Film Study: Denver’s No-Star Offense

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

Team OffRtg eFG% Rank OREB% Rank TO% Rank FTA Rate Rank
Miami 106.3 52.3% 2 25.1% 20 16.3 20 .343 4
Denver 105.9 52.5% 1 23.4% 27 16.3 19 .354 2
Oklahoma City 105.2 51.3% 3 25.9% 17 17.7 29 .361 1
Chicago 104.7 49.4% 11 31.4% 1 15.4 8 .276 15
L.A. Clippers 104.1 50.8% 4 26.5% 14 14.6 4 .320 7

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

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.


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

Team Pace Rank FBPp100p Rank
Denver 97.5 1 21.4 1
Washington 96.1 3 19.7 2
Utah 93.6 19 18.6 3
Memphis 94.7 14 18.1 4
Miami 95.7 7 17.7 5

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.

Three examples:
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.


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

Team FGM FGA FG% Rank %FGA Rank
Denver 510 823 62.0% 9 44.9% 1
Cleveland 361 634 56.9% 22 37.4% 2
Utah 395 636 62.1% 8 37.3% 3
Washington 413 712 58.0% 21 36.9% 4
Portland 396 696 56.9% 23 36.4% 5

%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.

Three examples:
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.

Three examples:
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).

Three examples:
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.


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

Season Team G FGA FTA FT% FTA Rate
2008-09 NYK 28 125 27 96.3% 0.216
2009-10 NYK 81 927 307 81.8% 0.331
2010-11 NYK 48 509 290 89.3% 0.570
2010-11 DEN 14 131 101 77.2% 0.771
2011-12 DEN 23 270 133 88.7% 0.493

Three examples:
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.


John Schuhmann is a staff writer for Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.


  1. Jeffrey says:

    Well done and well-researched. Melo does bog teams down because he has a high turnover ratio and a relatively low shooting percentage, even though he is a good offensive player. Defense is another story as he is a terrible (read lazy) defender. Denver gets so many points on the fast break, yet their defense is ranked 14th. What explains this discrepancy? I guess it is because they run so much. Think of how great they would be if they could get more stops and then turn them into fast break points. I think they’d be head and shoulders above of the other teams in the congested west if they could just improve a tad defensively.

  2. kiefynugs says:

    Karl has a great mind for BBall and works well with what he has all the time. Denver’s real star seems to be the management though, who have been coming away with positive results from some pretty bold trades time and time again for years now.

  3. Wuzi says:

    Proud what G.Karl is doing in Mile High city:) I’ve been a huge fan of Denver since they traded Iverson for Billups.Great article and i think that the Nuggets are getting to the Western conference Finals unless they meet OKC in Quarter or Semi finals.

  4. Great Arcticle! Objective and about Basketball!!!

  5. David says:

    New york have lost 15 games this season…. Denver have lost 15 games since trading Melo. I wonder who got the better out of that deal…

  6. Lester says:

    This 2011-2012 Nuggets team looks like the mid-2000’s Pistons. Only that the Pistons were better defensively.

  7. Ryan says:

    KPB is absolutely right, Lawson and Gallinari are growing into the star roles on this Nuggets team. I wouldn’t count on too much help from Chandler though, the Nuggs aren’t under the cap anymore and would have to get rid of a couple of people to fit him under the cap. Expect Chandler to get traded for a pick.

  8. kpb says:

    Gallinari and Lawson are Nugget’s stars.

  9. Wout says:

    Love these articles every week, keep it going, it’s so insightful, I learn a lot from this! It’s one of the best things, along with the Telestrator!

  10. ZED6661 says:

    I think honestly Melo slows a team down. If he were to stay with us we wouldn’t be with the record we have now. We wouldn’t be as bad as New York because lets face it we’re just a better team, but we wouldn’t be as good as we are with out him. Sorry SMelo.

  11. jan279 says:

    George Karl should be Coach of the Year! =)

  12. jc says:

    just wait till wilson comes back

  13. George says:

    Carmelo who?

  14. Csmooth99 says:

    The Nuggets ARE the deepest team in basketball and will only get better when Wilson Chandler gets back. We are two deep at EVERY position and Mozgov allows Nene to play his true position at power forward. If he ever decides to get aggressive, not too many guys can hang with him. He finishes well with either hand (dunk or finger roll) With the way the Nuggets move the ball, they are always within striking distance if not already leading the game

  15. Ben says:

    Great writeup, well researched and supported!. I think in particular the gap between Denver and the rest of the league on % of mid-range shots indicates they are taking a methodical approach to achieving their efficiency.

  16. What the Big Deal? says:

    The Denver Nuggets have a lot of players who can score no matter if they’re stars or not. What you do have to give them credit for is the heart they play with and the way they come out each night with the mentality to get a win no matter who they up against. Still no one can take over a game like Carmelo Anthony used to do in Denver.

  17. Joe says:

    The Denver Nuggets has been the epitome of team basketball. All these talks about which superstar is going where nowadays gets old. It’s a nice change scene to see a team like the Denver Nuggets believing in each other instead of going elsewhere when the going gets tough.

  18. chosen one says:

    The Nuggets play like a team, unlike a team such as the Magic who are completely dependent on Dwight Howard

    • sunsman says:

      exactly, Karl always used a balanced attack even with melo’s sticky hands. Orlando’s whole game is based upon Howard in the post either using his size/speed or getting doubled and then swinging it round to the open 3 ball.

      Orlando and Van Gundy will be lost and have no idea what to do when Dwight leaves (2010-11 Cav’s anyone)

  19. Joshua says:

    I bet Melo feels stupid for leaving now, look at the Knicks record ahaah, and look at Deron Williams ex team the Jazz thier doing really well without thier star, so Dwight Howard becareful what yu wish for !!, but honestly so proud of Denver !!

  20. John Doe says:

    Denver is actually more likeable without Melo. And it seems they are the only team playing basektball right now. Basketball with heart….

  21. izan oen says:

    By watching the game with Lakers, I feel that officiating helps the Nuggets a great deal.

    At the end of the game, the officials gathered around to see by whom the ball was deflected while it was so obvious that Nene fouled Bynum. This is what makes NBA sick. David Stern should wake up from his dream of controlling everything and fire corrupted officials.

    • gameon says:

      wow glad you are not an official there were many offensive fouls they could have called on Bynum each possesion that he lowers his shoulder but they didn’t who gets the advantage on those calls. Leave it to a Lakers Fan to make comments on officiating in a win. Hollywood as HELL!

  22. prix should be banned says:

    didn’t they just lose ? even all Refs helped them so hard

  23. trackman says:

    All these stuff just prove what a brilliant basketball mind George Karl has. The best coach in this league period. Hi Melo!

  24. prix says:

    Denver I think is the deepest team right now same with the Bulls…the only difference is that the Bulls have Rose…that´s why at playoff time they will just be a second round team…they could probably beat the weaker Lakers or the aging Spurs and after that they are gone.

  25. fuggingolliwog says:

    Bread and butter, man.

  26. CharleCharles Murray says:

    This is incredible perspective. Karl is concentrating on using our individual and team talents to the most effective approachs in pro ball. The PAR is even more astounding for this team. Don’t get frustrated guys… Lots of season left, and several more with these troops to come…