There was confusion, miscommunication, a few quizzical glances and some ugly shooting. There was also effort, passion and a Nuggets team who clearly cared more about winning than anything else. For years the Nuggets have been all about whether their talent can outweigh that of the opposition. Now after two games without an All-Star on the roster Denver does not lack talent, but we may be seeing a situation where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
You can thank Jeremy for that eloquent and well-written intro to this recap, because I still feel a bit of a rush after watching that game unfold. Despite the fact I just can’t contain this new level of excitement about the Nuggets, attempting to stay grounded has led me to thinking about the growing pains that will be part of this process.
Regardless of how much talent is here and who “wins” any trade – it’s all new and for a high level team game like basketball you can’t get the most out anyone without execution and commitment from everyone. That’s why I generally don’t like midseason trades, as the risk of giving up who you are is often overlooked by the allure of new and exciting individual talent.
In the Nuggets’ case, they needed to forget who they were as soon as possible. George Karl has always coached a style geared towards offensive freedom to maximize his playmakers’ skills. But Denver never went anywhere until Karl compromised his loose and fast offense by trying to marry it with a commitment to defense first. For a year, it worked and led Denver to the brink of a Finals appearance. With a superstar that never really bought in because of who he was individually, the team moved further and further away from Karl’s vision until they had no other choice but to start over.
My first thought through these last two games is that Karl’s defensive identity is crawling its way back to life. The ball pressure, the traps and rotations off ball screens and the team concepts on defense have created a re-run of the signature Nuggets fast break off steals and turnovers. Even if the Nuggets do still switch, you have guys like Raymond Felton fighting through screens and recovering to a point where a single breakdown no longer prohibits a stop or a solid defensive possession. Even with the undisciplined Chris Andersen and Al Harrington biting and fouling without restraint, guys like Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari continue to play the passing lanes and crash the boards regardless.
This is something we haven’t seen since the Hornets playoff series, the first Denver won in the Melo era. The Nuggets have since reverted to their old defensive habits and predictably became terrible at it. The first way this new roster is paying off is bringing coachability and depth to the table again, giving Nuggets fans hopes that those terrible habits might actually have a chance of changing again.
That’s not to say the transition will be all sunshine and roses. There was some pretty bad basketball being played tonight. The Nuggets post defense was notably poor as Nene and Gallo had a lot of trouble controlling Kevin Garnett down low. Garnett is no longer a dominating force and proved it by backing down when the Nuggets eventually got physical and just started hitting him as they challenged his touches. The new players are used to getting set shots off precise movement in a D’Antoni offense. Wilson Chandler is the only one who looked immediately comfortable as a guy who can create for himself and move well enough without ball so that it eventually finds him.
Ill Wil was a marvel to watch. He fit in perfectly as utility man with his versatile, do-everything skillset. Wilson guarded Pierce, Rondo, and Garnett effectively at different times. His length and defensive instincts created chaos and regular Boston turnovers. When Denver forced too many one-on-one moves to the basket, Chandler spotted up for kickout jumpers and hit some of the most important shots of the game. There is no question about how this guy will fit in, he does everything and just makes it work no matter what’s going wrong.
It’s not surprising that Gallo and Felton struggled with offense. They rely on a synergy with others in order to create scoring opportunities for themselves. Both often found themselves with the ball and unsure whether to pass, cut, dribble, or shoot. Against Boston’s man defense, trying to freelance an offense with three new players never had any chance of working anyways. Despite almost hurting more than they helped on offense, Felton and Gallo both found ways to impact the game and get Denver a win. Gallo in particular had two resounding blocks before he scored his first points as Nugget, and showed off his impressive handle and agility for a guy who is 6’10”.
It bears repeating that Boston was incredibly shorthanded. However, the game was played at their pace in a physical, defensive manner Boston never finds itself uncomfortable in. Yet I can’t count the number of times Boston was up against the shot clock, forcing bad shots and turnovers against a suffocating defensive effort. It’s crazy to think that team was actually the Nuggets. For once, it was the other team running bad isolations for their best player during crunch time, meanwhile melting defensively and discouragingly losing a tough game. Without jumping too fast to any conclusions about this new squad, let’s all just enjoy that fact for tonight.
And so, while I don’t think we really know much about this team yet, I leave you with a closing thought from Jeremy:
Granted both wins so far have been at home against teams missing key players. However, there are things that translate when you shift from playing at home to playing on the road chief among them being effort. This Nuggets team is going to play hard game in and game out. There will be nights where they are outclassed, but I do not expect to ever have to question what their motivation is when they are on the court. Contenders they are not although they will make the playoffs and they are going to make life difficult for someone.
Pace Factor: 90.5 – Slow and in Boston’s favor, I looked back and the only times Denver played this slow were games they got blown out.
Offensive Efficiency: 94.8 – Rough, but quite good considering the Nugs started so slow they only scored 37 in one half.
Defensive Efficiency: 79.9 – Best rating of the season. Almost ten points better than the next best game. Enough said.
Additional Game 59 Nuggets