The Denver Nuggets have again reached the .500 mark at 11-11. Tonight, the Nuggs play the 16-8 Chicago Bulls in Chicago. The Bulls are second in the Eastern Conference and this game should be much closer than Saturday when the Nuggets bounced the New York Knicks off their homecourt of MSG.
After the Nuggets’ demoralizing loss to the Orlando Magic last week, I addressed a concerning last-minute possession in which it looked like nobody wanted to take a clutch shot. The players shoulder a large part of the responsibility. However, Coach Michael Malone must have a plan that’s easy enough to execute .
I still wonder what it will look like?
Most margins of victory (or defeat) for the Nuggets have been wide this season. The Nuggets closest game was a one-point win against the Houston Rockets that ended when Nikola Jokic blocked a shot on the Rockets’ last possession. In the two-point loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Jokic’s last-second two-point attempt rimmed out.
If a two-pointer is needed, the choice is obvious. Jokic is the reigning MVP and currently contending for the award again. A pick-and-pop play can work to free Jokic. Yet Jokic also makes difficult shots in traffic while simultaneously understanding when it’s best to pass to a more open teammate. That assist category is not an afterthought, it’s the very essence of what separates him from most bigs.
When it comes to a three-point shot at the buzzer, the question becomes murkier.
Right now, the menu of players to choose from for a last-second shot is short. Generally, you want a marksman with experience. Two proven options– Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.— are out indefinitely.
Jokic is shooting 38.7 percent from 3-point range this year, only a decimal down from 38.8 percent last season. He is tied for first on the team with Facu Campazzo. Barton is slightly behind at 38.5 percent, which is the highest clip of his career. They are both veterans who would be viable options in the clutch.
Bones Hyland, another option, is still out for the short-term due to Health and Safety protocols. Although Bones is only shooting in the upper 30-percent range from the floor in the very early stages of his career, he’s shooting 35.2 percent from 3-point range.
And what Bones lacks for experience he makes up for in swagger. Unless he’s having an awful shooting night, it’s hard to imagine Bones shying from a last-second shot opportunity. That is, once he comes back.
Recent G League call-up Davon Reed is another new, unproven option. The 26-year-old has very limited NBA experience (16-45 from 3-point range for 35.6 percent with three different teams).
In seven games with the G League Rapids City Gold this season, he shot 45.4 percent from the floor and 12-27 from beyond the arc for 44.4 percent. In college at the University of Miami, Reed shot 39.5 percent from 3-point range.
Regardless of who is willing and able, Coach Michael Malone still needs to design a play to get an open look. It seems getting the ball to Jokic and allowing him the option to shoot or draw defenders and pass to a teammate is still a wise choice.
Hopefully, the Nuggets have an answer to this clutch question before tipping off against the Chicago Bulls tonight.