The lineups leading the Denver Nuggets to the NBA Finals feature an interesting collection of star power, role players, and skill sets. Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray are often on the court, and they’ve helped to elevate the lineups around them with elite offensive creation in a variety of ways. Even with elite offensive talent though, the Nuggets wouldn’t be where they are without building a rotation full of capable defenders, shooters, and role players. The Nuggets have a plethora of talent at head coach Michael Malone’s disposal, and he’s deployed his players excellently in the playoffs so far.

There have been 20 five-man lineup combinations to play at least 10 possessions together in the playoffs during non-garbage time situations, according to Cleaning the Glass. Only one group has played over 100 possessions together. The starters have played an astounding 561 possessions as a unit, the most among all playoff units by far. That’s the group the Nuggets rely upon the most, but there have been other units to close games, play key stretches, and have notable successes and failures.

Here’s a look at the lineup data on the Nuggets’ most popular five-man units and how Malone has managed his rotations:

The three best Nuggets lineups on OFFENSE

  1. Bruce Brown, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Jeff Green – 33 possessions, 154.5 O Rating
  2. Jamal Murray, Bruce Brown, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokić – 93 possessions, 140.9 O Rating
  3. Jamal Murray, Bruce Brown, Michael Porter Jr., Jeff Green, Nikola Jokić – 69 possessions, 140.6 O Rating

Right off the bat, there’s an interesting group to discuss: the most surprising lineup of the playoff run features no Jamal Murray and no Nikola Jokić.

The top lineup featuring Brown, KCP, Porter, Gordon, and Green hasn’t played a ton of time together, but there were specific instances when it won Denver games. Notably, Game 2 against the Minnesota Timberwolves was a big game for MPJ. When the Nuggets were losing 89-87 entering the fourth quarter, MPJ scored the next eight points in a row to give the Nuggets a six-point lead that Denver never truly relinquished. The entire group played great defense, but it was Porter’s shotmaking that elevated this group to new heights.

The next two groups feature a quartet of players that has been special in these playoffs: Murray, Brown, Porter, and Jokić. The Nuggets know they can trust Brown to fill in at different roles, but throughout the season, he often replaced Murray or Porter in staggered lineups. In the playoffs though, Brown has taken off as a shooting guard for KCP, operating next to Denver’s top three offensive threats and doing all of the little things necessary to help the offense go. When it’s those top three scorers and Brown out there, the Nuggets are posting a ridiculous 140.5 offensive rating.

The Nuggets can pick and choose the times to play Gordon or Green next to that quartet. Both lineups have defended extremely well, but they score in different ways. With Gordon, there’s more offensive rebounding, cutting, and trips to the free throw line. When it’s Green, the spacing and level of shooting has reached insane levels (67.2 eFG%). Both lineups have been extremely successful with Denver’s best offensive players locking in on the defensive side of the court.

The three worst Nuggets lineups on OFFENSE

  1. Jamal Murray, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Bruce Brown, Aaron Gordon, Jeff Green – 12 possessions, 50.0 O Rating
  2. Jamal Murray, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Christian Braun, Aaron Gordon, Jeff Green – 14 possessions, 92.9 O Rating
  3. Bruce Brown, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr., Jeff Green, Nikola Jokić – 68 possessions, 95.6 O Rating

The Nuggets don’t have a ton of bad offensive lineups right now, but there are definitely some groups that have struggled to score. If allotted more minutes, these groups would likely see offensive ratings normalize a bit, but it’s still notable where and how the Nuggets have struggled offensively.

Off the bat, the two lineups at the top don’t include either Jokić or Porter. They are groups the Nuggets have used as staggered bench lineups at various points to little offensive success. It’s a lot of pressure for Murray to run isolations and post ups exclusively in those lineups, but that’s what’s often happening. In addition, Gordon has struggled in these playoffs to create his own offense, shooting just 36.4% on drives, which he often goes to in isolation situations. Denver’s offense still struggles to find consistent rhythm without Jokić, which shouldn’t surprise anybody.

The final lineup is a group that should be better offensively than it has been so far. Jokić and Porter return while Murray sits. Brown replaces him, and Green replaces Gordon. For whatever reason, that lineup has maintained just a 45.8 eFG% in the playoffs, either not generating good shots or simply not converting on those good shots. Denver will need more from that group in the Finals though, as Murray and Gordon will have to find opportunities to rest.

The three best Nuggets lineups on DEFENSE

  1. Bruce Brown, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Jeff Green – 33 possessions, 80.0 D Rating
  2. Bruce Brown, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Christian Braun, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokić – 14 possessions, 84.6 D Rating
  3. Jamal Murray, Bruce Brown, Christian Braun, Jeff Green, DeAndre Jordan – 12 possessions, 95.6 D Rating

The great thing about the top lineup is its Denver’s offensive AND defensive lineup. A +74.6 Net Rating in 33 possessions for the primary bench group that doesn’t feature either Jokić or Murray. It was a big surprise to see that lineup shine offensively, but it’s less of a surprise to see it excel on defense. Porter has made strides on that end, and with how switchable and versatile a lineup can be with Brown at point guard and Green at center, most teams have struggled to score.

The next lineup features the group that started against the Memphis Grizzlies on December 20th and allowed just 91 points. Brown in place of Murray and Braun in place of Porter makes for an impressive group of hustling wings that are smart, switchable, and competitive. Add in Jokić to facilitate things offensively and rebound everything defensively, and it’s a lineup that may see the floor at some point in the NBA Finals.

Finally, a group the Nuggets haven’t used since the first round. DeAndre Jordan makes an appearance in a lineup that has played just 12 possessions but done its job as a defensive unit in the process. Murray and Brown and done a decent job offensively here, and the combination of an elite rebounder with two hounding wings in Brown and Braun seems to have helped in those brief minutes. It’s unlikely Denver sees this group again, but it’s not impossible.

The three worst Nuggets lineups on DEFENSE

  1. Jamal Murray, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr., Jeff Green, Nikola Jokić – 36 possessions, 145.5 D Rating
  2. Jamal Murray, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Bruce Brown, Aaron Gordon, Jeff Green – 12 possessions, 136.4 D Rating
  3. Bruce Brown, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokić – 61 possessions, 132.8 D Rating

Even though the Nuggets have some lineups that have struggled defensively, the majority of their groups have been average, good, or even elite on that end. The three listed lineups have the worst numbers on the defensive end though. It’s interesting to see KCP listed in all three lineups, given that he’s been one of Denver’s best defenders all season. In the first two rounds though, KCP had some tough matchups against Anthony Edwards and Devin Booker, so that probably contributes a lot.

Denver’s worst defensive groups, unsurprisingly, feature at least two of Murray, Porter, and Jokić. Those are probably their three weakest defenders in the rotation, but also the driving forces behind their offensive success. Interestingly, that top lineup featuring Green with the starters has a defensive rating of 112.9 when subbing out Green for Gordon, their starting group. The Nuggets have allowed a 74.1 eFG% and 30.0 offensive rebounding rate with that top group, and it’s easy to see why the lineup hasn’t been successful.

For whatever reason, the last lineup has never been a great defensive group, even during the regular season. One would think that subbing out Murray for Brown would elevate Denver’s defense, but if anything, Denver’s defense has diminished. It will have to be better in the next round though, because that lineup will undoubtedly see minutes in the first and third quarters when the Nuggets try to stagger Murray.

The Nuggets are credited for their success due to Jokić and Murray most of the time, but the entire Nuggets rotation has played a part. Porter and Gordon have been versatile weapons on both ends of the floor. KCP and Brown are elite role players on the wings that can make things happen. Green and Braun have mostly stepped up when called upon as well.

Having an eight-man rotation of capable options is such a luxury for Michael Malone. Most teams at this stage have tried out several players on their bench that weren’t in the initial rotations because those initial plans didn’t work. Denver’s plans have worked almost perfectly. There are very few negative plus-minus players in the rotation right now, and it’s entirely cancelled out by how dominant Jokić and Murray have been during this run. Malone’s been able to trust the plan, and the Nuggets have yet to let him down thus far (*knocks on wood).

Whether Denver’s eight-man rotation will hold up during the Finals is a different story entirely. Either the Boston Celtics or Miami Heat will emerge from the other side of the bracket, and the Nuggets will have to match up with the strengths and weaknesses those teams present. Perhaps Denver could use another true center at some point and bring out Jordan again. Perhaps Reggie Jackson gets another chance if Denver needs a scoring guard. Maybe it’s a player like Vlatko Čančar, Zeke Nnaji, or Peyton Watson, a trio of forwards/bigs that could give a similar look from a different player.

Ultimately though, Malone and the Nuggets have liked their eight guys. They trust this group and believe in it, and Nuggets fans should too. At no point so far have the Nuggets steered their fans wrong.