The Denver Nuggets Shooting at the Rim Needs Improvement

Nov 8, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Emmanuel Mudiay (0) reacts during the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. the Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Denver Nuggets 108-107. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 8, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Emmanuel Mudiay (0) reacts during the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. the Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Denver Nuggets 108-107. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets have been stung down the stretch a few times this year, but it might be what leads up to the final minutes that is hurting the team the most.

In games decided by late heroics or a controversial officiating call, fans are quick to point to those moments as the reason for a win or loss. Coaches and players, though, commonly cite a multitude of earlier plays that have just as much impact on wins and losses.

The Nuggets have been on the wrong side of such endings twice so far this year and are just 2-3 in games decided by five points or less. And while late buckets by the Trailblazers’ Damian Lillard and the Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol have stung, the Denver Nuggets shooting, particularly at the rim, has put them in these situations to be let down late.

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Denver is getting more than its fair share of high percentage shots. In fact, according to Basketball Reference, 36.5% of all the team’s shots are either dunks or layups. That percentage is the highest in the NBA, as of November 10. Also, the average Denver Nuggets shooting distance is at 12.1 feet from the basket, ranking tied for fourth closest.

The quality of the Denver Nuggets shots is not in question. The success rate, however, is leaving much to be desired and many points on the table.

We’ll take a look at how the Nuggets are fairing from short distance, who some of the main culprits are for the inefficiency, and where other opportunities on the court are for high-quality shots.

Oct 16, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Denver Nuggets center Jusuf Nurkic (23) is fouled by Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) and forward Al-Farouq Aminu (8) during the first quarter at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

How Are the Denver Nuggets Shooting on the Interior?

We’ve already identified that the Denver Nuggets have had success at getting quality shots around the rim. The problem is that their shooting percentage from close has been abysmal. The Nuggets are shooting just 56.3 percent from 0-3 feet from the basket, putting them at 27th in the NBA.

They are just one of eight teams shooting under 60 percent from less than three feet. In contrast, the Golden State Warriors (74.2 percent) and the Los Angeles Lakers (70.8 percent) are both shooting north of 70 percent around the hoop. Something little like finishing at the rim has had huge implications for a Lakers team above .500 and exceeding expectations.

Meanwhile, the Denver Nuggets are 3-5 and quite possibly two missed layups away from being 5-3 instead.

Nov 10, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Emmanuel Mudiay (0) drives to the net against Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) and forward Kevin Durant (35) in the second quarter at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Which Nuggets Are Struggling the Most at the Rim?

Kenneth Faried and Jusuf Nurkic are the two Nuggets who have had the most opportunity to help the team in this area. Both players have taken 68.9 percent of their respective shots from within three feet. Nurkic’s average shot distance is 3.1 feet from the rim, and Faried’s is 4.3 feet from the rim.

Again, Michael Malone has to be happy with the number of layups that these two interior players are getting. The finishing, though, has been below average. Nurkic is making just 55.3% of his layups and dunks, but Faried has plummeted from 0-3 feet at just 45.2 percent. For his career, Faried is shooting 65.5 percent from this distance.

Faried’s interior scoring has to be the biggest concern for the Denver Nuggets when taken in context of his career numbers. The drop is significant and won’t help the team if they look to trade the big man.

Nurkic, on the other hand, is shooting right at his career average from this area and is shooting above .500 from the field for the first time in his career (54.1 percent). Malone and the Nuggets should be much less concerned about Nurkic’s early-season production.

The interior inefficiency has certainly been a problem. A few wins slipped through the Nuggets’ fingertips as a result. However, there is another area of the court, if exploited more often, that can provide more desirable outcomes.

Dec 20, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Will Barton (5) shoots a three point shot over New Orleans Pelicans forward Dante Cunningham (44) during the second half at Pepsi Center. The Pelicans won 130-125. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets and the Corner Three

The Nuggets are shooting a higher percentage of layups and dunks than any other NBA team but are connecting at a poor percentage. The exact opposite is true when we look at the corner three.

Denver is in the middle of the pack when looking at percentage of 3-pointers taken and 3-point percentage. The team takes 29.0 percent of its shots from beyond the arc is making 35.2 percent. Those numbers rank 16th and 14th in the NBA, respectively.

Where we see the disconnect, though, is from the corner. The Denver Nuggets are making 48.6 percent of all corner 3-pointers. That’s good enough for third in the league. However, the team ranks 25th in percentage of total 3-pointers taken from the corner. The Nuggets have taken 199 shots from deep, but only 37 (18.6 percent) have come from the corner.

The Denver Nuggets are a few shots and a few seconds away from being above .500. Improving their finishing at the rim undoubtedly needs to be a point of emphasis moving forward. Faried being merely average will help this.

A higher volume of corner 3-pointers might have even greater impact on the win column, though. After all, three points will always be more than two.

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