Benjamin Hochman’s Christmas special is up at the Denver Post, and it’s an absolute must read for Nuggets Nation. Hochman breaks down the opening day roster and George Karl shares some candid thoughts on his offensive philosophy and the challenges of winning without superstars. The most interesting bit comes at the end when Karl admits the Nuggets are likely to move away from the most maddening aspect of Denver’s pick and roll defense – switching screens.
Having Kenyon with Nene was huge, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do it with team concepts and philosophies and giving guys pride and responsibility to do it on their own. … He was a veteran, defensive-minded guy who was a big part of our toughness. Filling Kenyon’s minutes is probably the most difficult to do, but in the same sense, I think it can be done. Nene was basically always the B defender. Now he has to be the A defender. Nene can be in a similar category. The only problem is when you had two of them, you didn’t worry about foul trouble. Now can we get a team concept to camouflage that (by rotating in other big men for short snippets)? We also might jump in the pick-and-roll rather than switching all the time
Karl says a lot of interesting things with this statement and makes it well known that replacing Kenyon’s presence on defense is no easy task. Kenyon was a quick, physical defender whom the Nuggets could trust to guard one through five and either force a tough shot or funnel the ball into help. There is no player on the roster who can replace what he brings to the table defensively and it’s a very good sign the coaching staff realizes that.
Instead of switching, Karl suggests the Nuggets are going to use more traps and hedges against pick-and-rolls. Jeremy Wagner and I have been clamoring for the Nuggets to stop switching and adopt such a scheme since before this blog even existed.
This strategy itself won’t be a cure-all for Denver’s defense without Kenyon. The Nuggets bigs have the added responsibility of jumping out to stop the ball while being able to quickly recover to their man. Nene will have to do a better job as he’ll often show a very soft hedge and sag back allowing the ballhandler plenty of room to drive towards the basket and make a play.
When defending the pick and roll in any situation, the team has to make the right reads and rotations together as a cohesive unit. Instead of relying on Kenyon’s versatility to dictate the scheme, I feel that hedging more will encourage a more aggressive team defense and create accountability for everyone on the floor to be active on the defensive end.
By using these team concepts and a “camouflage” approach, Karl also suggests he’ll use a deep frontcourt rotation and Kenyon’s minutes could be divided among three or four players given the situation. This is good news for those hoping to see the Manimal crack the rotation sooner rather than later. The Nuggets need to evaluate not only Faried but the rest of the young big men on the roster. Which one of these athletic young guys can hedge and recover on picks, while also being able to get back and compete for the rebound? That’s the one who deserves minutes and the Nuggets won’t know without letting all of them compete for the job.
The problem isn’t the concept of switching itself, but the extent to which the Nuggets used it as a primary method of defending pick and rolls. After playing great team defense and reaching the conference finals in 2009, the Nuggets kept reverting to switches like a bad habit. They would do it impulsively on every screen regardless of who was being switched onto who. Anytime you voluntarily enter into any mismatch on the floor, a good offense is going to be patient and find the weakness. That happened far too often in past years and I think we are finally seeing the coaches realize the time for change is long overdue.
It sounds small, but it’s tiny fundamental changes like these that are going to dictate whether or not the Nuggets can build a contender this season.