You have no idea how badly I want to sit in on a film session with the Denver Nuggets. I know in this day and age players are given individual DVDs of things the coaches want them to review and I do not even know if the entire team gets together in a room and just sits and watches a quarter or half together. If they still do I want to be there.
Part of me would like to ask, “Why?” Why were you standing there? Notice how you are neither helping a teammate nor are you guarding anyone? Why did you defend the pick and roll like that? Do you see how by standing back here you compromised the entire defense? Why did you not box out? Why did no one find the ball in transition? Why did you not cut to the basket on that play?
Alas, asking those kinds of accusatory questions might not come across as constructive criticism, but watching the way the Nuggets have floundered through the previous few games I have to wonder what goes on behind closed doors. Is there any accountability? There certainly is none on the court.
The reality is Denver played very solid defense last season. They could be a dominant defensive team when they were focused and playing together as evidenced during their playoff run. I expected to see an even better defensive effort from Denver this season due to the fact that they had another year together to build their defensive cohesion and the added motivation that should have been created after reaching the doorstep of the NBA finals last season.
Sadly, the opposite is true. The Nuggets’ defense has been very porous, especially during the current losing streak. Denver has fallen to 17th in the league in defensive efficiency. They have not been that low since the 2001-02 season when they were 26th.
The lack of defense is a problem from the top down. Either the schemes are flawed or the players are not executing them correctly. Sometimes it looks like both of those problems are present at the same time which makes it especially painful to watch. Everything starts with their inability to slow the pick and roll and that filters down to their incapacity to stop penetration or help and recover.
Offensively, Denver has had issues as well. During Chauncey’s absence J.R. Smith has not been playing up to par. He has the ability to get his teammates easy buckets. In both the pick and roll and off of penetration he is an above average passer for a shooting guard. Unfortunately, J.R. has been looking for his own shot almost exclusively. In the six games since Chauncey was hurt J.R. has had either on or no assists in four of them. In fact, his assist rate is tied for the second lowest in his career (11.1).
Carmelo has had some very good offensive games against Memphis, Atlanta and Portland. He was decidedly less effective against New Orleans and Sacramento. The Hornets doubled Melo very aggressively and instead of taking advantage of the gaps in the defense Melo forced a bevy of poor shots. Melo does not deserve all the blame though. His teammates did not give him many options as they spent a great deal of time standing and watching as opposed to cutting to the basket.
Against Sacramento, Carmelo did score 34 points. It just took him 35 shots to do it. He was banged up badly enough he actually shot a free throw left handed towards the end of the third quarter. You would think if he had a difficult time shooting a free throw he would have done his best to avoid shots of that length. That was not the case. For some reason he jacked up nine jumpers after the left handed free throw. If he was injured badly enough he could not get a free throw over the front of the rim, why did he take so many long jumpers after that? On the other hand, perhaps he could not get a better shot off than long jumpers. If that was the case, he should have relied on his teammates to set him up instead of trying to create his own shot.
I am not saying the Nuggets should have won every game without Billups. To be fair missing Chauncey is a big deal. Lawson has played well, probably better than we should expect a rookie point guard to play after being forced into the starting lineup and Anthony Carter has not been horrible, in fact he made a couple of very good plays down the stretch in Sacramento. However, the difference between Chauncey Billups (31.8 minutes a game with a PER of 20.03) and Ty Lawson (20.4 minutes per game with a PER of 16.01) and Ty Lawson (26 minute a game without Chauncey) and Anthony Carter (23.2 minutes a game without Chauncey with a PER of 9.13) is significant.
I can understand losing at New Orleans, Memphis, Portland OR Sacramento. I cannot accept losing at New Orleans, Memphis, Portland AND Sacramento. At some point the Nuggets need to decide enough is enough, put forth a full 48 minute effort at both ends of the floor and win.
Tonight in Utah they will be without Chauncey and possibly Carmelo as well. Honestly, I have no confidence in them to win tonight. The good news is Utah might be without Deron Williams. Perhaps one herculean team effort would indeed earn them a much needed road victory. Denver has just shown no ability whatsoever to come together and put forth that effort.
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