The Denver Nuggets will be a nice measuring stick for the Lakers.
Denver also boasts an intriguing collection of young talent in Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, and Nikola Jokic. They’re 2nd in the NBA in rebounding and average 15.2 Second Chance PPG, so the Lakers will need a strong collective effort to keep Denver off the glass. The Lakers should do their best to limit Nikola Jokic’s passing angles and attack Denver’s guards in the pick and roll.
Jokic Facilitating From the Top of the Key
Denver’s best passer isn’t Emmanuel Mudiay – it’s Nikola Jokic, who is second on the team with a 23.9 AST%. The Nuggets take advantage of Jokic’s savvy passing by running a high number of Iverson sets. Watch Gary Harris start out at the bottom of the screen — he’s running an Iverson cut where he cuts across the court, parallel to the free throw line.
Why it Worked: The play begins with Mudiay at the top, followed by a stagger screen by Jokic and Chandler. As Harris makes the Iverson cut, Jokic gets the ball at the three-point line and Danilo Gallinari moves from the weak side to fill Harris’s original spot, clearing out space for Harris to cut unimpeded to the basket. Harris then curls backdoor around the 2nd screen by Chandler and Jokic throws a perfect pass for an easy alley oop.
How to Adjust: The Laker bigs need to be clear in their communication regarding screens, particularly off ball, and hedge or switch accordingly. In addition, Harris’ defender has the option to go under the last screen, which would effectively eliminate the lob option (although Harris could then pop out for an open 3 point attempt.)
A lot of what the Nuggets run is simple read and react with Jokic making the primary decisions.
Why it Worked: This play was supposed to be a quick down screen into a handoff for Gallinari, but both Mudiay & Jokic read the overplay, so Mudiay cuts to the basket and Jokic rarely misses a cutter. The overplay on Mudiay is especially foolish because he’s not a good shooter, and there’s no need to defend a guy like that so tightly. Although Dunn could be switching onto Gallinari, and switches are vulnerable to slip screens.
How to Adjust: The Lakers should use a quicker big to ball pressure Jokic when he’s at the top of the key, because when defenders sag off of him, he’s like a quarterback with a clean pocket and no pass rush — someone’s going to eventually get open. It’s on the Lakers’ perimeter players — Russell, Clarkson, Young and Lou — to remain disciplined and not overplay Denver’s guards.
Attacking Denver’s Guards
When San Antonio played Denver recently, Tony Parker thrashed them in the pick and roll.
Why it Worked: Mudiay goes over the screen and Jokic soft hedges, freeing up Parker for the open elbow jumper. D’Angelo Russell will likely have a lot of midrange opportunities against the Nuggets, although he’s struggled from midrange this season, shooting just 34.9 FG% from 10 to 16 feet.
How to Adjust: The Nuggets like to soft hedge, so look for Russell to try and take advantage of that, as he did in the preseason. If his jumper isn’t falling, Russell should look to attack the rim, as Jokic often gets into foul trouble.
Notes: Denver is 4-6 over their last 10 games, dragging a DRTG of 114.4 along with them during that time span. The Laker bigs face a potential mismatch in Wilson Chandler, a 6’8 SF who can act as a stretch 4 and is capable of scoring in bunches. Keeping him in check will take away another element of the Nuggets offense. If the Lakers can attack Denver’s guards and limit Jokic as much as possible, they should be able to win.
By: Michael Taylor
[su_label type=”default” class=”center”]Michael Taylor (Twitter: @LFRMBT) is LFR’s 1st round draft pick. Much like Luke Walton with Brandon Ingram, we think that the best thing for Michael’s development is a lot of hands-on experience, producing Game Previews, Post-Game Reports, and various other articles for us. [/su_label]