On Oct. 6 the Nuggets faced the Clippers in the first preseason game of the year. Though not much was at stake, the players seemed to approach the game as if it were late April, not early October. The contest culminated with two incredible last-second layups: one by Eric Bledsoe and the other by Ty Lawson to win the game as the shot clock expired. Here are some observations.
— Again, this was a great game. Players were a little rusty, but the intensity was phenomenal. These are two evenly matched teams across the board whom I see battling for playoff positioning all year long. Outside the Lakers and Thunder, I don’t see anybody who I can look at and say they are definitively better than the Nuggets, but the Clippers are up there. It should be interesting seeing how these two teams fare, compared to one another, moving forward…
— Is it me or does NBATV kind of suck these days? They used to show awesome throwback games, specials (Larry Bird’s 50 Greatest Moments is one of my favorites), vintage NBA Drafts and now all they do is replay the Miami Heat vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Finals the entire summer until the season starts. The Mavericks played in Germany earlier on Saturday which NBATV aired live, yet they re-aired that exact same game in the exact same time slot that the Nuggets played the Clippers on the Las Vegas strip in one of the best preseason games you’ll ever see. Whoever is running that channel needs to pull their head out of their ass. Plain and simple.
— I didn’t get to catch most of the first half but when I turned the game on Jordan Hamilton already made three 3-pointers and had 15 points total. I wasn’t surprised at all. As I’ve mentioned numerous times on Twitter and in multiple radio interviews I’ve done lately, Jordan Hamilton is gonna surprise a lot of people this year. He just knows how to score the rock. I know everybody likes Wilson Chandler for his defense, but lets be honest, has he ever looked as explosive as Hamilton does on offense? The one area Hamilton will continue to struggle at is decision making and/or shot selection. He’s still young and should improve as time goes on, but at this moment he tends to get a little too wrapped up making something happen instead of making the right basketball play, as George Karl would say.
— Kenneth Faried stood out most to me. He looked good out there — really good. Although he only had one rebound, he led the team in scoring with 18 points in 23 minutes. And it was the way in which he scored that really caught my eye. He was crafty with the ball. He scored in a variety of ways. From running hooks to jumpers to unconventional layups — it was clear that Faried has been working on his offense all summer long. His footwork was vastly improve both on offense and on defense too. At this point, anything less than 30 minutes per game for Faried would be simply unacceptable.
— Of the centers, Koufos looked far and away the best. McGee looked terrible for the most part. Mozgov was the same old Mozgov: a few impressive plays followed up by a many that made you wonder what exactly was going through his head at the time. I don’t think this should have an affect on who starts and who gets the backup minutes moving forward. Karl knows what he sees in practice. But again, Koufos looked solid. He was skying for rebounds and actually made a positive impact while he was in the game, which you definitively couldn’t say about Mozgov or McGee.
— Anthony Randolph was another guy that impressed. Most of his damage was done in the first half, which I missed, but people seemed to be more than pleased with his play from reactions I gathered on Twitter. What I saw of him in the second half was a solid rotational type of guy. He didn’t make mistakes; he just played solid. He had eight points, seven rebounds and two blocks in only 18 minutes of action. Right now, Randolph seems to be the obvious candidate to backup Faried at power forward and if he keeps playing like he did on Saturday, he should have no problem securing minutes early on in the season.
— A lot was made of Anthony Carter playing late in the fourth quarter and even during the final possessions of the game. I wouldn’t look too far into this. George Karl has and always will have a level of admiration for Carter that most everybody else in the world simply doesn’t understand. Letting Carter play heavy minutes was likely his way of displaying his abilities for other teams to see. Right now the Nuggets don’t have an extra roster spot to hand out. Julyan Stone is way better than Anthony Carter and Masai Ujiri knows it. In other words, I’d be absolutely shocked if Carter made the team any Stone’s expense.
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Additional thoughts from denbutsu:
Since Kalen was only able to see the second half, here are some extra belated notes, mostly from the first half:
- I don’t know if this is something he worked on over the summer or not, but Faried seemed to be making a concerted effort, with a good deal of success, to set picks and screens at the perimeter. A common complaint over recent years among Nuggets fans is that the team lacked any players who were really good at setting screens. If Kenneth can solidly establish this part of his game, it will be an important part of his ability to be effective on offense without the ball. As a side note to this, Gallinari and Faried played with really good chemistry together, which is a great sign.
- McGee got a lot of negative attention for playing badly in this game, and perhaps most of it was merited. Upon getting the ball in the post, it seemed that his first instinct was always to immediately force the shot, regardless of whether he had good position or was double or even triple teamed. I am wondering if the fact that he trained with Hakeem for three weeks working on his individual post moves has led to this to some extent. He did seem to have tunnel vision straight to the basket, and not much court awareness. Regardless of the reasons, JaVale needs to take about a half second when he gets the ball before deciding to go straight to the shot, and survey the situation. He’s so tall that when he gets doubled it will be no problem for him to see and pass over most of his defenders. And some of his not-very-good shooting, too, seemed to result just from not having collected himself before making the play. George Karl had a 10/10/10 algorithm for Melo: He’d give him 10 shots for “free” if he’d pull down 10 rebounds and get to the line 10 times. Perhaps the Nuggets coaching staff should make a similar formula for McGee in which he has to look for the pass on a certain percentage of his post possessions, just to reinforce that mentality.
- The homerism of the Clippers announcers makes Chris and Scottie look completely objective by comparison, a feat which is not easy to accomplish.
- Iguodala’s playmaking is going to be a big deal. A couple of his passing plays were a little off, but hey, it was his first game with his new team. Once they mesh and get the kinks worked out, the Nuggets, given their style and pace of play, (bold prediction time) should finish this season with both the best assist rate and assists per game in the league.
- Speaking of meshing, Anthony Randolph, who I had expected might have a harder time than Iguodala establishing chemistry with his new teammates, went out there from moment one and blended right in as if he’d been playing with these guys for years. Perhaps his journeyman status, bouncing him around three different teams over his first four seasons in the NBA, makes it easy for him to acclimate to a new team environment. He looked surprisingly comfortable out there. Additionally, he made all three of his mid-range shots (from 12, 17 and 20 feet, respectively). If he can demonstrate the ability to consistently knock down mid-range jumpers, given the fact that he really is the only true power forward coming off the bench (see Charlie’s insightful writeupon Randolph in our #NugetsRank series here), I would assume he’ll be earning a place in the regular rotation at the expense of either Mozgov or Koufos.
- Corey Brewer made both of his corner 3-pointers. Like Randolph, showing an ability to hit those shots consistently may be his best path to earning minutes in the regular rotation.
- Anthony Carter? (Sigh). Yep, Anthony Carter.
- At one point Karl put a lineup of Mozgov, Gallo, Brewer, Hamilton and Carter on the court. It may just be preseason tinkering, but those who fear too much small ball might take some comfort in this.
- A few weeks ago someone on twitter (I’m sorry, I forget who) asked me who had the best stroke on the Nuggets. I answered that it was probably Gallinari, but I was wrong. Jordan Hamilton now gets my vote for best shooting form. He looked fantastic out there in his 19 minutes, scoring 17 points with an eFG% of .611 and a TS% of .704. He made three of six 3-pointers, but perhaps even more importantly, also played aggressively, not only settling for perimeter shots but driving to the rim as well. In 258 total minutes of play, J-Ham only shot what seems an impossibly low five free throw attempts over the entirety of last season. In this first preseason game alone, he earned seven trips to the charity stripe, making an efficient six. He didn’t finish too well in the paint, making only one of his three attempts there. But if he can add the dimension of being a legitimate scoring threat off driving to the basket, this should in turn help his 3-point shooting as defenders will have to respect his ability to penetrate.
- Evan Fournier was clearly not ready for prime time. The Clippers sent Jamal Crawford straight at him at every opportunity possible to effective results. He looked completely confused at both ends of the court most of the time. Fournier has a natural swagger, attitude and confidence, but this is not the Euroleague or Summer League anymore. By and by he should be okay, but if this one game is any indication, he will be going through some difficult growing pains as he adjusts to the speed and intensity of full-on NBA action.
- A final random thought: It is so awesome that we are back to a normal, no-lockout NBA season with a full training camp and preseason schedule. Remember how much of a bummer it was last year around this time when all the news was about canceling games and deadlocked negotiations? One year later, it’s a much better time to be an NBA fan.