Interim head coach Melvin Hunt has done a hell of job making the Denver Nuggets watchable again, but for all his efforts, this team is still capable of throwing up stinkers like Wednesday night’s 99-85 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

How, after blowing out the Orlando Magic on the road and hanging tough against playoff teams like the Houston Rockets and Miami Heat, can the Nuggets lay such an egg, especially on their home court? It might have something to do with the front office’s obvious desire to win as few games as possible the rest of the season, even if it means sitting players against their will. The Nuggets had everyone available against Philadelphia, but center Jusuf Nurkic played just seven minutes, and there were other glaring absences late in the game:

It’s a fun theory, that the team’s front office is sucking the life force out of their roster. It’s also possible that – as former head coaches Brian Shaw and George Karl have said plenty of times – the Nuggets just have a tendency to play down to their level of competition.

But really, Philadelphia won because they did what well-coached teams always do against the Nuggets – force them to take, and make, jump shots. And has been the case in what feels like forever, the Nuggets just aren’t able to hit enough shots to keep defenses honest.

The Nuggets are, not surprisingly, one of the worst shooting teams in the NBA this season. They’re shooting 43 percent from the field, fifth worse in the league, and they’ve shot threes at the second-worst clip in basketball.

The question is, how much of those shooting struggles is because Denver lacks shooters, and how much of it was due to the painful process that was Shaw’s offense? Open looks weren’t easy to come by under Shaw – far too often, when the first action failed, there was no back up plan, which lead to a lot of isolation. Most of this took place before Danilo Gallinari was looking spry, and outside of the forward and point guard Ty Lawson, the Nuggets struggle to get good looks without zipping the ball around.

The burden has been lessened a bit since Jameer Nelson (who can still knock down an open three) joined the team mid-season. Still, Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Nelson, Lawson – all of the team’s three-point threats are having down years shooting the basketball.

That leads to a whole bunch of other spacing issues, but besides the on-the-court problems, Denver’s lack of shooting is affecting the team in other, more important, ways – namely, that it makes getting guards Gary Harris and Erick Green on the floor difficult at best.

It’s difficult to fault the two rookies for their struggles shooting the ball with such little playing time, and Green at least has shown the occasional stroke from downtown. But even coming into the league, Harris was known as more of a defensive presence than a shooter. The Nuggets could sure use some defensive help on the perimeter, but without any other threats outside and no go-to big man down low, playing Harris is a death sentence to the team’s spacing.

And the Nuggets need Harris, and Green, out on the floor. Foye is a consummate veteran, one who is under team control for at least two more seasons, but at this point in his career, he’d be best served by coming off the bench and nailing a few threes than starting and playing 34 minutes a night as he did against the 76ers. The Nuggets need to see what they have in their rookies sooner, rather than later.

Luckily, things have gotten easier under interim head coach Melvin Hunt, who’s emphasis on running and generating easy looks has made things a bit better for the Nuggets – there’s a reason Gallinari exploded for 40 points the other night. Still, with the team still capable of laying eggs like they did against Philadelphia, adding some more shooting sure be just one of the organization’s off-season priorities.

The easiest way to do that, of course, would be in the draft, which is why people in Denver were so excited when the team drafted Doug McDermott for a few seconds last year until trading him to the Chicago Bulls. Not many people are arguing with the results of that trade, but finding a similar player with the ability to score, either in the draft or free agency, to pair with Harris and Green would be a nice start towards solving the team’s spacing problems.

Look at teams like the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, and Atlanta Hawks. Running is fun, but sprinkling shooters out on the floor makes getting easy buckets a whole lot easier. Nobody is sure what Denver’s roster will look like after this off-season, but hopefully it will include a few more players who can catch on fire from outside.

Zach Marburger is a staff writer for Mile High Sports. He can be reached via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @BurchBurger.

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