Life is especially dandy proper now for those who’re the Denver Nuggets.
To have a 24-13 report — tops in a chaotic Western Convention the place a number of variations of wins and losses shuffle the seedings round like a deck of playing cards — is to probably safe prime playoff place come April.
The Nuggets are lording over the West by being one of the vital environment friendly offensive groups within the league. They’re scoring 118.2 factors per 100 possessions, 4.3 factors above league common and second behind solely the Boston Celtics in offensive ranking with rubbish time and end-of-quarter heaves faraway from the equation, per Cleansing the Glass.
They path solely the Brooklyn Nets when it comes to total capturing effectivity, all whereas refusing to depend on a heavy dose of three pointers (fifth-lowest three-point try fee). Nevertheless, they’re making probably the most out of the threes they do take — their 40.6% mark on threes is the very best in the complete league.
They’re dismantling opponents within the half court docket; they rating 101.3 factors per 100 half-court possessions, 4.3 factors above league common and fourth within the NBA. Pushing the tempo in transition isn’t actually their philosophy, however each time they do get the prospect to run within the break, they achieve this whereas placing up the second-highest environment friendly mark (135.4 factors per 100 transition possessions).
If there’s a noticeable chink of their proverbial armor, it’s been on the defensive finish. Their 116.0 factors allowed per 100 possessions is twenty sixth within the league; opponents rating 99.7 factors per 100 half-court possessions towards them, additionally twenty sixth within the league.
Regardless of upgrading their roster when it comes to on-ball/point-of-attack defenders, the Nuggets selecting to play aggressive pick-and-roll coverages — screen-level meetups, hedges, and traps — have put a pressure on their backline protection and total skill to rotate, scramble, and shut gaps. It stays to be seen whether or not they can enhance in that side, and whether or not a crew that’s on monitor to complete as a non-top-10 protection could make the NBA Finals, a precedent fulfilled by solely two groups in historical past.
If they’re to make a deep playoff run, it might very nicely be on the again of their offense — captained by arguably the very best offensive participant within the league.
Nikola Jokić is placing up ridiculous numbers in a marketing campaign the place he may very nicely win his third-straight MVP award: 25.6 factors, 10.8 rebounds, and 9.5 assists on 66/35/81 capturing splits (2P/3P/FT), all whereas having probably the most environment friendly scoring season (68.7 TS%) of his profession.
His 9.5 assists common is on monitor to develop into a career-high mark, whereas he’s meting out a better share of assists (45.8% help fee) than at any level of his profession.
He’s a darling of each sort of numerical metric, whether or not it’s the uncooked counting numbers or the superior statistics. Estimated plus-minus has him because the second-most impactful participant within the league, with solely Luka Dončić above him.
Jokić is the fulcrum of the Nuggets offense. There may be just about no reply for him defensively; opponents have tried all types of coverages towards him, however Jokić possesses each technique of dismantling each.
He’s helped by having a supporting forged that performs nicely to his strengths as a scorer, decision-maker, and distributor. His chemistry with the likes of Jamal Murray (rounding into kind post-injury) and Michael Porter Jr. — a matchup nightmare each as a 3 and a 4 (though he has considerably spent extra time this season as the previous) — has helped punish groups who gravitate towards him.
Nevertheless, arguably no different Jokić partner-in-crime has popped out this season greater than Aaron Gordon.
Gordon is having a profession statistical yr. He’s placing up the second-highest factors common of his profession (17.1). His capturing effectivity (62.6 eFG%) has by no means been larger, buoyed by a two-point proportion (64.6%) and three-point proportion (37.3%) which might be each on monitor to develop into career-high marks.
In practically two-and-a-half seasons as a Nugget, Gordon is placing up his most effective scoring season of his profession (64.4 TS%). It’s no coincidence that the extra he has hung out inside Michael Malone’s scheme and the extra time he has spent enjoying alongside Jokić, the extra he has developed a eager sense of methods to finest function as an auxiliary offensive risk.
Maybe the very best illustration of that is how Gordon is aware of methods to be in place to punish opponents who commit further defenders towards Jokić:
It doesn’t matter what sort of benefit Jokić creates — whether or not it’s overt (drives or mismatches drawing assist away) or refined (defenders displaying early assist resembling sending an additional man towards Jokić’s facet) — Gordon is nearly at all times there to finish them, whether or not on cuts or pre-positioning himself in high-value actual property such because the dunker spot.
Now greater than ever, Gordon has full belief in Jokić discovering him on all types of off-ball motion. Whether or not it’s to set downscreens for shooters or himself being the recipient of screens from shooters (resembling Murray), Gordon readily makes himself obtainable on slips or cuts off of backscreens.
As Jokić is wont to do, he makes certain to seek out Gordon with expertly positioned dimes:
However this specific duo has popped probably the most after they’re instantly concerned with one another throughout ball-screen motion. Whereas Gordon hardly ever instructions reps as a ball handler, the efficiency of a 4 and 5 operating pick-and-roll motion is derived from how tough a call the concerned defenders should make when it comes to methods to cease it.
Take into account that one or each of these frontcourt defenders — those guarding Gordon and Jokić — aren’t used to defending ball handlers. Display screen navigation is commonly a international idea to them. If a smaller wing or guard is concerned within the motion, the prospect of being overpowered by two very massive human beings ought to give them pause. In the identical vein, Gordon usually has the velocity and athleticism benefit over facilities switched onto him.
Which is why defenders discover themselves having to select their poison. Change, they usually get overwhelmed. Double, and one in every of both Jokić or Gordon is left open.
Jokić has proven he can discover Gordon when defenders throw further our bodies his method, however Gordon himself is not any slouch when it comes to inside passing and hitting Jokić on the roll:
The inverse — which occurs far more usually — gives the identical conundrum.
The Nuggets are fond of getting Gordon set screens for Jokić in 5-4 inverted ball-screen configurations. Once more, two frontcourt gamers are sometimes at a loss as to methods to defend a pick-and-roll; a smaller defender is reluctant to change for apparent causes.
As such, the one protection left for them is doubling Jokić round screens. Mixed along with his passing acumen and Gordon’s athleticism and timing on slips/rolls, Jokić dissects these doubles with surgical precision:
Amongst 141 two-man mixtures which have performed a minimal of 650 minutes, the Jokić-Gordon pairing is third in web ranking, outscoring opponents by 12.6 factors per 100 possessions. Amazingly sufficient, the 2 duos that rank larger above them in that listing are:
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Murray (12.8)
- Jokić and Murray (12.7)
That speaks to how any mixture of gamers excel so long as Jokić is there to weave all of it collectively. He’s completely paramount to the success of the Nuggets offense; with him on the ground, the Nuggets have the equal of the very best offense within the league (122.7 offensive ranking). With out him, that determine dips all the way in which all the way down to the equal of the worst offense within the affiliation (101.6 offensive ranking).
Put anybody in there with Jokić and he’ll discover methods to make it work. Murray has an in depth historical past of meshing completely with Jokić. Porter Jr.’s mixture of dimension and finesse makes him a seamless match.
However none of them can current the sort of matchup issues that the Jokić-Gordon pairing can current, nor can they dish out the identical kind of smash-mouth punishment that has victimized opponents all through this season.