HANG TIME NEW JERSEY BUREAU — The Denver Nuggets, sans superstar, have the second-best offense in the NBA.
Through Friday, the Nuggets rank second in offensive efficiency, scoring 105.9 points per 100 possessions, a hair less than the three-star offense in Miami, a shade more than the two-star offense in Oklahoma City, and miles ahead of their former franchise player’s offense in New York.
The Nuggets are efficient even though they don’t give themselves a lot of second-chance opportunities (ranking 27th in offensive rebounding percentage) and even though they don’t take care of the ball all that well (ranking 19th in turnover ratio).
What the Nuggets do do very well is shoot the ball and get to the line.
Top five offenses, through Friday
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
eFG% = Effective field goal percentage = (FGM + (3PM*0.5))/FGA
OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds obtained
TO% = Turnovers per 100 possessions
FTA Rate = FTA/FGA
The numbers above indicate that both the Heat and Thunder have similar offensive profiles as the Nuggets. But when we look at how and where the Nuggets’ shots are coming from, we really see just how unique they are.
It all starts with transition.
ON THE BREAK
The Nuggets lead the NBA in pace, averaging 97.5 possessions per 48 minutes. They’ve racked up 21.4 fast break points per 100 possessions, easily the most in the league.
Most fast break points per 100 possessions
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
The transition game is keyed by the Nuggets’ two point guards, Ty Lawson and Andre Miller. Lawson, maybe the fastest player in the game, pushes tempo with the dribble. Miller, a vet with vision, loves to advance the ball with a well-placed pass.
But the Denver break also flourishes because the Nuggets have big men, like Al Harrington and Nene, who are just as willing to push the ball up the floor. As a whole, the team has a consistent mentality to run every time they get the ball on a turnover or a rebound.
Play 1. Notice how both Lawson and Miller release downcourt on the rebound, instead of hanging in the backcourt to get the ball from Nene. He hits Lawson on the run with the long outlet pass. Lawson catches the ball beyond the midcourt line and, without dribbling, hits Miller with a perfect alley-oop at the rim.
Play 2. From Danilo Gallinari to Miller to Arron Afflalo, the Nuggets go 94 feet for another layup with the ball never touching the floor.
Play 3. An example of how the Nuggets’ bigs can handle the ball on the break. Nene strips Marreese Speights, leads the break, and hits Corey Brewer for a layup.
AT THE BASKET
The Nuggets attempt 45 percent of their shots from within five feet of the basket. As a whole, the league attempts just 33 percent of its shots from within five feet, and no other team is even close to Denver’s ratio.
Highest percentage of shots from less than five feet
%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts
Nene leads the team in both makes (83) and attempts (130) from within five feet of the basket. But according to Synergy Sports Technology, he hasn’t been a very good post-up player this season, scoring just 66 points on 102 post-up possessions (he’s been much better in the past).
What Nene has always done well, with the help of his point guards, is cut and roll to the basket. He has a great knack for finding holes in the defense and making himself available to receive a pass. This season, 53 of his 83 buckets (64 percent) within five feet of the hoop have been assisted.
Play 1. Lawson goes away from the side screen, and hits a cutting Nene through two defenders.
Play 2. A high pick-and-roll with Miller.
Play 3. After the Nuggets’ transition opportunity gets stopped, Miller drives to the basket and hits Nene, trailing the play.
Lawson is just 5-foot-11, but ranks third on the Nuggets in makes (71) and second in attempts (120) near the basket, using his speed to blow by defenders both on the break and in Denver’s half-court offense. Only 24 of his 71 near-the-rim buckets (34 percent) have been assisted.
Play 1. Going with the screen.
Play 2. Going away from the screen.
Play 3. On the break, 75 feet in four dribbles.
The Nuggets don’t attempt many mid-range shots. Only 19 percent of their field goal attempts have come from between the paint and the 3-point line. That is, by far, the lowest rate in the league (next lowest is Orlando at 23 percent), with the league average being 31 percent. As was noted last week, mid-range shots are the least efficient shots you can take.
So basically, the Nuggets either take shots from the paint or shots from beyond the arc. And a high percentage of those shots are assisted. The Nuggets rank second (behind only Boston) in assist rate, assisting on 63 percent of their field goals. And of their 161 threes, 152 have been assisted on. That’s a rate of 94 percent, which is the highest in the league.
Harrington leads the Nuggets with 38 threes, all of which have been assisted on. And 23 of the 38 assists have come from Lawson (eight) or Miller (15).
Play 1. Harrington is open in the corner when Amar’e Stoudemire helps on Nene’s roll to the basket.
Play 2. Harrington is open in the corner when Carmelo Anthony helps on Lawson’s drive to the basket.
Play 3. Harrington sets a pin-down screen for Afflalo and is open on the left wing when Speights hedges on the screen.
AT THE LINE
Anthony is one of the best in the league at getting to the line. And before they traded him last season, the Nuggets ranked first in free throw rate, attempting 38 free throws for every 100 attempts from the field.
But despite the departure of Anthony and Chauncey Billups (another guy who gets to the line often), the Nuggets are still near the top of the league in free throw rate. And one of the big reasons is the aggressiveness of Gallinari.
Gallinari came into the league as a shooter, but his 3-point percentage has gone down every season, from 44 percent as a rookie to just 32 percent this year. In that time though, he’s become a more complete player. And since the start of last season, he’s been pretty relentless in attacking the rim. He’s also shooting 89 percent from the stripe, making the extra punishment well worth it.
Danilo Gallinari, season-by-season
Play 1. Attacking the league’s second-leading shot-blocker, DeAndre Jordan.
Play 2. Barreling through Blake Griffin.
Play 3. Driving around the quicker and longer Rudy Gay.
How do you score without a star? Run the floor, share the ball, get to the basket, and get to the line. That’s Nuggets basketball, right there.