Nuggets Issues Exposed by Warriors

The closest thing to an easy win the Denver Nuggets have on the schedule in February are home games against the Golden State Warriors and the Phoenix Suns.

So much for any easy wins.

The Nuggets were demolished by the Warriors in a game that cast light on Denver’s biggest issues.

Offense

The biggest issue with Denver’s offense is it has grown stagnant.  The free flowing half court sets where no one stood and watched from earlier in the season are gone.  The Nuggets run a pick and roll while the other three players are as still as one of Medusa’s victims.  Instead of putting pressure on the entire defense, they are now only putting pressure on the ball side.  Help is always ready and in the situation where Denver reverses the ball, recovery is very easy.

The next problem, as Scott Hastings has done a good job of pointing out on the broadcasts, the bigs rarely set any solid screens.  The lifeblood of the pick and roll is the titular pick followed by a strong roll directly into the paint.  Everything else is a variation designed to keep the defense on their toes.  Slipping the screen is very effective, when it is a tactic that is employed sparingly thus taking the defense by surprise.  Slipping the screen as the primary tactic defeats the purpose of the entire action.  The ball handler gets no separation and the defending big, completely unsurprised, can easily be in position to close off any potential passing lane.

There are very few creative passes that put the pressure on the defense.  One thing Carmelo Anthony did very well was attack the defense with a diagonal pass when he was double teamed.  The same diagonal passes are open for Denver after their half-hearted pick and rolls, which would put pressure on the weak side defense, but no one is making that pass.

The style of offense also is not appropriate for the personnel.  Everything the Nuggets do is predicated on penetration.  Outside of Ty Lawson, and a healthy Danilo Gallinari, they have no one capable of driving past their man and threatening the interior of the defense.  However, players like Rudy Fernandez, Al Harrington and Arron Afflalo are called to drive against a defense that is properly positioned to cut them off.

Everything Denver does is plagued by the lack of consistent shooting.  Teams can lay off of Lawson and go behind the screen because he is currently incapable of hitting a midrange jumper.  Andre Miller is an inadequate shooter.  Rudy Fernandez is so rarely balanced when he shoots that it is no surprise when he misses.  Would it kill him to set his feet more than six inches apart when he lines up his shot in order to promote some sense of balance?

Nene could make such a difference if he could only work harder to get position early on in a possession.  Nene was doing very well on the block against Golden State and the Nuggets were looking to feed him in the second half, but he is too easily flustered by defenders beating him to the spot so they can front him.  Nene then meekly points for the ball to be sent to the center of the floor so his man has to retreat behind him, thus opening up the possibility that he would now be ready for the pass from the wing.  By that team his teammates have lost interest and simply work the other side of the court.

Defense

The hallmark of any competent defense is to take away what the offense wants to do.  The Nuggets’ opposition, regardless of who they are, have done a great job of realizing if you clog the lane, you can shut them down.  The Nuggets on the other hand seem to have no plan on defense.  Golden State thrives on the three point shot.  It requires a cohesive team effort to cover that much ground.  Sadly, Denver did a poor job of dealing with the Warriors’ barrage of threes.  The big men were too content to protect the paint on ball screens when the purpose of those screens was to open up a perimeter shot and the Warrior screeners were happy to prolong their contact with the guard knowing it would free up the guard for an open jumper.

The problem is not limited to ball screens.  Down screens cause the same problem and the Nuggets were even burned repeatedly on the easiest of plays, having an offensive player on the weak side get in the way of the defender while the ball is skipped the defender covering the shooter is sealed off and cannot contest the shot.  It is a tactic junior high kids should be prepared for.  The Nuggets?  Not so much.

The underlying issue is an abysmally low team IQ on defense.

Players are consistently caught off guard and working as completely reactionary individuals.  The frequency of two Nuggets covering the man with the ball only to be completely confused of what to do once a pass is made is staggering.  Rotations are always completed with utter surprise that the most basic of passes were made.  Swinging the ball to the weak side corner is a pretty standard tactic in the NBA, when Denver is faced with such a scenario, they appear as if they had never seen it before.  Rotations are slow with a complete lack of anticipation and often do not exist at all.

There is no sense of collective responsibility, or even individual responsibility.  Defense is a team wide responsibility and a solid team concept with great communication and purpose can overcome the lack of great individual defenders.  Denver has played solid defense from time to time this season, but it has to be the priority.

Coaching

It is clear that George Karl is at a loss for what to do to turn things around.  I would recommend using more conventional lineups and conducting a lot of film study to remind his players what is expected of them on defense.

In game adjustments are lacking.  On Thursday night against the Warriors, there was no effort to apply additional pressure on Stephen Curry, who was obviously red hot and was the number one threat, until it was too late.  The decision to trap him off ball screens was apparently not given until the third quarter after the damage was done.  Karl seems to have incredibly few arrows in his quiver.  Night after night the same lackadaisical approach to covering ball screens is implemented.

I am not calling for a fire sale on players, or Karl’s ouster.  This is a very good team that is in a funk.  Much of that funk is largely self-inflicted.  They will turn things around enough to get back to their winning ways.  Gallo will return and they will get back to resembling the team that was the darling of NBA fans everywhere to start the season.  However, these issues are terminal ones.  The playoffs do not take kindly to teams who cannot implement basic defensive strategies and come playoff time if Karl does not know who he can count on every night, he is not going to be able to consistently put his best team on the floor.

These issues are fixable ones and they do not require a healthy Gallinari or Timofey Mozgov to be addressed.  They do require mental effort and attention to detail.  If the Nuggets cannot deal with that, there will be no such thing anymore as an easy win.

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  • gk4prez

    One of the main things on offense that I hate is when the 2 pg lineup is in (not just this game, but this is the game in discussion). Miller plays the point in this situation (playing at the top of the key), and Ty is reduced to playing on the wing (sideline/elbow) behind the arc, with Rudy in the corner, so when the ball does swing to Lawson, he is easily covered or doubled. This takes away what he does best and reduces him to an easily guarded undersized SG. He can’t drive the baseline in this situation/set because the guy guarding Rudy switches off of him and helps double on Ty, driving the other direction really isn’t an option either because whoever guards Dre sags off of him and can easily cut off that lane, so the only thing left for him to do is take a contested shot, dump it inside to a clogged lane or swing it back to Miller.

    I am not trying to paint Lawson as someone who is not without faults of his own, he needs to start hitting his outside shots, and lately he can’t even finish a layup. But, he is one of the few players on the team who can create offense, so why on earth do you put him in a position on the floor where his strengths are not utilized? It baffles me over and over again.

    • Jason

      Very well put. And one of the things that has me frustrated as well. I think the 2 PG lineup can be effective for stretches, but limited ones. Not long stretches and not the whole 4th quarter. I am not sure why Karl cannot see this. I know his thoughts are who cares about positions, but the best 5 guys on the floor. In theory, their is some truth to that. But as you mention, there are positions for a reason. You have to put players in a position to succeed. Playing Ty at SG and Stone at SF, for instance, are not good ideas! Or AAA at PF, or Rudy at SF. I could go on. It baffles me to no end why Karl continue to trot out these unconventional lineup’s and then stomp his foot or shake his head on the sideline when we cannot get a rebound because he has 4 guards and a PF in the lineup!

      • http://roundballminingcompany.com Kalen

        “There are positions for a reason” — so simple, yet so damn true.

  • kt

    Having seen many warriors game this season, I can say that some of the shots they made tonight were pretty ridiculous. They are a team that pretty much just relies on someone getting hot and heaving shots from all over the court. Unfortunately, we were the victim of this tonight and the timing couldn’t have been worse.

    With that said, there are definitely adjustments that I felt GK should have made. For one, he really should have trapped Curry much sooner or doubled him or at least give him a different look down the court. Some of Denver’s best defense this season has been pressuring the guards early but these past few games they have let the offense run whatever they want.

    To me, this directly links with why there fast break points have been non-existent lately. The early pressure often leads to steals, turnovers and easy buckets on the other end. If the Denver staff bothered to watch any film about the GSW, they would know that they are extremely turnover prone when pressured early in the shot clock.

    Ah well, at least the whole night wasn’t a loss. I absolutely LOVED the energy at the end of the game with the rookies, K2 + AAA. I know it was garbage time but man the effort was great. Credit to GK for also taking it seriously and using time outs during this stretch. Hopefully it is a sign of more opportunities for these rookies.

    • Jason

      Yes, the garbage time play was good to see after the lackluster effort by the regulars. Goes to show you that Karl should shake things up from time to time and go with the young guys for a spark if we are lacking one or are fatigued.

      AAA also is showing signs of coming out of his funk, which is nice to see. I loved his passion last night.

    • ParkHillNative

      Also agree that garbage time last night was the most fun I’ve had watching the Nuggets in quite some time.

  • aussienuggzfan

    KENNY FARIED IS A DOUBLE DOUBLE MACHINE. FEED THE BEAST SOME MINUTES.

    oh and I’d much rather see hamilton then my new least favourite player in the league, RUUUDY FERNANDEZ. Hamilton can straight ball out

  • lil rik

    Wow. Great article Jeremy. I agree with a lot of what you’ve said – sounds pretty spot on to me. I really appreciate how you’ve put Karl’s role into perspective as opposed to pointing the finger of blame at him. I get that GK isn’t perfect – he of course has his flaws, but I think he’s a hell of a coach and is the right man for the job at this point. Like you said – he doesn’t have to seem a lot of arrows in his quiver. Mozgov, Gallo, and C Brew were lost virtually overnight – not to mention that AAA and Nene have been hurt. When this team was healthy we were able to overcome AAAs anemic offense, but now it is only more magnified – most of his points last night came after the game was already lost.

    Also – I think that it’s clear now that, stats aside, Mozgov was having a heck of a presence in the rhythm and cohesion of this team on the court.

    We’ve played 27 games and there are 39 left – so hopefully with 15-20 to play we can be healthy and find a rhythm again. I truly believe – like most of you probably do, that this is really a good, skilled, deep team – if they can get healthy and find rhythm, I still think a deep playoff run is possible. Add a potential Wilson Chandler to the mix and who knows…..

    Additionally, in light of Andre Miller becoming a FA at the end of the year, here is a list of Unrestricted FA’s at year end (From hoopsrumors.com)

    Point Guards
    Mike Bibby (34)
    Chauncey Billups (36)
    Anthony Carter (37)
    Baron Davis (33)
    Keyon Dooling (32)
    Goran Dragic (26)
    Raymond Felton (28)
    Jonny Flynn (23)
    T.J. Ford (29)
    Kirk Hinrich (31)
    Jason Kidd (39)
    John Lucas (30)
    Andre Miller (36)
    Steve Nash (38)
    Jannero Pargo (33)
    Ronnie Price (29)
    Nate Robinson (28)
    Delonte West (29)

    • Jason

      I am not a Karl hater, and I actually think he is a very good coach. But his philosophies ARE what is killing Denver right now. His rotations are piss poor, his inability to run an effective offense, and his flat out incapability of in game adjustments (especially on D) have me flat out flabergasted.

      He sets the tone…and right now his tone is excuses. The team feeds off that.

      • Andrew

        Agreed.

  • NuggLove

    This is nothing but a great article, RMC. I lost a large part of my faith to this Nuggets team, but that doesn’t mean I’ve given up on them. Karl seems to be an imperfect coach right mainly because of his smallball, but I think he can sometimes turn the table. He did have a bunch of games where he made things we wanted him to do like playing Faried and Stone at his suited position. But still, he has yet to perfect any mental test coming his way. He, did it once against the Knicks, now we’ll see how he’ll fair out against Indiana, where we allowed the opponent to score 50+ points in a quarter. If this Nuggets team can’t pull out a heck of a fight there, it’s time to kiss his coaching job goodbye.

  • SmokinNugs

    Great Article. I’d love to see Stone take some of Andres minutes and Hamilton take some of Rudys. No way could they do any worse than Andre and Rudy are already doing. Shake things up and for the love of God get Faried some more minutes! 10 rebounds in 20ish minutes was the most of anyone on the team! Rebounds = possessions. WE NEED REBOUNDS!

  • ParkHillNative

    Thanks for the breakdown, Jeremy, that’s good stuff.

    I mentioned this in the comments on the Rapid Reaction post last night, but it seemed to me like the Warriors had a defensive game plan last night to get back on defense in transition, at all costs. I didn’t watch every minute of the game, but in all the time I did watch I didn’t see a single easy fast break layup. Every time the Nuggets tried to run, there were 2 or 3 Warriors already back there.

    Frankly I’ve thought the Nuggets have looked pretty poor in the half court offense all year, so it was only a matter of time before the rest of the league collectively figured out that if you just do everything you can to deny fast break baskets, the Nuggets will have a very difficult time scoring.

    • Andrew

      Yep. Deny the fast break and then clog the paint. If it happens to be a hot night for Harrington, Rudy, etc, well then your team will be in for a dogfight. However, on the ever so often nights where they are cold, it’s an easy win against this Nuggets team.

      Great stuff, Jeremy. I for one haven’t lost faith in Coach Karl, because I never had it in the first place. He’s a good regular season coach and a poor playoff coach. I like the man, but sorry, if the Nuggets want to win a championship, he is not the guy. If I were Masai, I would move Karl to another job and take a chance on a young assistant. With the emergence of K2 and Moz as decent Centers, I honestly think this team is a perimeter shooter and a playoff coach away from competing for the championship. Not until.

  • Ernie

    I’m depressed. Haven’t been to the site in over a week. Jeremy makes excellent points as usual.

    The team needs a reliable shooter (Where have you gone Wesley Person) or two. AAA and Fernandez are streaky but when you see Curry make shot after open shot you realize what’s missing.

    And with Miller the 2nd team just doesn’t run anyone out of the gym anymore. Stone needs to be more aggressive when he’s in there, he just plays hot potato with the ball instead of making plays.

  • Sam

    I like Karl. I think he has done great things for this Nuggets team. However, I have two qualms with him. First is his demeanor. Last night was a perfect example. When your team is playing like garbage and doesn’t want to move, GET FIRED UP! Yell at someone. Tell someone to do their job. Sit someone for not doing their job or going against what you asked them to do. Ever since his stint with cancer, he has remained entirely TOO calm when it comes to situations where you should be fired up. Second, this two PG lineup DOES NOT WORK! You would think he would have stopped after last years playoffs. But no, he keeps putting two PG with differing styles in at the same point. His “small” lineup does not do them any favors. When you are playing Harrington at center, you are not doing something right. The biggest problem the Nuggets have had in the past is they didn’t have size. They couldn’t keep people out of the lane. Now you have TWO 7 footers and what do you do? Don’t play them. Play big GK, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!

    As for the team itself, the defense is ATROCIOUS. The pick and roll D is as bad as I have ever seen it and the perimeter D does not exist. Anyone else wonder why almost every team we play shoots the lights out? So much for AAA being a great perimeter defender and him being worth that extension…

    • http://roundballminingcompany.com Kalen

      Demeanor has always been my biggest gripe with Karl. And it goes back to before cancer. I remember the AI-Melo days when he’s just sit on the bench with his hands in his face, motionless, expressionless, as if he was a dead fish out of water. You’re a coach for crying out loud! Come on man! This is your job! Adversity, dealing with personalities, egos, etc. — that’s part of the job description! You can’t just beg management to bail you out every time you get a few of players you don’t like! Then what happens is he finally gets his wish and the same old George is still on the bench. I just believe a coach should be a general, physiologist and professional public speaker all rolled into one and I’m not so sure George is even one of those things.

      • Andrew

        I agree with you both wholeheartedly.

  • dave

    We call timeout and most teams have their coach huddle up his players make adjustments and come up with a strategy. Karl on the other hand, calls time out walks out to the middle of the floor and stands there with his hands in his pockets. The best ten we have had since Karl became coach was with a true floor leader on that bench with the players helping them make adjustments, with Chauncey. Our play reflects our leadership. When Karl sends out his 2 guard linw up, k is supposed to be the leader…that means lazy tempo lazy effort to fight through screens and a bunch of dribbling till you run out the shot or game clock and hoist up an ugly shot. Good teams make adjustments so other teams have made the adjustment against us let’s make the adjustment and get some on the bench and on the floor leadership that gives a crap

  • Andrew

    Hey, Kalen.

    Can you do an informal survey? I was just wondering how many of us RBM fans would like to see Karl replaced and how many would like to see him retained. I think the number of us who think we have seen his ceiling as a coach is pretty high.

    Thanks, regardless of whether you can. Great site!

    Andrew

    • Ernie

      You have to give an alternative. My guess is the option won’t be Phil Jackson.

      • ThrowItDown

        Jerry Sloan is available, and if you were to design a team with Sloan in mind as the coach, you would design the current Denver team.

        Each loss brings the removal of Karl as coach of the team one step closer. Before the season I felt he would get the full season, and only be canned if they lost in the first round of the playoffs. Now, I’m not sure they can make the playoffs, and Karl might not make it through the all-star break.

        • lil rik

          Ernie,

          Thank you, yes, EXACTLY – you have to give an alterniative, a viable alternative.

          Sloan – wow. I’ve been a Karl defender, but at the same time “the proof is in the pudding” so they say. If Sloan were available, it would be difficult to argue against that. That is a viable alternative (assuming Sloan still wants to coach)

          I doubt Karl will get axed before the all-star break, or during the season at all unless the Nuggets completely free-fall. For the simple fact of – who would coach?

    • http://roundballminingcompany.com Kalen

      I’ll have to see if we can do a poll option of some sort. If so, I’ll get one up.

  • ny nugs fan

    gotta give george karl some credit for finally getting his rookies some minutes; that kid thompson has been playing since the beginning of the year and you see how he was raining 3s; imagine if we could get hamilton & faried to play halfway like him for extended minutes down the stretch

  • james

    Karl needs to play Faried more, this has frustrated for the pass few games, especially when the opponent gets 4+ offensive rebounds in one possession. Why is Karl so hesitant to giving these rookies some well deserved minutes!?

  • Andrew

    So, for the people who would like to see a name of a coach to replace Karl, how about Budenholzer in San Antonio? Is he still there? He’s learned under Popovich for many years, and Pop may be the best coach in the NBA these days. Like I have said before, I would also be happy to see the Nuggets hire on C Bill for the rest of the year. He worked well with Karl as a player and seemed to have a great influence on the other players. I know he is under contract with the Clipps, but don’t you think the Nuggs could offer to buy out a portion of his contract? I’m guessing the Clips would rather do that, as well. They could always retain his player rights for next year, right?

  • Omar

    i think we should move Afflalo for oj mayo

  • Jeff

    It’s weird to me how the media is much kinder to the Nuggets this year than the fans are. JA Adande recently said Nene is an all star snub, and I don’t think anyone on this board would argue that Nene should be an allstar, to be honest. In the past it as always the other way around, I thought the Nuggets never got any respect nationally.

    • Jeff

      And on national games they always talk about what a great coach Karl is.

  • Ricardo

    GK has to play Koufos, Faried, and Hamilton more minutes during games. Koufos has been playing good defense in the past couple of games in rebounding the ball and blocking shots. Faried provides with the extra energy they need on the court and in rebounding the ball. Hamilton is a good shooter and could probably be more consistent in making shots than Fernandez. GK should try playing these players more minutes to see how much they produce and how they could contribute for the team.

  • Fergus

    Does anyone think that denver should sign J.RSmith

    • Ricardo

      I don’t think they need to sign J.R Smith, they need to sign Wilson Chandler.