5 Ways the Denver Nuggets Still Must Improve
The Denver Nuggets’ 117-97 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder cooled off a scorching January start, during which Denver went 7-1 and won its last six games entering Jan. 16. Oklahoma City is the class of the Western Conference and, as its blowout win indicates, the Nuggets have things upon which to improve—especially because they share a division with Kevin Durant and Co.—before entering into that conversation.
Oklahoma City leads the NBA in point differential, scoring 9.44 points more than its opponents on a nightly basis; Denver is seventh at 2.44. The Nuggets are a playoff-caliber squad in all but one of John Hollinger’s 2012-13 team statistics (via ESPN.com). At 24-17, they’re currently slotted into the No. 6 seed despite playing seven more road games (24) than home games (17) halfway through the season.
Still, they’ll have to put some things together in order to make any postseason noise.
All statistics are accurate prior to games played on Jan. 17, 2013.
5. Defensive Rebounding Rate
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The one Hollinger statistic in which the Denver Nuggets did not place in the top half of the league was Defensive Rebounding Rate (they’re 26th). That’s not good, but Denver’s overall Rebounding Rate is an elite fourth because of its league-leading spot in the Offensive Rebounding Rate category.
The Nuggets will have to crash the boards more effectively on the defensive end of the floor so that their opponents aren’t afforded similar second-chance opportunities.
4. 3-Point Shooting
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If it seems counter-intuitive that a top-five scoring Denver Nuggets team is bottom-two in both three-point percentage (32.9 percent) and dead last in free-throw percentage (68.3), that’s because it is. Denver is the only team in the bottom half (17th or worse; three teams are tied at 14th) of three-point shooting that scores more than 97.0 points per game.
The Nuggets, along with the Staples Center inhabitants, are three of the bottom five free-throw shooting teams that are scoring over 102 PPG. The L.A. Lakers (Dwight Howard) and Clippers (Blake Griffin) have notoriously bad foul shooters as offensive priorities.
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Assists aren’t a problem for the Denver Nuggets—they’re third in the NBA with 23.6 per game—but turnovers are. The reason why their assist-to-turnover ratio (1.55) is 11th in the league is that their 15.2 turnovers per game are tied for 21st with the Utah Jazz, Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards.
Those three teams are a combined 42-71.
2. On-Court Leadership
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Freshly-extended Ty Lawson and new acquisition and Olympian Andre Iguodala are the two prime candidates to be on-floor leaders for the Denver Nuggets. One of them will have to take the torch from reserve Andre Miller sooner than later as the team’s top two court presences in terms of minutes per game.
However, it seems that the first order of business may be for them to lift their respective individual production to the level that is expected of them. Lawson is working through career-worst numbers in field-goal shooting (41.7 percent), three-point shooting (32.1) free-throw shooting (71.2) and turnovers per game (2.7).
Iguodala is dealing with similar woes from the field (43.5) while shooting 31.3 percent from deep and 62.0 percent from the line with 2.7 TOPG; not career lows, but close. His ball security has been better in January (nine games), as Iguodala is turning the ball over 2.2 times a night since the calendar shifted to 2013.
However, his shooting has gotten worse.
Lawson’s January (eight games) has been more encouraging: He’s converting 45.3 percent of his field-goal attempts, 38.1 percent of his threes and 78.1 percent of his charity attempts.
The majority of the Nuggets’ remaining schedule places them in Denver, where getting players to mesh offensively should be a little less difficult than it would be in other locales across the league.
The road, though, is a different story.
1. Road Record
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For the Denver Nuggets to really matter this postseason, they simply have to start winning more games on the road. A 9-15 record isn’t necessarily poor—most teams have winning records at home for a reason—but it’s very unlikely that the Nuggets will end up with home-court advantage anytime beyond the first round.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are running away with the Northwest division as the only team with a winning intra-division record, leading the Nuggets by eight games overall. Denver, therefore, will have to be prepared to steal a game or two on the road to supplement its sterling home record if it intends to emerge victorious from multiple playoff series.
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