Nuggets player trends over the first three months

The Denver Nuggets got off to a fairly rough start at the beginning of the season. Sure, they had one of the most brutal opening schedules of any team in the league, but the problems appeared to run deeper than that. Players like Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari, who Denver was counting on to provide perimeter shooting that would space the floor, came out cold as ice.

The Nuggets started off right there in the hunt for being the worst team in the league in 3-point shooting and free throw shooting, and their defense, which was supposed to get a boost from the addition of Andre Iguodala, was flailing. They just could not seem to get it together, and it looked like Denver had team problems which ran much deeper than a tough schedule.

Then around mid-December, things started to turn around. Even before the Nuggets reached the easy January stretch in which 12 of 15 games were played at home, they started discovering winning ways that have resulted in a blistering 21-6 (.778) record since Dec. 14. (By comparison, the two current top teams in the NBA, the Spurs and Thunder, have season records of .780 and .755 respectively.)

During last night’s broadcast of the Bulls-Nuggets game, TNT’s Reggie Miller called the Nuggets “one of the best teams in the Western Conference,” and they surely have been playing like it recently. Whether they can maintain this momentum as their schedule becomes more difficult again in March and April remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, Denver has, at least for now, put to rest many of the worries that troubled the fans early in the season.

Here we will look at how individual players performed over the first three months of the season in four statistical categories: effective field goal percentage (eFG%), true shooting percentage (TS%), rebounds per 36 minutes and assists per 36 minutes. Much of this will not be so surprising for the avid, observant Nuggets fans that comprise Roundball Mining Company’s readership. There are some worthwhile observations to be made, however. And additionally, it is just kind of nice to see the player data on charts to more easilly see how they stack up to each other. I have limited the scope to the eight players who have played over 800 minutes this season.

 

Effective field goal percentage

As mentioned above, poor 3-point shooting has plagued the Nuggets this season. In looking at eFG%, which takes into account 3-point shooting, we can see some mostly good but slightly mixed news for the Nuggets.

The big story here is that Gallo and Lawson have been on a consistent trajectory of improvement since the beginning of the season. These two have each taken 639 of Denver’s 4258 total field goal attempts, combining for 30 percent of all shots taken. Despite many other players’ shooting either being inconsistent or getting worse, the value of the two players shooting the most continuing to improve has outweighed those drags – judging, at least, by Denver’s continued march up the NBA’s offensive efficiency rankings, where the Nuggets are now fifth at 106.5.

The meme of “this team would be great if they could all just click at the same time” has been sounded regularly this season. This chart really drives home the extent to which their ups and downs have been out of synch. Most noticeable is December, when JaVale McGee and Corey Brewer hit peaks while Kenneth Faried and Andre Miller hit valleys. The Nuggets offense has been mostly fantastic over the past few weeks, but if Andre Iguodala, McGee and Brewer find a way to get their percentages back up, while the other players maintaining theirs as well, it should be downright dominant.

 

True shooting percentage
Nuggets 2012-13 TS%

In addition to 2- and 3-point field goals, true shooting percentage also factors in free throw shooting. While the basic pattern of this chart is largely similar to the first one above, a few things are worth noting.

Again we start with Lawson and Gallinari. You can see how much sharper their upward trajectory is here than on the eFG% chart, and that is a reflection of both players’ improved free throw shooting. The Nuggets remain at the bottom of the heap in free throw shooting percentage (only the Lakers are worse), but when the two guys who get to the line the most – Lawson and Gallo have combined to take 33 percent of Denver’s free throw attempts this season – it makes a big difference.

In a couple more promising signs, Faried’s improved free throw shooting in January propels his TS% over that of Kosta Koufos, who has the higher eFG%. The same is true for Lawson with respect to Miller.

But not all the news is good. It is no surprise that McGee will struggle with free throw shooting, but there is really no accounting for how hard Brewer and Iguodala dropped off in both free throw and 3-point shooting from December through January:

This season, these two are combining for 40 percent of Denver’s 3-pointers and 22 percent of their free throws. Obviously, nobody expects either of them to be Ray Allen, but to be around .250 in 3-point shooting and .520 in free throw shooting as a small forward or guard who takes the number of attempts they do ventures deeply into inexcusable territory. While it is true that defense remains where the Nuggets have the most improving to do, March and April could get pretty tough for the Nuggets if these guys can’t find a way to get their percentages up.

 

Rebounds per 36 minutes

Much was made of Faried’s recent five-game stretch without a double-double, his longest of the season, which included his only scoreless game. And the most eye-catching thing about this chart is that, nearly to a man, the rebounding of nearly all of the Nuggets’ players declined from December through January. Faried, Koufos and Brewer in particular took noticeable (if modest) dips, while McGee stagnanted, and Iguodala and Gallo continued their subtle slide.

None of this should be all too surprising, however. The Nuggets are an excellent offensive rebounding team, with an offensive rebound rate of 31.7, second in the league. On the other hand, they are a fairly shoddy defensive rebounding team. Their defensive rebound rate is 71.8, just 26th in the league. In other words, a larger share of their total rebounds comes from offensive rebounds than most other teams. As such, as the team’s overall shooting improves, we should expect to see a reduction in rebounding simply because there are not as many missed shotsavailable to grab.

As a final note note on rebounding, we would really like to see JaVale get his numbers up above 10 per 36 minutes. With his height, athleticism and skill, there’s really no excuse for him to be pulling down boards at a slower clip than Koufos.

 

Assists per 36 minutes

I was critical earlier of Iguodala and Brewer for their shooting, but here it deserves to be balanced by some due praise. It is to both their credit, and speaks highly of their basketball IQ, that their assists have risen as their shooting percentages have fallen. Whether this is due to a conscious effort or not is anyone’s guess, but they should probably be given the benefit of the doubt for recognizing that, when they’re struggling with their shot, they need to focus more on being effective in other ways, and in this case by distributing the ball more.

And in general, Iguodala deserves recognition for being third in scoring, third in rebounds and third in assists for the Nuggets. It is not just a cliché; he really does do some of everything.

It is also good to see Faried slowly creeping towards two assists per 36. Of course, he and JaVale are finishers, so more often than not they’re expected to go to the basket rather than find a teammate. But they both end up with the ball in their hands often enough that it would really benefit not just the team offense as a whole, but also their individual games (in terms of keeping defenses honest), if they could dish it out a little bit more, especially when they get into trouble down low (I posted an RMC Film Room piece on this topic regarding McGee earlier this season).

 

Denver’s February schedule is less home-friednly than January’s, but it is still quite favorable. Hopefully the Nuggets players who are struggling in various ways can use this time as an opportinity to beef up their game before hitting the final stretch of the season and, more importantly, the playoffs. If they can, Denver stands a fairly good chance of getting into the second round of the playoffs. If they can nab the fourth seed, they will take a homecourt advantage into the first round against most likely either Memphis or Golden State, both of which have proven to be quite beatable opponents this season.

 

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(Stats from Basketball-Reference.com, ESPN.com and NBA.com)

 

 

  • Ckwizard

    Thanks for he content, interesting read.

    The different lenses that the people on this sight look through make for good conversation, wish for more content like this.

    As for the subject matter it is only natural for Faried’s rebounding numbers to decline as the team shoots better given a lot of his rebounds were offensive, more shots made less chances for rebounds.

    As for Brewer’s and Igoudala’s assists increasing, I think it has to do with stealing the basket ball and being able to operate in transition. I would like to see analysis on Steals per game and Turnovers per game as I think both of those have more to do with the Nuggets offensive efficiency than shooting.

    • Ckwizard

      Sorry for echoing what you said about rebounding just wish Faried was more conscious of what it takes to be a good defensive rebounder and was able to contribute more on that end. As I am thinking about it trend analysis of opponents FG% vs Nuggets players defensive rebounding would be interesting.

    • theo

      Agreed. Nice job of putting some relevant offensive stats together. Would love to see something comparable re defense. Our d is the key to how far we go, and for a lot of the year we’ve struggled, particularly Faried. Interesting piece by Hochmann in the Post on Faried’s difficulties on the defensive end. I think improvement in his D is far more significant than developments in his shooting and post game (important too). Many fans wonder why he often doesn’t play down the stretch–that’s the reason. Anyway, like to see some parallel defensive stats here too.

  • googergieger

    “With his height, athleticism and skill, there’s really no excuse for him to be pulling down boards at a slower clip than Koufos.”

    Gallo boxes out, Faried gets attention.

  • dynamo.joe

    I had noticed the increase in Faried’s assists as well.

    I know everyone wants him to develop a more diverse post up game, well any reliable post up move, but let’s take some time to acknowledge the fact that his overall game IS developing/improving.

  • Ban Johnson

    What these graphs suggest is:
    1) Gallinari and Lawson should be the first 2 scoring options on offense.
    2) The team is elite when Gallinari and Lawson are hitting a respectable percentage of their shots. (Iguodala’s and Brewer’s shooting %s have gone down as the team has started winning more of their of games.)
    3) The team does better when Iguodala is a playmaker more than a shooter.

  • allAround

    trade McGee for Garnett.
    It is now or never , we are contesters after that
    No need to wait for McGee to become better. IT IS NOW OUR TIME

    LA is going down Mavs the same Memphis also.

    http://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine

    Bring Garnet, fixes Faried problems in D. And is also the leader that the team needs

    • Ban Johnson

      I think most Nuggets fans would be okay with a McGee for Garnett swap. It would do wonders for the Nuggets’ D this year and next. McGee has huge potential, but right now he’s not playing up to his contract and his contract is the worst one on the team.

      But:
      1) Is there any indication Boston would do that?
      2) Is there any indication Garnett would waive his trade veto to join the Nuggets? (Apparently, he’s already said he wouldn’t.)

      Dream on, in other words.

      • dynamo.joe

        The only thing preventing JaVale from living up to his contract is GK. Does he occasionally do stupid stuff? Yes. Is he very productive in between the stupid? Yes. It’s just that the stupid is so spectacular that you tend to forget the productive.

        No reason both Kosta and JaVale can’t get 25 MPG.

  • allAround
  • googergieger

    Yup, Garnett to the fastest team in the league in the most exhausting city to play in. What could go wrong?

    • allAround

      Yup right when it comes to fast break all the 5 starters are there running. Well one of the things that makes fast teams good D that enables fast breaks and Garnet can bring that. More, fast,teams need clever players to make sharp decisions. Anyway I am pretty sure if Garnet is playing 30 minutes to Boston I am pretty sure he can play 20 something to Denver without prob.

      • googergieger

        Okay, how does he fit into our offense and defense. Our drive and kick offense and our switch heavy defense.

  • Jeff

    Yeah I dunno where all this Garnett to Denver stuff came from, I guess Kiszla, but it’s a terrible fit. We’re trying to build a young team not hire expensive veterans for temporary fixes. It would be like when the Suns got Shaq for Marion and went downhill.

    • allAround

      I think the pick of this Denver team would be the following 2 years . After that I think players will start to leave Iggy, Miller, or look for better contracts. Besides Garnet can bring a leading personality that the team needs

  • Henry

    Nice to see that the rosterbation isn’t limited to Denver Stiffs. Come on, folks, Garnett to the Nuggets ain’t happening. Nor should it. This team is being built methodically, not spectacularly.

    If there’s a monster trade to be made, Ujiri will do it. (More likely to happen is a minor one or two.) But there’s not really any trade that would put this team in a position to win a championship this season. Why mess with a roster that is coming along nicely, especially when more experience and chemistry can pay off in the medium term?

    We have some horses here. Sure, we may need a little more shooting off the bench, and we definitely need some defensive help on the inside. But those things may come as our players develop more fully.

    What a fun ride.

  • googergieger

    Down four against the Cavs, giving up wide open three’s, and are playing small at literally every position right now on the court.

    I guess one should wait for the out come of the game, but one should wonder why the game is made a lot harder than it has to be.

  • andrew

    How about let’s be patient with these young guys and let them play couple years together. Fastest and youngest team in the league with so much talent and potential. No need to change things now, maybe George Karl needs to leave eventually, but other than that things are fine