Destruction from a Distance: Why Denver Can’t Defend the Three Pointer.

Through the first two games of the season plenty of things have gone wrong for the Nuggets. They can’t seem to consistently score in the half court, their shot chart looks almost the exact opposite of what teams should strive for, and their defense can’t stop any opposing big man.

But possibly the worst problem the Nuggets have had through two games has been their “defense” of the three pointer. The Kings and Blazers went a combined 22 of 43 on three point attempts, good for 51 percent shooting and Denver is lucky that things are only that bad.

I went back and watched video of every three pointer that Denver has allowed this season and charted them in an attempt to see where the biggest problems were.

I expected to find one thing that had been causing most of the problems and that Denver could quickly fix. My guess was Denver was struggling to find shooters in transition and that fixing that would fix a lot of the problems but as I watched I realized there wasn’t just one thing. Denver has been awful in just about every situation, in every spot this year.

By my count 32 of the 43 threes allowed could be considered open, 7 of the 43 could be considered semi contested (either contested late or contested weakly by someone like Nate Robinson or Ty Lawson who are to small to make a difference), and just 4 were contested.

The shots came from all different spots on the floor with 17 coming from the top of the key, 12 from the corners, and 14 from the wings.

Perhaps the Nuggets biggest problem is the situations that the threes are coming in, as 31 of the shots have come in the half-court, three in semi-transition and just nine in transition.

Why the threes have been so open can be broken down into a few different categories which I have done below, using photos to show the problems in action for each:

Getting Stuck in Screens: 

Foye Stuck Once


This play came on a sideline out of bounds when Randy Foye gets absolutely stuck by a Patrick Patterson screen leaving Marcus Thornton to have all the time he wants for this shot, that luckily for Denver he missed.

Batum Fournier stuck


Again on this Nic Batum three Evan Fournier is caught up in a screen, allowing Batum a clean catch and eventually an open three that he again makes.

The biggest problem right now for Denver in these situations is the size of the players they are playing on the wings. Lawson, Robinson and Foye are all small for their positions and Andre Miller is incredibly unathletic for his. If any of these players get caught in screens they aren’t big enough to make a difference on shot attempts when they arrive late. Also asking all of these players to constantly find their way through screens is a tough task that will lead to a pounding on their body. The George Karl system of constant switching may have led to confusion and some mismatches in the post, but it also helped avoid situations like these.


Ty Faried miscommunication


This play happened in transition and was the result of miscommunication between Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried. As the Blazers came down the court Lawson kept pointing to Damion Lilliard, signifying he was going to be responsible for the Portland point guard. With Anthony Randolph already back and into the paint it should have been Kenneth Faried’s responsibility to stop the ball high and react to it. Instead he continued to drop into the paint allowing Nic Batum to catch a Wes Matthews pass wide open behind the three point line. From there Lawson should have rotated from Lilliard to Batum and Faried rotated up to Lilliard. But neither moved and Batum knocked down a wide open three.

So open

This play started with Salmons (in the red box) with the ball on the opposite wing. From there he ran off screens from DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson (the King in the black box) on each elbow. When Salmons used Patterson’s screen, Anthony Randolph got caught up a bit causing JJ Hickson (the Nugget in the black box) to go with Salmons to the wing. But Randolph continued to chase Salmons, leaving Patterson open when he popped out. Either Hickson needs to not hedge as far with Salmons, Randolph needs to stay with Patterson or JaVale McGee needs to rotate to Patterson and let Hickson sprint over to Cousins. But no one does any of those things. Denver got lucky when Patterson missed the three.

Lazy plays: 

JaVale switch and leave

On this play JaVale McGee was switched onto Nic Batum. But when Batum went to the corner JaVale decided that he didn’t want to go there with him. So JJ Hickson’s man did the right thing and dribbled the ball down to the block where JaVale was stationed, bringing Hickson down with him, before kicking to Batum on the corner. Once the pass was thrown JaVale pushes Hickson to Batum (as you can see in the picture) but it is too little, too late. If JaVale just rotates with Batum like he should this doesn’t become a problem as JaVale can at least close out and bother the shot.

Ty stands and watches


On this play Ty Lawson was broken down off the dribble and beaten to the middle of the floor. Anthony Randolph and JaVale McGee are in places to make enough of a difference on the play to help Ty, stopping the dribble and causing the Portland guard to leave his feet and throw a pass. But instead of Lawson recognizing Randolph left Batum and getting in position to run Batum off the three point line, he just turns and watches the rest of the play allowing Batum to catch and make another three. This is the type of play that either is a “great” play by Ty or a terrible one, because if Randolph knocks the ball back to him Ty has a wide open layup. The problem is that  if Randolph knocks the ball loose and Ty was running to Batum like he should have been, Denver still gets a layup as Randolph, Faried and Lawson are above any Blazer besides Batum.

Huh? plays: 


Andre Miller runs into LaMarcus Aldridge, on the underside no less, to allow himself to be screened in transition. No other explanation really needed.

Stupid Trap


See the guy fading to the corner near the Nuggets logo? That is Andre Miller’s man who just set a ball screen. But Dre decides to jump to the opposite side of where the screen was set and set a trap with Nate Robinson on the ball. So Denver is left with their two smallest players doubling the ball while a great shooter (Dorrell Wright) fades to the corner wide open. As can be expected, the pass was easily made over Robinson and the corner three was made.

Anthony Randolph: 

Batum catch easy


Anthony Randolph isn’t a good basketball player, especially on defense. Some of the Denver problems are purely based on the fact that he isn’t good. On this play, Nic Batum threw the ball into the post from the wing and ran off Aldridge in the post and back to the wing. When he did that Randolph decided that even though Brian Shaw said the Nuggets were not going to double Aldridge, he was going to hang below the elbow. So Aldridge found Batum and Randolph had too much space to cover before Batum drilled the three.

Randolph WTF


Apparently Anthony Randolph loves LaMarcus Aldridge so much he decided to give him a hug while Nic Batum pulled up and hit a three.

WTF Randolph

The final picture is perhaps the most perplexing. Denver is back in transition well, with two guys already in the paint and a third, JJ Hickson joining the play right behind the ball. But Anthony Randolph is confused. If he just goes with Marcus Thornton, who ran right past him on the play, to the corner everything is fine. But instead Randolph seems worried about the ball and the King who just crossed half court. In the end it leads to a wide open three, that again, luckily for Denver, was missed.

All in all Denver’s three point defense is just a mess and they are lucky to have given up just 51 percent shooting. If they keep leaving shooters wide open from behind the arc we may start seeing historic numbers going against Denver.

Wilson Chandler’s return, whenever that may be, should help for no other reason than it gets Anthony Randolph off the floor but there are plenty of other issues as well. With great thee point shooting teams like the Spurs, Rockets, and Knicks on the schedule before the end of the month if Denver doesn’t fix things soon it could get really ugly, really fast.

Images courtesy of Media Central video. 

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  • heykyleinsf

    stellar research Matt. Dreading having to face Steph Curry with these problems.

  • Makkon Farstriders

    Still early. Give it time, this season is a punt anyways. You can make decisions with a bigger sample size.

  • Scott Wallace

    Great research. Shaw knows all of this already. His problem is not only defending the three but more importantly poor interior defense. karl had to sag the guards in order to help Nuggets inside. Also, they can’t play Fareed and McGee together ever. Opposing big men who can shoot and put the ball on the floor destroy us.
    I like Shaw. Can we trade Kroenke?

  • Charliemyboy

    Hope Shaw makes a difference. No proof yet. Only digression. From #3 power ranking at end of year to #27. I bet George feels bad.

  • Josh Chin

    Yea, people seem to forget that we are missing Chandler and Gallo, 2 of our top 3 players and best defenders.

  • keith

    Great research that really highlights the issues with this roster. Right now they have too many players that can’t play basketball even at a conference championship level. Interesting that no one blames the previous GM for having so many players on the roster that are career journeyman or NBDL fill ins. Everyone blames the current GM for not fixing the roster over the summer or letting Iggy go (that guy isn’t worth 6 million let along 12 million). It was the previous GM that gave Chandler (a player that has never played healthy even in college) and McGee (Nene was a better post player even if he was soft) big contracts. From my memory Randolph, Andre Miller, and J. Ham were all signed to contracts that force this regime to keep them (for now). Let’s give Shaw some time to put his team together and then judge him. I hear Toronto is ready to fire sale the roster. Maybe Denver can grab some of their players since Masia like’s these players so much.

    FYI…Didn’t GK start the season like 19 wins and 16 losses last season?

  • Paul Griggs

    The players not playing are better than the current starters…iggy, Gallo, Koufos, Brewer, Chandler…bad player moves and some injuries

    • heykyleinsf

      We couldn’t keep Brewer because we tried to keep Iggy.

  • Trevor

    I find it quite hilarious that we have had these same issues for the past few seasons and have done nothing to correct it. This is a 3pt league, the playoffs validated this last season and our Nuggets are terrible at defending and making 3s. I thought Shaw would fix this.