How the Nuggets are Making Incremental Progress on Defense
Since Feb. 28, the Nuggets are only committing 17.3 personal fouls per game, which ranks fourth in the NBA.
By Christopher Dempsey, Altitude Sports
Defense, for the Nuggets this season has been a tug of war, moments of head-shaking frustration mixed with moments of encouragement. Lately, they’re living much more in the space of the latter.
They are baby steps to be sure, but the Nuggets’ most recent victory on Monday night over Sacramento was an even bigger win for the concept of defense. The Nuggets allowed shooting percentages of 43.4 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from the 3-point line – both respectable numbers. They held the Kings under 100 points, which is the eighth time they’ve held an opponent under the century mark this season. According to team stats, the Nuggets are now 7-1 (4-0 at home) when they allow fewer than 100 points.
“We were able to play our game plan for 48 minutes,” forward Danilo Gallinari said.
This not a defensive renaissance, by any means. But a closer look reveals there is some progress being made. These are breakdowns of three different periods of time this season, prior to Tuesday night’s NBA games.
- The Nuggets have a plus/minus of -.6
- The Nuggets defensive rating is 110.7, 30th in the NBA. Their net rating is -1.5.
- Opponents are shooting 47.8 percent from the field and 37.8 from the 3-point line.
- Opponents are averaging 111.2 points per game, 28th in the NBA.
SINCE THE ALL-STAR BREAK:
- Nuggets have a plus/minus of +4.1.
- Their defensive rating is 108.4, 23rd in the NBA. Their net rating is +3.6.
- Opponents are shooting 46.8 percent from the field and 42.1 percent from the 3-point line.
- Opponents are averaging 106.1 points per game, 17th in the NBA.
IN THE LAST FOUR GAMES: The Nuggets have a plus/minus of +8.0.
- Their defensive rating is 107.9, 18th in the NBA. Their net rating is +7.8.
- Opponents are shooting 45.2 percent from the field and 47.1 percent from the 3-point line.
- Opponents are averaging 103.3 points per game, 11th in the NBA.
The statistical oddity is the plunging points per game while shooting percentages allowed generally rise. So why are the Nuggets allowing fewer points while simultaneously allowing higher shooting percentages?
Answer: They’re no longer giving up free points in bunches.
Since Feb. 28, the Nuggets are only committing 17.3 personal fouls per game, which ranks fourth in the NBA. As such, opponents are shooting just 15.8 free throws per game in this span, which ranks best in the NBA. And teams are only making 13.5, which ranks third-best in the NBA.
Contrast that with the Nuggets full season average of 17.6 free throws made against them per game, and it’s a hefty four fewer points per game. Combine that with a slight downtick in field goal percentage allowed (45.2 from 47.8), and the Nuggets have started to carve out a formula that in conjunction with their high-scoring offense, has allowed them to win three of their last four games.
Still, the Nuggets focus remains on continuing to improve in getting stops.
“I think our defense has been better since the break,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Because we’re trying to be more aggressive, we’re trying to be up on pick-and-rolls, and it’s worked so far. But we’ve got a couple of point guards coming in here that are really going to test that in the next couple of games.”