensive talent. They ranked sixth offensively last season, their three leading scorers are just 23, 24 and 21 years old, and they added Isaiah Thomas in the summer.

But if they're going to end their five-year playoff drought and maybe fulfill their potential as a top-five team in the Western Conference, they will need to improve defensively, especially at the 3-point line.

Note: The above table is based on true possession counts. Other efficiency stats here are based on possession estimates (typically higher than true possession counts).

NUGGETS NOTES - GENERAL

1. One of three teams (Boston and Minnesota are the others) that have seen a win increase in each of the last three seasons.

2. Had the league's second biggest home-road win differential (31 wins at home, 15 on the road) and its third biggest home-road NetRtg differential, outscoring their opponents by 4.9 points per 100 possessions at home and getting outscored by 3.4 on the road.

3. Saw the league's third biggest drop in pace, from 99.2 possessions per 48 minutes (sixth in the league) in 2016-17 to 97.8 (15th) last season, which was the first time in 16 years that they played at a slower-than-average pace.

4. Ranked second in total rebounding percentage (grabbing 52 percent of available rebounds) for the seconds straight season.

5. Only team that was undefeated on any particular day of the week last season, going 7-0 on Thursdays. Were also 14-2 on Fridays and 25-34 on the other five days of the week.

6. Had the league's biggest differential in winning percentage with at least one day of rest (42-26, 0.618) vs. in the second game of a back-to-back (4-10, 0.286). Were the only team that was undefeated (10-0) with a rest advantage (when their opponent was playing the second game of a back-to-back and they didn't play the day before).

NUGGETS NOTES - OFFENSE

1. One of three teams -- Boston and Cleveland were the others -- that ranked in the top 10 in both 3-point percentage (seventh) and the percentage of shots that came from 3-point range (ninth).

2. Were one of two teams -- Golden State was the other -- with three players (Gary Harris, Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic) that shot 40 percent or better on at least 200 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts.

3. Have ranked in the top 10 in offensive rebounding percentage in each of the last six seasons and in the top five in five of those six.

4. Had the league's best offense after the All-Star break, scoring 112.8 points per 100 possessions.

5. Took 51 percent of their shots, the league's third-highest rate, in the paint.

6. Scored 0.98 points per possession out of timeouts, the league's best mark, according to Synergy tracking.

7. Scored just 0.80 points per possession on isolations. That was the second worst rate in the league, according to Synergy tracking.

NUGGETS NOTES - DEFENSE

1. Have ranked in the bottom 10 in opponent effective field goal percentage in each of the last four seasons.

2. Ranked 29th in opponent field goal percentage from mid-range (42.3 percent).

3. Forced 13.8 turnovers per 100 possessions (22nd in the league), up from 11.9 (30th) in 2016-17. That was the league's third-biggest increase.

NUGGETS NOTES - LINEUPS

1. Wilson Chandler (traded to Philadelphia) was part of their four most-used lineups (all that played at least 100 minutes together). Still rank ninth in regard to continuity (percentage of last season's minutes played by players still on the roster).

2. Lineup of Murray, Harris, Barton, Chandler and Jokic scored 118.7 points per 100 possessions, the second best OffRtg among 48 lineups that played at least 200 minutes together. It allowed 116.2 points per 100 possessions, the worst DefRtg among that same group of lineups.

3. Lineup of Murray, Barton, Chandler, Millsap and Jokic averaged just 94.2 possessions per 48 minutes, the slowest pace among those same 48 lineups.

4. Highest on-court OffRtg among returning two-man combinations (minimum 500 minutes together): Murray and Millsap. The Nuggets scored 114.8 points per 100 possessions in 926 minutes with the pair on the floor together.

5. Lowest on-court DefRtg among returning two-man combinations (minimum 500 minutes together): Harris and Millsap. The Nuggets allowed just 102.1 points per 100 possessions in 605 minutes with the pair on the floor together.

6. Were 9.5 points per 100 possessions better offensively with Murray on the floor (scoring 113.0) than they were with him off the floor (103.4). That was the fourth biggest on-off OffRtg differential among 266 players who played at least 1,000 minutes for a single team last season.

NUGGETS NOTES - INDIVIDUAL

1. Will Barton has seen increases in both effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage each season he's been in the league. His assist-turnover ratio of 2.22 last season was also a career-high mark.

2. Gary Harris shot 69 percent in the restricted area, the best mark among 32 players 6-foot-5 or shorter with 200 or more restricted-area attempts.

3. Nikola Jokic ranked second among centers in time of possession at 3.1 minutes per game.

4. Opponents shot 67.9 percent at the rim when Jokic was there to protect it. That was the worst rim protection mark among 41 players who defended at least four shots at the rim per game in 40 games or more.

5. Jokic was one of three players -- Pau Gasol and Russell Westbrook were the others -- with an assist ratio of at least 20 (assists per 100 possessions used) and a rebounding percentage of at least 15 percent in at least 20 minutes per game. Mason Plumlee was one of three other players with those numbers in at least 15 minutes per game.

6. Trey Lyles had an effective field goal percentage of 56.6 percent, up from 43.6 percent in 2016-17. That was the biggest jump among 206 players with at least 300 field goal attempts both seasons.

7. Paul Millsap took 26 percent of his shots from 3-point range. That was a career-high mark. He took 27 percent of his shots from the restricted area. That was a career-low mark.

8. Jamal Murray averaged 16.7 ppg last season, up from 9.9 ppg as a rookie. That was the seventh-biggest increase among 260 players who played at least 40 games each season.

9. Murray has shot just 31 percent on pull-up 3-pointers in his two seasons in the league. That's the second-worst mark among 22 players with at least 250 pull-up 3-point attempts over those two years.

10. Murray ranked fifth in the league in free throw percentage at 90.5 percent last season.

11. Isaiah Thomas had an effective field goal percentage of 43.8 percent, down from 54.6 percent in 2016-17. That was the biggest drop among 206 players with at least 300 field goal attempts each season.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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