Denver Nuggets Defense
Part 4 of the Nuggets vs Lakers Series Preview
I cannot wait for this matchup where we get possibly the most unguardable offensive player in Jokic vs the most dominant and versatile big defender in the NBA in Anthony Davis. Not only that, it is the best offense with the Nuggets scoring 1.21 PPP in the NBA playoffs vs the best defense in the Lakers holding teams to 1.07 PPP. Not to mention so many X’s & O’s and adjustment possibilities - this series is going to have everything!
Part 1: Los Angeles Lakers Offense
Part 2: Los Angeles Lakers Defense
Part 3: Denver Nuggets Offense
For the 2023 NBA Playoffs I will be doing game & series breakdowns throughout - the best way to support is to become a paid subscriber with the NBA Playoffs Sale!
Either way, I thank you for reading, supporting & sharing my work and I hope I have been able to help.
Note: I preferred this all in one post, but Substack was not able to properly upload everything in one place. I will have a separate solution moving forward.
All stats from Cleaning The Glass unless otherwise noted.
I have to be perfectly honest - I did not expect this level of defense from the Nuggets & Jokic. Sure, they played a flawed Minnesota team who was never great on offense but still a pick-and-roll attack that can put pressure on a defense and a Suns team that had injuries and a pretty rough rotation around Booker & KD - but man they were connected and executing great gameplans at a high level. Look at some of these efforts and rotations - very impressive.
We talked above about the Lakers running a ballscreen offense centered around the rolling of AD and so naturally we need to talk about how the Nuggets defend ballscreens.
While Jokic is not considered a rim protector (from a vertical standpoint - sure) he uses his high basketball IQ to be a good positional defender, who can execute any gameplan and use his quick hands to his advantage. Putting Jokic in ballscreen defense has been the way to attack Jokic in the past but adding KCP/Brown/Braun to lineups surrounds him with great rotational and on-ball defenders that will not allow the players coming off to get downhill as cleanly as before.
The primary coverage that the Nuggets used against the Suns was having Jokic at the level of the ballscreen or “Up To Touch” where he can stop any shots off the ballscreen and put two on the ball to stop the attack of Booker/KD.
When Jokic is this high he can use his feel for the game or coaching tweaks to run a couple of different coverages - the most common one they used was having him “Hedge.”
In the past, hard hedging was a common way NBA teams designed their defense to force the ballhandler toward half-court and away from the paint to allow the on-ball defender to recover and then tag the roller from there. This worked primarily because until recently teams didn’t space the floor while playing two bigs, but since the NBA changed about 8 years ago this has become less common. If you want more information on this - check out this breakdown:
When Jokic hedges it is more of a soft or flat hedge that is designed to force a lateral attack from the ballhandler s you can see here.
Behind this coverage means the Nuggets always have to have a player “tagging” or meeting the roll man and that is typically the low man when 2 players are on the same side.
When tagging you will see the Nuggets players hold their tag until Jokic recovers or they communicate and recognize that they can recover back to their man or a shooter.
One thing that the Nuggets will do to protect the rim and then recover to shooters is to “X-Out” or have the player low stay until the ball is passed and then switch players closing out. For example, here the Suns hit Landale on the short roll after a Jokic hedge which means that Gordon is the low tag and Murray now is playing in space between two players on the wing and the corner.
Murray then takes the first pass out to either player - to the corner here - and then Gordon closes out to the next pass. While this can leave an open shooter, the Nuggets are taking away the corner 3 majority of the time and then leaving an above-the-break 3 as a result.
I won’t go over this in too much detail since I broke it down in a previous article, but Jokic has a high IQ and notices when not to be higher or lower with the guards pressure on the ball.
Another thing that the Nuggets are doing that I really enjoyed breaking down is putting Gordon on the 5, and then Jokic on a non-shooter. If you want to check out that breakdown - this goes into detail about how they do it and ways Jokic shows us some of the Nuggets’ game-planning:
One thing for the Nuggets defense I was thinking about - do they trap LeBron in the post/ISO? We saw them throw double teams at Booker and KD at times and did a great job recovering but that was also helped by the fact that nobody on the Suns could hit anything outside of a wide-open layup. The threat of other shooters make this more difficult against LeBron but in certain small ball lineups with LeBron at the 5 against Gordon I can definitely see them mixing in this coverage.
When trapping LeBron, the problem is that the “trap” man is usually the other big - like Jokic/Gordon in scenarios - so when you go, the rim protection is gone and it leaves players for LeBron to find.
The Nuggets were able to clog space for Kevin Durant in ISO and force very tough shots and stop any drives.
The shooters for the Lakers are much more consistent and real threats to clogging the lane like against LeBron ISOs and trapping becomes much more troublesome when getting out into rotations.
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I hope you enjoyed this breakdown, and as always thank you again for all of your support and for sharing my work.