It seems like an eternity has passed since Nuggets coach Michael Malone sat in a press conference and explained how badly the team needed to improve its shooting. In reality, it was only two short years ago.
Right now, the Nuggets are having no such issues.
Three-point jump shots are falling like rain. And they are hitting the mark more than ever before. It is the preseason, to be sure, and the defensively-challenged L.A. Lakers have accounted for two of the three opponents, but these numbers are eye-opening just the same.
The Nuggets are averaging 14 3-point makes per game, meaning they are scoring 42 points every night from the arc alone. They have made no fewer than 13 in any of their three preseason games. And they are making 46.2 percent of them, which is an extraordinarily high percentage.
“We’ve got a lot of shooters,” guard Will Barton said. “I didn’t know we were going to make 13 a game, but we’ve got a lot of guys that can put the ball in the hole and make open shots, and make tough shots.”
In some ways this is simply carryover from last season. Post All-Star, the Nuggets were one of the most prolific 3-point shooting teams in the NBA, making 11.3 per game. The percentage, however, was 36.4 percent. All of this begs the questions: Why are they shooting it so well? Can it carry over to the regular season? And what are the benefits of taking – and making – so many shots from the arc, beyond the points they provide?
Barton is embodiment of why the Nuggets’ 3-point shooting has added benefits beyond the three points. Defenses are becoming stretched due to sticking close and scrambling out to shooters. And when defenses are stretched, driving lanes are wide open.
“Everybody knows I want to live in the paint,” Barton said. “You can see from the preseason that I’m just getting into the paint and kicking out. I know my guys are ready to shoot and ready to make shots. So now, that’s going to make driving lanes (bigger). Right now, I’m playing possum, driving and looking to pass. Now, making more threes, (defenders) aren’t going to help and I can just get to the rim and finish or make plays at the rim.”
Slashers like Barton, Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Wilson Chandler stand to reap the rewards of unclogged lanes due to the shooting. Many of those players are also reasons why the team’s 3-point percentage is so high.
Murray has made 69.2 percent (9-of-13) of his 3-pointers. Harris has made 55.6 percent (5-of-9) from the arc, and Mudiay has hit 44.4 percent (4-of-9) of his 3-point tries. Nikola Jokic leads the team at 80 percent (4-of-5), and Juancho Hernangomez has nailed 57.1 percent (8-of-14) of his tries. Even Paul Millsap has made 55.6 percent of his 3-pointers.
“It’s not just that we’re taking a lot of shots, but the quality of shot that we’re getting,” Malone said. “A lot of teams can go out there and jack shots and take bad shots. I think the quality of 3-point shot that we’re creating are all good looks, for the most part. Very few are poor shots or contested shots. And those shots are coming from pace, coming from ball movement and are coming from guys passing up good shots to get great shots.”
And they are hitting from all angles. The Nuggets have taken the fewest amount in the corners, but are 9-of-17 (52.9 percent) in those shots from the left and right corners. They are 32-of-66 (48.5 percent) in above the break 3-point shots. In overall catch-and-shoot jump shot situations, the Nuggets have generated uncontested looks about 38 percent of the time, per Synergy, and have made 61 percent of those looks.
“We make the defensive team move around a lot,” Murray said. “We get a lot of good looks, and we make the most of them.”
“The ball movement and the unselfishness is there,” Malone said. “And I think all of our guys understand that’s who we are and that’s how we need to play.”
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.