Coach Michael Malone did not show all of Denver’s 18 turnovers during the Nuggets’ extensive Wednesday film session.
But that was a prominent topic. Again.
Turnovers were a critical part of Denver’s second-half tailspin in Tuesday’s 106-77 loss at Utah, with the Jazz turning those Nuggets miscues into 28 points. Now with a 20-game sample size, Denver’s heavy dose of giveaways is not an occasional blip on the stat sheet. It’s a concerning part of the identity of a Nuggets team with playoff aspirations, a weakness players and coaches are still aiming to correct.
“We’re not splitting mercury here,” Malone said. “This is pretty fundamental stuff.”
Denver entered Wednesday ranked 28th out of 30 teams with 16.7 turnovers per game. The Nuggets are last in opponent points off turnovers at (21.3), 1.5 points more than 29th-place Phoenix. The lack of ball security has become so routine that reserve big man Mason Plumlee said after Tuesday’s loss that the high volume of turnovers was due to “just us being us again.”
Against Utah, backup point guard Emmanuel Mudiay totaled five turnovers and starter Jamal Murray had three. But the problem is not confined to Denver’s young backcourt. Four of Denver’s five starters had multiple turnovers against the Jazz (Juancho Hernangomez was the exception). Overall, eight players (including injured all-star Paul Millsap) are averaging 1.5 turnovers or more per game.
But is the issue fixable? Malone spent much of Wednesday breaking down why the Nuggets’ turnovers are happening under a variety of circumstances.
On three possessions against the Jazz, the backdoor cutter took two steps and then stopped, while the passer still delivered the ball to what would have been the proper location. Mudiay dribbled into traffic and got swiped against an aggressive Utah team that ranks second in the NBA in steals (9.7). The Nuggets often get caught trying to make a spectacular play over a simple one, Malone said.
“We have to have greater focus, greater discipline for longer periods of time,” the coach said. “Right now, it’s just inconsistent.”
Malone pinpointed the final three minutes of Tuesday’s first quarter, when Denver gave the ball away on three of four possessions to help flip a 19-14 lead into a 26-22 deficit. It’s not a coincidence that the Nuggets committed just three turnovers in a second quarter they won 25-22, Malone emphasized. Then, Denver had seven turnovers for 11 points in a third quarter in which it quickly relinquished the lead for good.
The Nuggets might get a respite Thursday against the lowly Chicago Bulls, who ranked 29th in turnovers forced (13 per game) and last in fewest points scored off turnovers (13.5 per game) entering Wednesday.
But through 20 games, unforced errors have been an ugly part of the Nuggets’ identity.
“We won’t beat (Utah) if we continue to do that,” Malone said. “Or many other people, for that matter.”