Who Should Take the Last Shot for Denver?


The Mile High City can now rejoice! A gutsy road win over the Celtics on Monday night has clinched Denver their first playoff appearance since 2013. Having missed the playoffs by one game in each of the last two seasons, it must be a good feeling for this team and organization to finally see their hard work paying off. Having said that, Denver now needs to consider a big question for this young and inexperienced team: Who takes the last shot?

NBA’s “Clutchest” Players

Down the stretch of the NBA season, we are starting to see closer games and the importance of a go-to scorer– someone who you trust with the ball in their hands in late game situations. This has been one of the biggest critiques about the Nuggets this year. When looking at other top western conference teams, you can point to a clear go-to scorer- Paul George for OKC, Damian Lillard for Portland, Kevin Durant (or Steph Curry) for GSW, and obviously the bearded one in Houston. If it wasn’t obvious already, these guys are all the clear stars of their team as well.

Should it Be Jokic?

To answer the question: Yes, Denver does have a clear star player– Nikola Jokic. So it would seem that a sufficient answer to this question would be “Of course, Jokic is taking the last shot.” But it’s not this simple.

Jokic is not like the rest of these stars. He is much more unique, and sometimes very spotty. He is not your typical star averaging 30 a game and always taking the important shots. There have always been questions about his aggressiveness, (or lack thereof). One game he seems like a confident scorer from the post and the perimeter, looking for his shot whenever possible. The next game he seems to be extremely passive, giving up open jumpers or post opportunities to pass to teammates. He can practically disappear for the majority of a game on the offensive end, which is scary. On top of this inconsistency, Jokic also seems to find himself in foul trouble in a lot of games. This obviously limits his impact and time on the court.

This season, Denver’s identity has been team basketball all the way. It is very reminiscent of the San Antonio Spurs dynasty years with Parker, Ginobili and Duncan. Many guys have stepped up and have taken over parts of games. We’ve even seen this out of role players like Malik Beasley and Monte Morris. The team plays at a different level when they are sharing and moving the ball effectively with few turnovers. And let me tell you, it is FUN to watch. So, maybe not having one go-to guy is good, right? After all, Denver is 12-3 in games decided by three points or less. These wins have been the difference in this year’s season from the last two.

Last Shot Success and Failure

Specifically looking at game tying or winning final shot opportunities this season, Denver has had their fair share of them. They have won on a Jokic 15-foot miss and Paul Millsap tip in, a Jokic missed 4-foot shot and tip in himself, a running floater by Jokic, a 9-foot leaning jumper by Jokic, and a layup by Millsap. They have lost on a Jokic fading three, a missed three by Beasley, and a missed jumper by Gary Harris. It is pretty clear Jokic gets the majority of these opportunities, and it is safe to say he has done fairly well, going 3-6 in game winners (if you count his miss before his tip in).

The beauty of this team is that they have different weapons for different situations. Millsap has the most experience by far, but is not known for his scoring ability. Jokic clearly can get it done when he needs to, but this is assuming he is being aggressive and hasn’t fouled out. If you’re needing a 3, you’re probably looking at Jamal Murray or Gary Harris. Murray is the more streaky guy- when he is on, it seems like he can’t miss. Harris has had success in 3 point game winners, hitting one over Westbrook last season. Will Barton is also a guy known for his scoring ability, but can take bad shots at times.

All in all, we could potentially see any of the starting guys get the ball for the last shot in a game. This is what makes the Nuggets starting 5 so dangerous. You really don’t know who is getting the ball for the game-winning shot. This makes the team a lot tougher to game plan against. If you ask me, your best bet for success is clearing out a side of the court and posting up Jokic or Millsap and letting them go to work. If you need a three, I’m running a play to get Harris open.

So is the “issue” of who takes the last shot really an issue for Denver? Or is it a blessing in disguise..

About Fred Albino

I am a Business Management major attending Xavier University, expected to graduate in 2021. I'm from Dayton, Ohio, and I have a huge passion for sports and fitness.

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