3 stats proving that Denver isn’t playing anywhere near its peak… and why it doesn’t matter

Writing about the NBA Finals isn’t easy. Every schmuck with a laptop is watching the same games, hitting on the same stories, and covering the same angles. We are legion: thousands of beach bums with metal detectors combing the same ten square feet of sand over and over. It can be challenging to find something new.

One thing that I’ve heard people mention but not fully explore is just how badly Denver is playing while still casually dominating. But as I dove deeper, I realized that most of these statistical indicators hide deeper truths about why the Nuggets are winning.

It’s tempting to say that if any of these trends revert closer to the mean, Denver will be a lock to win the Finals, but frankly, Denver should be a shoo-in even if they improve none of them. Hasn’t hurt them so far!


Michael Porter Jr. is blind.

I mean, probably not. But it would explain much of what my television shows me each night.

You may have heard people mention how poorly the Nuggets are shooting from deep in this series, and it’s true. The Nugs are somehow making fewer than a third of their three-pointers (32.9%), but it’s more complicated than that. Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Bruce Brown, and Aaron Gordon are actually a combined 18-for-42 from deep (42.8%, an excellent mark).

But MPJ is a paltry 3-for-19 from beyond the arc after nailing 41% on high volume during the regular season. (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is 2-for-9, too.)

In other words, four of the Nuggets’ top six rotation players are shooting at or above 38% from deep, but Porter, in particular, has been so bad that the team number looks far worse than it should.

Porter averaged more than 17 points per game in the regular season, but he’s only scored 21 total in the first three games. The Heat would love to take credit for MPJ’s struggles, but they don’t deserve it — he’s missed a ton of wide-open looks:

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Miami’s been surprisingly aggressive helping off MPJ to try and slow Jokic. It hasn’t worked at all, but they can at least breathe easy that Porter hasn’t been able to make them pay. These games could have been much uglier if Porter had shot poorly instead of horrendously. If he finds his stroke — hell, if he even figures out what zip code it’s in — Denver’s unstoppable offense becomes positively celestial.


For all the talk of Denver’s size (Gordon may as well be one of those jacked kangaroos, Porter Jr. is closer to seven feet than his listed 6’10”, and Jokic physically resembles the Stay Puft monster from Ghostbusters), they have one fewer offensive rebound than Miami in the series, 28-29, for a -1 margin.

Most pundits believed that the Heat’s ability to survive on the boards would be key to their survival. Miami hasn’t just survived. They’ve beaten Denver at its own game… on the surface.

In reality, this stat is misleading. Denver is rebounding over 29% of its own misses, while Miami is barely grabbing 22%. It’s just that Miami has missed so many more shots, so they have far more opportunities for offensive rebounds. Despite MPJ’s struggles from deep, Denver has barely missed a paint shot all series, and they’ve done an excellent job of retaining possession when they do miss a shot. We’ll talk more in the next stat about Denver’s two-point brilliance.


Excluding garbage time, Denver is forcing just 8.6 turnovers per 100 possessions against Miami, an anemic rate that falls far below the middle-of-the-pack 13.7 TO/100 Denver forced in the regular season. For context, the worst-ranked team in the regular season still created 11.6 turnovers per 100 possessions.

Preventing shot attempts isn’t the only way to stop opponents from scoring; that league-worst team in the regular season was the fearsome Milwaukee Bucks defense. But the Bucks possess some of the league’s best defenders up and down the roster. Denver has several very good stoppers in the rotation, but its two best players, Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, will never be known for their defense.

Points off turnovers come more easily than points in the halfcourt. Forcing so few turnovers should have put a squeeze on Denver’s offense, particularly in conjunction with their three-point misfires.

Instead, the Nuggets’ halfcourt offense has been invincible in the painted area. Denver players are hitting nearly three-quarters of their shots at the rim and more than half of their floater-area shots, both far above the best teams in the regular season.

Jokic and Gordon are far too big for any Miami defenders to handle if they can establish good position, though the basketball gods know Bam Adebayo is trying his best. Nobody else has a chance:

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Jamal Murray has faced a stiffer test, but outside of a quiet Game 2, he’s had his way with the Heat even when his attempts are well-contested:

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If Murray nails HORSE shots like that, no defense anywhere can stop him.

That brings us to the major problem. In this series, the Nuggets have employed the two best players. Jokic being the #1 guy isn’t a shock. But as I mentioned in my preview article, Jamal Murray was as good through the first three rounds as Jimmy Butler. He’s been better than him so far in three Finals games. (Butler hasn’t even been Miami’s best player; that’s Bam.)

And as we’ve proven today, it’s not like the Nuggets don’t have major room for improvement. Jimmy Butler could drop 40 in Game 4, and the Nuggets could still find themselves on top. You never want to write a series off when it’s 2-1 with the losing team holding a home game in hand, but this series has been lopsided even with Denver playing far below their capabilities. If they hit even 90% of their potential, the Nuggets could be champions by Monday.

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Michael Shearer is an NBA obsessive who writes to answer the questions he has about the league. You can follow him @bballispoetry. He also is a contributing writer for Fansided at Hoops Habit and writes a free NBA analytical newsletter at basketballpoetry.com that goes out every Tuesday and Friday.