National Basketball Association
3 points: Denver's dynamic duo, Milwaukee's breakthrough and Jrue Holiday's new role
National Basketball Association

3 points: Denver's dynamic duo, Milwaukee's breakthrough and Jrue Holiday's new role

Published Mar. 12, 2024 8:12 p.m. ET

The dog days of the NBA regular season are here, but there's still plenty left to be sorted out in the standings, and plenty of trends worthy of attention. Here are three that will impact what we see come playoff time.

1. The best two-man game in the NBA?

How many recent NBA deals have aged better than the Denver Nuggets' decision to trade for Aaron Gordon prior to the 2021 trade deadline? Gordon, at the time, was a former No. 4 overall pick in his early 20s who was occasionally moonlighting as an offensive hub. Yet the Nuggets saw something that others didn't: A player who, if moved down a few slots in the pecking order, could thrive.

They were right. Gordon has excelled as a role player. He's eagerly taken on the responsibility of being the team's defensive stopper. Since acquiring him, the Nuggets are 150-77 in games where he plays.


And yet even they couldn't have foreseen Gordon and Nikola Jokic developing a bordering-on-unprecedented chemistry. The Nuggets' offense was already great, but Gordon's propensity for sneaking in off the baseline has elevated that already-impossible-to-slow attack to even greater heights.

Just look at this!

By now you're already familiar with the Jokic math: He's too big and strong and good to guard one-on-one, but too smart a passer to double. And these last-minute Gordon duck-ins mean you can't send late help, either. Also, just think about how mentally exhausting it must be to know that you have to stay locked in off the ball until you see the ball literally hit the rim — and then you have to worry about Gordon on the offensive glass.

Jokic has assisted Gordon on 96 baskets at the rim this season, according to data from PBP Stats, tied for the second most in the NBA. The only other two pairings in that vicinity are the high-frequency LeBron James and Anthony Davis (99) and the Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard (96) pick-and-roll combinations. Gordon is also averaging 1.57 points per possession on cuts, according to NBA Advanced Stats — a ridiculous mark.

Gordon deserves praise for willingly revamping his game and embracing his new role. There's also a lesson here for other NBA teams: There are all sorts of players languishing on losing teams who, if inserted into the right situation, could be the next Aaron Gordon.

2. Have Giannis and Dame figured it out?

There were a bunch of reasons why the Milwaukee Bucks decided to fire head coach Adrian Griffin and replaced him with Doc Rivers earlier this season. Their defense stunk. The players were grump. Griffin had lost the locker room's respect. But another glaring issue early in the season was how much Giannis and Dame were struggling with their two-man game.

When the Bucks traded for Dame in the summer we all assumed the pick-and-roll with him and Giannis would become one of the NBA's most dominant plays. The two seemed perfectly-suited to work in tandem. And yet it was a slog early on. Opposing defenses were trapping Dame, forcing the dump-off, and then sending help at Giannis in the middle of the floor. The bet was twofold: That the Bucks' shooters weren't good enough to beat them and that Dame, and more specifically Giannis, would grow frustrated having the ball repeatedly taken out of their hands.

They were right.

Since the All-Star break, though, Rivers has apparently made a point of working on the chemistry between Dame and Giannis.

"We've laughed about it in practice. The team, sometimes they'll laugh at shootaround, Doc will put us on one side of the floor and put everybody else on the other side of the floor," Lillard told reporters recently. "And he'll be like, ‘All right, Giannis, set the screen … throw it back … now dribble it back to Dame … Dame, throw it back.' And we're just kind of like going back and forth with each other for 15 seconds and then he'll be like, ‘All right, somebody shoot.' And then we shoot and everybody starts laughing because he's like, ‘Y'all have to play off each other. You gotta play together.'

All that work is paying off. Before the All-Star break, lineups with Lillard and Giannis on the court were scoring 122.1 points per 100 possessions. Since the break, that number's crept up to 124.8. And just watching the games you can see the chemistry improving. The actions and responses to defenses now look fluid.

Lillard has set Giannis up for 125 two-point baskets this season, according to PBP Stats, the third-best mark in the league. It's looking like the Dame-Giannis pick-and-roll just might be as dangerous as we all anticipated.

3. A Holiday in the corner

You know Jrue Holiday is one of the league's best defenders. But did you know that he's also become the most efficient corner shooter? This season he's drilled 64.4% of his 73 corner 3 attempts. No, that's not a typo. What it is, though, is another weapon that the Celtics will now have entering the playoffs.

What's interesting is that this isn't a complete aberration for Holiday. No, he's never shot this well from those spots before — no one has! — but he did connect on 45.1% of his corner looks last season.

This season, playing alongside Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kristaps Porzingis and Derrick White he's been a fourth/fifth option, meaning he's spending more time in the corners and, given the talent of those around him, getting more open looks from those spots. So, no, don't expect him to keep making corner 3s like their lay-ups, but don't be surprised if, come playoff time, he goes off in multiple games from these spots.

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports and the author of Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports. Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.

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