Shooting close to the basket and getting wide-open looks should make an offense run smoother in the NBA. However, the Denver Nuggets are struggling in those two categories as they continue an eight-game homestand on Sunday night against the Indiana Pacers.
Through 40 games, Denver ranks 27th in the NBA in field goal percentage at shots less than 5 feet or under, hitting just 54.4 percent of their attempts in that range. Compare that to the NBA-leading San Antonio Spurs who are hitting 64.4 percent of their attempts from that distance.
Ironically, Denver is second in the league at attempts from 5 feet or under at 34.1 attempts per game. Denver head coach Michael Malone is glad his team is getting to the rim, but is frustrated at his team’s ability to finish.
“I told our guys that’s why when we don’t finish in practice, that’s why we get upset,” Malone said after practice on Saturday. “It carries over into the game and we have to create good habits. We’re not finishing at the rim and this is through 40 games.”
Malone said he and the coaching staff made an extra push on the importance of finishing during Saturday’s practice.
“We spent about 20 minutes today working left hand, right hand, coaches with pads, coaches with a stick, and working on finishing with contact and being able to use the rim to protect your shot,” Malone said. “It’s about getting comfortable being uncomfortable with the contact. It’s tough to simulate game speed but our coaches do a great job with player development and putting them in situations that we are failing in games. When you’ve done all of the hard work and you’ve beaten your man off the dribble and you get to the rim and here comes the defense, finish. Finish. Floater. Whatever it may be.”
Another frustration for Malone is the lack of converting wide-open shots. When a defender is 6 feet or more away from the shooter, Denver ranks 29th in the league in field goal percentage. At 43 percent, only the Los Angeles Lakers (41 percent) shoot worse when they are wide open.
“If you’re defending as well as we’ve been defending lately, the offense should be easy,” Malone lamented. “We should be getting easier baskets and it seems like we have to work for everything on the offensive end of the floor.”
It’s been a frustrating journey for Malone and the Nuggets this season as there have been very few games when both the offense and the defense have clicked in the same game. The coach, however, is looking at the big picture and how his team is improving.
“When adversity strikes, most people say I have to do more. We have to combat that. When those situations arise, it has to be we have to do more. More we and less me,” Malone said. “We’re trying to stay positive and understand that, as our defense gets better, there has to be a reward. Play with greater pace. Throw the ball ahead. Share the ball. When we play like we did in the first half in Miami (a Friday night loss), we held them to 44 percent and the ball moved. We weren’t playing against a set defense the whole time. It goes hand in hand.
“We’re 3-2 in our last five games. Overall, in the month of January, our defense has been really good. We gave ourselves a goal of being 6-2 on this homestand. That’s still attainable.”