Moore: Deciphering the Nuggets’ Maddening Shooting (And How to Bet It)

Moore: Deciphering the Nuggets’ Maddening Shooting (And How to Bet It) article feature image

Photo credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Malik Beasley

  • The Denver Nuggets have been perhaps the most volatile shooting team in the NBA Playoffs so far.
  • Matt Moore takes a look at whether their shooting is predictable and how to bet them vs. the Blazers (and moving forward).

No playoff team has looked more wildly different from night-to-night than the Denver Nuggets.

One night, their weapons are firing on all cylinders, Nikola Jokic is slinging the ball around at high velocity, the cutters and shooters are a step ahead of the defense and the offense is rolling. On other nights, they are wholly inept, being kept at arm’s length by limited teams in these playoffs like the Spurs and Blazers — the former by their roster and shot selection and the latter by the injury to Jusuf Nurkic.

It’s a Make-or-Miss League

Denver has three sub-50% true shooting percentage nights in these playoffs, the most of any team in the second round and second-most of all teams in the playoffs. Only Detroit, overwhelmed vs. Milwaukee and without Blake Griffin for the start of the series, has more.

Unsurprisingly, when the Nuggets shoot poorly, they lose, going 1-2 with a TS% under 50%. And, by extension, their team totals go poorly in such scenarios as well, going 0-3, with an average differential between implied total and actual total of -16.9 points. They don’t just miss their team total marks. They slam into the ground and bury themselves miles below the surface.

What’s interesting is that the Nuggets seem to carry a majority of the influence on the combined totals, and that so much of it is simply about making open shots.

In the three games this postseason in which Denver posted a true shooting mark under 50%, the game total went 0-3; in the six games over 50%, the combined total went 5-1. That’s despite the Nuggets going only 4-2 straight-up in those situations and the team total going 4-2, with two games missing the mark by a combined point. (The Hook: it is a vicious monster sent from Hell to destroy us all.)

None of this is shocking on the surface.

“What’s that? The team that shoots like dog feces loses and hits the under?”

But it’s the control they have that seems to matter most. When the Nuggets shoot well, the combined totals are 5-1, and when they shoot poorly the totals are 0-3.

Is the Nuggets’ Shooting Predictable?

So, the question is: How on earth do you predict what you can get out of this Denver team shooting-wise?

For starters, the Nuggets weren’t lights-out this season on great shots. They were 15th in points per possession on unguarded catch-and-shoot jumpers. They were fine. The issue is that when they’ve lost this year, they’ve been horrific.

What’s stunning is these aren’t poor shots forced from bad shooters. This one is pretty prolific for Denver’s shooting woes in Game 2:

It’s not just that the Nuggets missed these looks — it’s that they missed them in the most painful way possible: halfway down and out. They needed very few of these to drop in Game 2 to cruise to a victory. Hit two and the game is close enough to swing their way late. That would also double the number they hit that night.

The Blazers aren’t limiting what Denver shoots or who shoots them; they’re gambling and getting Luck to be a Lady.

The Blazers are sending hard doubles at Nikola Jokic, and sending them higher. They are daring the Nuggets’ perimeter players to make them pay. San Antonio did this, and the Nuggets found ways to adjust with Jokic and Jamal Murray in the pick-and-roll, and the Nuggets shooters punished them.

There isn’t a hard solve for Jokic, at least not from the Blazers, but they can get away with it if the Nuggets clank shots like these:

The question, of course, is… how do you predict this? If Denver has the second-most games with a TS% over 60% (3) and the most games of any second-round team with a TS% under 50% (3), how do you predict it?

How to Bet the Nuggets

You don’t. But you should live bet the heck out of it.

The Nuggets are undefeated when leading after the first quarter. They are undefeated when leading after the second quarter. They are undefeated when leading after the third quarter.

Not all three combined — any of them. If they get a lead, they’re shooting well and they’re winning. If they’re not shooting well, they are doomed. Denver is 2-3 when losing after the first quarter, 1-4 when losing at half and 1-4 when trailing after three quarters.

The Nuggets are a young team still earning their playoff chops. Some nights, they’re hit with a drain of energy and things go to pieces. When they look good, they look dominant, and they’re in a favorable matchup vs. Portland. As this series progresses, the best way to approach it may be to live bet based on how Denver’s shooting the ball.

It’s all or nothing with them: juggernaut to whelpling from game-to-game. Take advantage of that. The Nuggets are 6-3 against the second-half moneyline this postseason, and in those games in which they posted a true shooting mark above 50%? 4-1.

When the Nuggets are hot, you want to ride them.