More Screens For Jamal Murray: An Offensive Adjustment For The Denver Nuggets [Film Study]
The Denver Nuggets are gearing up for a win-or-go-home Game Seven of their Western Conference Semifinal series versus the Portland Trail Blazers on the heels of a loss in which they struggled to hit shots. Their effective field goal percentage (eFG) of 45.3% was their second worst of the series and third worst of the postseason overall, according to NBA.com, and they will need to ramp up their scoring efficiency in order to defeat Portland and advance to the conference finals.
While Jamal Murray did shoot a commendable 50% on 3-pointers in Game Six, going three of six from the arc, he shot just four of 14 on 2-point field goals, or 28.6%, resulting in an eFG% of 42.5% per NBA.com, his second lowest percentage of the series. And although his final stat line of 24 points, 10 rebounds, five assists with no turnovers and a steal was impressive notwithstanding the shooting inefficiency, the Nuggets are going to need Murray to deliver on big shots in key moments more consistently and reliably if they are to outlast the offensive onslaught of Portland guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
One of the reasons for Murray’s struggles was the pestering defense of the Blazers, and in particular Rodney Hood, who in a smart and successful adjustment by Blazers head coach Terry Stotts spent the most possessions guarding Murray among all Portland players. Hood and company did an effective job of making life tough for Murray, as they chased him around screens, hounding him with physical play that made it difficult to get clean shots off.
The following video of plays from Games Five and Six of the Nuggets versus Blazers series exhibits several examples of Portland’s defense harassing Murray, most often as he comes off screens set by Nikola Jokic.
In my previous film study, I took a deep dive into the Jokic-Murray two-man game and the many looks on offense they are able to create through their extensive use of pick-and-rolls and handoffs. Leaning heavily on the duo has been so effective for Denver that it seems like a bridge too far to suggest that they have relied on it too much. It is often run, however, without the involvement of the other three players on the court, and some of its permutations could become more effective by enlisting a little help.