The Nuggets are averaging just 84.9 points per 100 plays in the half-court this season after scoring 95.5 a year ago and after a couple games where it looked like Denver was ironing out some creases on that end of the floor, the Nuggets as an offensive unit took a step back in their 17-point defeat in Portland Monday night.
On the season, Denver is still the 14th-most efficient offense in the league, but that's in a large part due to the Nuggets being second in putback points and fourth in transition scoring. Right now Denver is getting the "easy points" (Ben Falk's words), which is a crucial component to their attack but Denver is struggling to execute in the half-court.
Take this set from Monday night for example. Typically, good things happen when Nikola Jokic brings the ball up the floor and dribbles into a dribble-hand-off sequence with one of the Nuggets' wings. He gets that here with Wilson Chandler.
As Chandler, who had one of his better games of the season and scored 14 points on 5-9 shooting to go with seven rebounds and six assists, rubs off Jokic, he's got a wide open lane to cut through — something that surely would have been a layup last season — but stops at the three-point line where Jokic passes him the ball. Nuggets' analyst Scott Hastings also pointed this same thing out on the broadcast.
The play ends with an open Mudiay three, which clangs off the rim. Denver only tallied 13 assists against Portland and just one in the second half (upon further review of the film it should have been more) but the low assist numbers allude to how the Nuggets' offense just isn't all the way there yet.
There's not a ton of movement off-ball and not having Gary Harris in the lineup, who's one of Denver's best off-ball movers, certainly hurt.
There's still plenty of time this season to get Denver's offense performing at levels close to what they were for larger parts of last year, but Monday night's loss was a step back after a couple of encouraging wins.