Road games revisited: Karl’s seemingly low expectations

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”
– Michelangelo Buonarroti

Last week in a breakdown of the remaining schedule I wrote about the importance for the Nuggets of winning road games at a higher percentage and how their success or failure in that regard will most likely define them as a team.

One point I should have included but failed to make is that the Nuggets have in fact improved – albeit modestly – their road performance over the course of the season. On the surface this may come as little surprise, given their mercilessly road-heavy November and December. Early in the season, however, it remained an open question whether Denver would perform better away from Denver once their schedule became more friendly and road games were not so thickly concentrated.

That question has now been answered in the affirmative. The Nuggets have indeed made ascertainable progress as the difficulty of their schedule has eased off. In 2013 their road record is an even .500 with five wins and five losses. From the beginning of the season through the end of December, they went a measly 8-14 (.364).

So in purveying the remainder of the schedule, and considering realistic expectations for how the Nuggets should close out the season, it’s important to keep this context in mind as a backdrop: Denver has already been getting better at finding ways to win on the road. The progress is visible in graphing the progression of the Nuggets’ road game winning percentage over the course of the season.

***[UPDATE: Big thanks to RMC reader Jay McCoughlan was kind enough to send me improvements on the graphs I made. He used moving averages in order to show, as he put it, “how they are doing recently instead of taking into account the entire season.” Thumbnails of his graphs are below mine. Please click to enlarge. The yellow lines depict what was shown in my graphs, and the blue lines Jay’s updated moving averages. Notice that in both cases the moving averages show an even more robust improvement in Denver’s road success than mine had indicated.]***

 photo Updatedgraph1_zps79dda2e0.png

Caveat: I’m no mathematician, and the trend line in the graph is the default “linear” trend line in my spreadsheet program. You can access the original document here, and if anyone with better math skills than me (which is probably most of you) can offer insight as to whether a different algorithm would portray a more accurate picture, your feedback would be most welcome.

I was concerned about this, so I made a second graph with the data from the first three road losses excluded, as it looked to me like it could be having an outlier effect and skewing the line:

 photo Updatedgraph2_zpsa5f6bf58.png

As you can see, with those first games excluded the trend is less pronounced, but still indicates a trajectory of improvement. Now, it would not be reasonable to expect the trend – whether it’s closer to the sharper incline in the first graph or more gradual like the latter – to continue indefinitely. It should presumably plateau at some point, although there may not be enough road games left this season to get a really good sense of where.

But assuming Denver’s road winning percentage were either to hold steady at around .400-.450, or perhaps continue improving at least slightly before leveling off, then at a point when the Nuggets had ten road games remaining, it would be reasonable to expect that they should win four or five of them, or perhaps even more considering that six of those ten games would be played against lottery-bound teams.

Enter George Karl.

On Feb. 27, Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post reported on Karl’s assessment of how well the Nuggets would need to perform on the road to close out their season successfully:

We have not been as bad of a road team as people want to make it out to be. We’ve been a special home team. It’s how do you get to 52 or 53 (wins)? Some of the analysis … it boggles my mind. Plus, if you win 15 road games, it’s usually a good year. I don’t care how good you are. Usually the formula is if you win 70 percent of your home games, 50 percent of your road games, you’ll get to 50 wins. [emphasis added]

At the time Denver had 12 road wins with 10 road games remaining, and their overall winning percentage on the road was .387. So there are a few red flags being raised here.

Now to be fair, I do not expect Karl to have specific numbers right off the top of his head when being interviewed off the cuff, and I do not want to be overly pedantic about the exact win/loss numbers (though Karl himself seems quite willing to bring them up on his own).

However, it is reasonable to assume that when he made these comments he was well aware of their road record, how many road games they had left, and that winning 15 road games would mean finishing their road games 3-7 – a lowly 30%, worse than they put up in November, their worst road month of the season. And one would hope he also knew that in addition to being a “special home team,” their road performance has been improving.

In addition, as I discussed in my previous post on the importance of closing strong on the road, Karl is probably aware that with the trajectory Memphis has been on, 52 or 53 wins will likely not be enough to guarantee the fourth seed and home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Instead it probably will take 55 including the tiebreaker with the Grizzlies, or 56 without it.

Of course, we cannot know if Karl is issuing the same message to his players in the locker room as he’s presenting to the public. Perhaps he’s setting a higher standard for them without letting us in on it. That in itself would be problematic in the sense that, at the very least, he’s creating the perception among the Nuggets fan base that settling for less than what his team is capable of is acceptable.

But if it were the case that he is being consistent, and setting the bar needlessly low for his team as well, it would be incredibly disappointing.

Imagine coaches like Gregg Popovich, Jerry Sloan or Phil Jackson demanding anything less than excellence from their players, creating an atmosphere in which “good enough” is good enough. It’s unthinkable.

For the league’s truly great coaches, a philosophy which accepts as adequate anything less from their players than the highest level of excellence they’re capable of achieving would be considered unacceptable. As it would be for NBA organizations like the Lakers or Spurs (to name just two) to commit to anything less than striving for legitimate championship contention.

The Denver Nuggets should hold themselves to these high standards as well, and if they are not, then they’re doing a disservice to their fans.

Some have argued that since Denver has just won three very tough games, the fact that they’re winning diminishes the importance of this largely speculative and interpretative discussion of Karl’s messaging on expectations. I’ll readily concede that results count above all else, and that if the Nuggets do end up cl the fourth seed, not many fans will – or perhaps even should – care about this whole issue.

But even if they do, and I surely hope so, it will only reinforce the folly of Karl setting – or at least appearing to set – his aim too low at a time when his team is proving themselves capable of achieving greater things.

Hopefully behind the scenes he is holding them to a higher standard than his public comments would suggest. But if not, then Karl will have left it entirely on the players to miss his unnecessarily low mark, and meet the higher expectations they should be able to achieve.


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Joel is a long time Denver Nuggets (and Broncos) fan from Colorado who's been living in Japan since the mid-90s, and blogging about the Nuggets since 2008. You can contact and follow him on Twitter: @denbutsu.
  • joe

    “let’s win…I want to win…We are number 1” Is that how you win? NO

    You win with practice and sound fundamentals.

    Chant all you want Joel. I like George Karl’s approach.

    A 2 foot birdie putt and a 2 foot double bogie putt are the same thing……a 2 foot putt.

    • Joel

      I’m sorry to put this so bluntly, but I don’t think you could have missed my point any more completely than you just did.

      Successful organizations set goals that are near the upper — not lower — limits of what’s realistically possible. They hold themselves to the highest possible standards. And they don’t settle for mediocrity.

      Karl frequently makes comments which at least make it *seem* as if that may not be the case with him. And if it’s not, that’s a genuine problem. That’s the point, not that he’ll get his team to win by being a better cheerleader.

      You speak of practice and sound fundamentals. How good can their practices possibly be if Karl is motivating his guys by getting them excited to… get eliminated in the first round because they gave up too many easy road games? How hard will the players be willing to work on those fundamentals if they don’t feel the coaching staff and organization are fully committed to making the team a contender, but instead satisfied with being second best in the division and a low seed in the playoffs? Your “we want to win” comment is kind of funny-cute, I suppose, but these are real questions with real consequences.

      If you like Karl’s approach, don’t fight the feeling. But I find it frustrating as hell that he’s willing, if we can take his statements at face value, to settle for second best. And I’d take it a step further and say that it’s disrespectful to the fans who spend a lot of their time, money and passion supporting the team.

      • Daniel

        I think you’re overanalyzing what Karl told the press. First, it’s foolish to assume he’s preaching the same message behind closed doors, I doubt he enjoys losing on the road. If he was ok with losing on the road then he has no business being a professional coach and I doubt the players would play as strongly at home as they have with a coach that you are accusing of being unmotivated to win. You are talking about a guy who’s beat cancer twice, that requires some desire, passion, and drive.

        I think he was just understating things to the press and having his team’s back with all the harsh criticism their road play has garnered this season. I’m sure you’re guilty, as we all are, of understating the importance of something in your life to people you aren’t close to. Some people might call his statements modest or humble. Most people with the drive to be great don’t run around telling everyone they’re the best or that they should come out on top in every situation.

        • theo


          To the question of whether Karl sets high enough standards, I don’t think that’s a major issue at all. Many of us were encouraged by our parents to ‘always underpromise and overachieve.’ I think that’s all we’re seeing with Karl and Ujiri. We’ve gotten the underpromise part, now we’ll see about the overachieving.

          My bigger concern with Karl–actually, I think one of only a couple of legit critiques of his coaching this year–is that the team so often doesn’t appear ready to play, particularly against mediocre or bad teams, and especially on the road. Even at home we often don’t show up till the second half, sometimes until the fourth quarter, and sometimes not at all. Obviously, that’s a matter of player immaturity–not surprising with a very young team made up of an unusual numbers of ‘laid back’ personalities–but a coach’s two primary responsibilities are 1. X and O’s–creating a system and approach that puts players in position to succeed and 2. Being ready to play. Generally speaking, I think Karl has done a pretty decent job of 1 but not so good at 2, at least so far, though I agree with Joel it appears to be improving. Even if the players lack maturity and professionalism, it’s on the coach to get ’em ready. If he can’t, gotta find someone who can. If we get a handful more of those ‘don’t show up’ performances down the stretch, that should weigh heavily in management evaluations of the coaching staff post season.

  • airvaid

    “You speak of practice and sound fundamentals. How good can their practices possibly be if Karl is motivating his guys by getting them excited to… get eliminated in the first round because they gave up too many easy road games? How hard will the players be willing to work on those fundamentals if they don’t feel the coaching staff and organization are fully committed to making the team a contender, but instead satisfied with being second best in the division and a low seed in the playoffs? .” -Joel

    Strawman argument at its best. None of what you said is true, you assumed something and are now arguing against it.

    • Joel

      You may want to brush up on your logical fallacies, airvaid. A straw man argument is when you mischaracterize or fabricate someone’s position and then tear down a point they never made. I didn’t do that there. If anything, Joe’s original reply:

      “let’s win…I want to win…We are number 1″ Is that how you win? NO

      …was a straw man, as I never said that Karl merely saying he wants to win would be the way to win.

      While we’re on the subject of logical fallacies, in your post below, you wrote:

      ” WTF does a coach that has won a 1000 games and been coaching for 20 years know?”

      Now THAT^ is a textbook fallacy. But I’ll leave it to you to identify it.

      • airvaid

        Great, not acknowledging any of the part I quoted.

        The fact that you just assumed Karl sets expectations low for players and how it affects their practice and mindset.

        That’s great you know, if it wasn’t just fabricated in your head.

      • airvaid

        “A straw man argument is when you mischaracterize or fabricate someone’s position and then tear down a point they never made.”

        Isn’t that exactly what you did to Karl.

        • Joel

          No. In fact, I went out of my way to make it quite clear that I was being speculative based on his public comments, which were an admittedly incomplete set of information. To boot:

          –“Seemingly” in the post title
          –“Of course, we cannot know if Karl is issuing the same message to his players in the locker room as he’s presenting to the public. Perhaps he’s setting a higher standard for them without letting us in on it.”
          –“But if it were the case that he is being consistent, and setting the bar needlessly low for his team as well, it would be incredibly disappointing.” –> Emphasis on the “IF… WOULD BE…”
          –“The Denver Nuggets should hold themselves to these high standards as well, and if they are not, then they’re doing a disservice to their fans.” –> Again, “IF…”
          –“it will only reinforce the folly of Karl setting – or at least appearing to set – his aim too low” –> “appearing…”
          –“Hopefully behind the scenes he is holding them to a higher standard than his public comments would suggest. But if not” –> “Hopefully…”/”IF…”

          I really don’t know from all of this how you got the idea that I was making some kind of absolute declaration on what Karl is, in fact, doing. I pretty much bent over backwards to make sure it was clear that I was drawing inferences, based on his comments, of a certain possibility, but that I (/we) couldn’t know for sure (which I stated explicitly) what was really going on behind the scenes.

          I appreciate your feedback, but I have to say that I don’t think you’re representing what I actually said very fairly. I try to choose my words carefully when I post, and distinguish clearly between making a strong assertion (based, for example, on statistical or video evidence) and raising speculation (as I did here). Which is not to say I’ll always be 100% successful in that regard, but at the end of the day, when I criticize — or praise, for that matter — anything the Nuggets are doing, I want to be fair and accurate inasmuch as possible.

          I will admit that this post was borne of my hackles being raised when I read Karl’s comments. My immediate reaction was, “3 out of 10? Come on, Karl, are you seriously setting the bar that low?” But based on his remarks, that was exactly what it sounded like to me, and I’ll stand by this post in saying, again, that IF that’s really the standard he’s setting, it’s not good enough.

  • Mark B

    This is just another thing about Karl that doesn’t add up when you think about 1000 win coaches. And its just another thing to make you watch the games more closely when you’re wondering who is responsible for the Nuggets winning. George Karl is a mansion sitter. Everybody hates Kisla for his article but I know he has been watching what I have been watching; a coach that is a very smart man but a very inactive coach. He simply throws together the lineups that he enjoys watching play and sits back to see what happens. He doesn’t like Javale’s game so he doesn’t play him much. He doesn’t think Corey Brewer is good enough during the important times so he pulls him for Miller. He assumes because Miller is a smart basketball player that he is their best shot at winning games. He puts no responsibility on his players because he has no intention of ever letting them improve their minutes or level of importance to him. Say what you want about what I just wrote but I want you to put on your memory caps now and think about this.

    Since the start of the season, game by game, how has Karl’s coaching changed?? What is he doing differently today that he wasn’t doing in November?

    I see a coach that since Chandler’s return does this: with 6 minutes left in the first, Chandler goes in. 5 minutes left, Javale. 4 minutes left, Miller. With poor play or fouls, Brewer will be thrown in at some point too.
    At 7-8 minutes in the second, Javale comes out and George goes small, regardless of how well Javale is playing. (If he makes even one “bonehead” or “silly” mistake, Karl pulls him immediately). It goes on like this in the same ways every single game. Rarely an adjustment during a timeout which always leads to the other team coming back out of the timeout. And to finish up here I will remind everyone of the thing I hate more than anything about George Karl’s coaching. With 5 minutes left in any game. It doesn’t matter if bench players or starters or any particular lineup is playing out of their minds incredible basketball, George puts Andre Miller in the game.

    This is how George has coached every single game this year. And if you have watched closely, the only differences come from unusually poor individual play or foul trouble. I am just praying that Memphis falls apart soon so that we can make it through the first round of the playoffs and are able to say that we are improving, even if we really aren’t.

    • prospector

      Great analysis… Karl does the same thing over and over again…. His rotations and minutes only change due to foul trouble or injuries… When he talks to the media, he makes it sounds like he is making adjustments.. But anyone who has watched every game since the MELLO trade, can understand his patterns…. KK, McGee, and Faried could all three be going off and KARL will go small to close games out…. He is SO FRUSTRATING to watch as a hardcore fan… I wish I was a KARL half full guy….. I think it’s time to start seriously drinking and popping pain killers during games… I’ll let you know how it works out.

  • Ban Johnson

    15-26 on the road is not what a top 10 team does. Even if that same team went 30-11 at home (which is strong), they would just eke out a 45-37 season, and likely be a sacrificial lamb in the first round.

    Now, young teams, even good ones, usually under-perform on the road. It seems to take experience to play at the same level when the crowd, and, to some extent, the whistle, are against you.

    As for the Nuggets specifically, here are their road losses this year to non-playoff teams, in order. If you’re an avid fan, I’m sure you’ll cringe like in remembering these games:

    Nuggets also lost at home to
    Washington and

    2 teams that seem to be bad matchups, but still games the Nugs should win.

    That’s at least 8 completely avoidable road losses to teams with far less talent (and an additional 2 completely avoidable home losses). Nuggets would be a 60+ win team if they just took care of business against non-playoff teams. MUCH easier said than done, of course…but that should be goal.

    • airvaid

      You have listed Minnesota twice, we beat them away once and lost once.

      Very conveniently people also forget wins on the road against,

      Houston x 2
      Golden State

      While mentioning the two losses at home, does anyone remember that the Nugget are tied for the best record at home in the whole NBA. Matched only by the Miami Heat.

      • Ban Johnson

        Memphis, Indiana, Golden State and Houstonx2 are excellent road wins against current playoff teams. That makes up for at least 5 of those 9 bad losses.
        (You’re right: I counted Minnesota 3 times instead of 2. Nuggets just have 9 bad losses to non-playoff teams this year.)

        But @Laker, @Dallas, @Portland wins don’t get you much credit in my book. If the Nuggets are truly in that 2nd tier — knocking on the door — with the Pacers and Grizzlies, then beating non-playoff teams should be just a matter of course.

        • magster

          We’ve also had some very close losses on the road, where if we had one 3 more of them, we’d be a .500 club, including off the top of my head:

          GS #2
          MEM #2
          POR #1
          MIN #2

          Now that we are hopefully more mentally tough, some of those losses listed above would be different today. Hopefully.

      • Guy

        All 4 teams ahead of us have winning road records. If we just finish at .500 on the road we’re playing at home in the first round. Losing to lottery teams on the road most likely will be the difference between moving to the 2nd round and another 1st round exit. I think his point in a nutshell is that if you don’t win on the road you’ll never contend for a title. Historically the Nuggets don’t win on the road.
        For those who use youth as an excuse, they did pretty well on the road last year…..why the dropoff??

        • airvaid

          Err.. May be because the team had a historically difficult road schedule to start the season?

    • Tom

      Both the Nuggets and the Spurs win basically all of their home games. Both the Nuggets and the Spurs have about ten road wins against good teams. Both the Nuggets and Spurs win about 2/3 of their games against good teams overall.

      But the Spurs have only lost 3 games to really bad teams (@New Orleans, @Detroit, vs Phx). The Nuggets have lost about 10 of those games. The Nuggets’ win percentage against sub-.500 teams (64%) is almost identical to their win percentage against winning teams (63%).

      That’s why those two teams are separated by 8+ games in the standings instead of being separated by 1-2 games.

      • Nathan

        Not winning easy games is a large problem- it can be the difference between 1 playoff series and 2 (or more). Champions put the foot on the gas and blow bad teams out. The Nuggets play down to their opponents level and lose a lot of games that they should have won. I can only think of two reasons for this happening: the Nuggets are an immature team or the coaching staff doesn’t get them ready to play against weak opponents.

        Both reasons could actually be attributed to the coach.

  • Andrew K

    Personally I wouldn’t think too much about what Karl says. Since when is such great importance placed upon words? I believe the actions of his team speak louder than his words. They have been improving, albeit slowly, since the beginning of the year on the road. But a couple of those game the Nuggets could have won, and had a better record.

    But I think Karl was being realistic. This current Nuggets team is probably not capable yet of winning 57 games, and being above .500 on the road. If you remember his prediction, he projected the Nuggets to be only about 2 games above .500 around Christmas, and that is exactly where they were. It could be that the Nuggets perform close to his predictions because they believe that is the best they can do, but I highly doubt that. Karl knows his team better than any of us, and knows what they are capable of.

    • airvaid

      ” WTF does a coach that has won a 1000 games and been coaching for 20 years know?”

      • Ban Johnson

        Karl could stand to be more of a motivator, positive thinker, and standard-setter, than an analyzer, philosopher, and ass-coverer. I think that’s the basic gist of what Joel is saying.

        Some predictions and analysis end up being self-fulfilling — that’s just human nature. Set a higher standard, and even if you don’t reach it, you may just reach higher than you would have thought possible.

        • airvaid

          Again, the guys been coaching for 20 years. He’s employed to coach because of who he is. Not everyone is a motivator saying lets win all 82 games.

          The writer states Lakers and Spurs as examples. Lets just assume he’s talking about Pop and Phil Jackson. No one here has ever stepped into those dressing rooms and seen what message they gave to their players. So yeah strawman arguements galore in that article.

          Blatantly speculate about things that you have no idea about, formulate your own personal opinion about what might be happening. And then criticize Karl for what you assumed he is doing.

          I don’t care how he chooses to motivate his players. Whether he rips them a new one or just manages expectations. But I can’t criticize home for one that I “assumed he must be doing”.

    • magster

      One frustrating thing is that Denver was above .500 on the road but craptacular at home (relative to other seasons) last year.

      It was one of the things that had me delusionally optimistic to start the season.

  • Legalize Denver Nuggets

    I wouldn’t read into it so much. I’m pretty sure as an NBA coach, you take things game by game. I don’t think you sit down with your players and talk about exact numbers of games you are expected to win. Rather you focus on how to win a particular match-up that game. And hopefully because they are coached to win, they know they can win every game (although I’m not even gonna touch on the effectiveness of that coaching). I don’t think he is talking so much about goals as he is expectations. He is trying to say he’s seen it all in this league because he’s so damn old. I don’t think he tells his team “If you win 50% of your road games, you get cookies!!”

    There is a fine line with being realistic to your fan base and having seemingly low standards. I think its ok for him to be a realist in this scenario because the nuggets organization is pretty much conceding that they aren’t going to reach the plateau until next season.

  • Gorillabuddy

    I’m not too concerned. We’re not the same team we were early in the season when we were dropping all those games. Quite frankly most of our players have improved since then.

    Ty has become a leader, Gallo has become more clutch and reliable, Iggy has meshed better(although his shooting is still lacking), Mcgee has become less wild, and Brewer and Chandler have developed nicely offensively.

    We still have our problems, such as Faried struggling against bigger teams like OKC, Miller being a defensive liability, and GK relying on small ball way too much, but I still feel like we’ve definitely improved. We’ll see just how much when we get to that back to back against Chicago and OKC.

  • leeds

    How many rings does Karl have?

    How many times has he lost in the first round with the Nuggets? 7 out of 8 years…

    If being slightly above average is the goal then it is mission accomplished.

    remember he had the best team in the league with the Sonics in 1994…and guess what? He became the first coach to lose to an #8 seed…

    karl lover just want to start their vacations early in May just like the coach…

    • airvaid

      That’s a great statistic. You must have access to stats, can you answer these queries please:

      How many championships to the teams Karl coached have since he left?

      Who else has lost as #1 seed to the 8th seed? Popovic? Thibodeau?

      How often did the Nuggets even “make” the playoffs before Karl got here?

      How many other teams have made the playoff’s as often as the Nuggets since Karl took over?

      How many Western Conference Finals did the Nuggets play in their history before Karl?

      What is Karl’s win percentage since taking over?

      What is the Nuggets winning percentage in franchise history before Karl?


      • chronosynclastic infundibula

        airvaid raises some good questions. I say this as an anti-Karl guy. Karl coached Nuggets teams are like flirtatious dates that end up being prudes.

      • Guy

        Popovich has 4 titles, Karl has zero. The Spurs are consistantly getting home court advantage in the playoffs, the Nuggets have had it twice since Karl’s been here and one of those times they got bounced out in the first round by a Utah team which had several players injured. Besides last year the Nuggets haven’t even been competitive when they’ve lost in the first round. Last year they had their only playoff road win with Karl other than the year they went to the WCF.
        Popovich and Thibideau (No Derek Rose) get the most out of their talent year after year where Karl does not. This doesn’t mean he’s a bad coach but he’s not in their league.

        • Riley

          Can’t really use the Utah defeat as an example seing that the team was on a big role before Karl was hospitalized with cancer. They would have made a bigger push if he was there which showed how much that team relied on him

      • leeds

        dude, this is not about comparing karl to Pop or any other coach…

        point is karl is a good but not elite coach whom as won exactly the same number of titles you and I have – which is none…

        I have karl supporters bring up other coaches to defend karl…

        Karl’s playoff records speaks for itself…
        78 wins and 101 loses for a .436 clip which is a great batting average but a crappy playoff coach…

        also karl’s seattle team was the FIRST to lose to an 8th seed….that is a FACT

    • magster

      If Karl hadn’t lost to the Nugs that one year, would he be more highly regarded here?

      • theo

        Of course. Most of the critiques of Karl are misguided and misinformed. Particularly the rotation, in game decisions stuff. Tons of hard statistical evidence to show Karl, generally speaking, is doing exactly what he should be doing re his 5 man rotations. More on that later.

        Legit Karl critiques from this season?

        1. Mentioned above the getting young players ready to play problem. Improving but I would say a weak performance overall. That’s a huge issue for a coach since it’s one of the most important–if not most important–jobs they have.

        2. We get beat out of times outs consistently. Even the homer crew at Altitude points that out consistently, but no one watching the games needs their reminder. Head scratcher.

        Legit critiques of Karl over his career?

        1. His teams rarely underachieve–in spite of the incessant harping about the first round loss to Nugs–but also almost never overachieve. His ability to avoid underachieving is why he’s been steadily at work for 25 years in a ruthless profession where if you don’t produce you’re gone and why he’ll be a unanimous first ballot hall of fame selection. But still, he doesn’t seem able to help teams achieve beyond their talent level–admittedly, very hard to do, but many excellent coaches–Rick Adelman for one–seem able more regularly to pull off that trick. I think we’ve seen that pattern of not noticeably underachieving but not overachieving here in Denver.

        2. No evidence a team running Karl’s system can win a title in the NBA. What he ran in Seattle is really pretty different than this version, and he had star talent there. Of course, it was an up tempo attack the rim style, so I guess you could argue that kind of system can win since the only reason Karl didn’t get at least one ring was the Sonics ran into the greatest–by single season record–team in NBA history in the Finals in the Bulls. In almost any other year Karl gets his ring and validation. I mean, there are a lot of great coaches and players without rings because of Jordan (Jerry Sloan as the most obvious example, John Stockton, Malone, Barkley, etc, etc, etc.–the list is long).

        • Ban Johnson

          There’s plenty of data behind some of Karl’s regular decisions — not playing McGee and Faried together is a big one that is pretty well-supported by 5-man unit stats.

          But I’m dying for the hard statistical evidence that shows the Nuggets should close practically EVERY SINGLE GAME with Andre Miller as the second guard and no center on the court. That’s a really big bone of contention most of the anti-Karl people have with him.

        • Ban Johnson

          also, re: plays out of time outs. Read the Chauncey Billups article in SI a few years ago (if you can find it), written after he came to the Nuggets in trade for Iverson and turned the team around.

          Billups was shocked that the Nuggets didn’t have any out-of-bounds plays, and actually took it on himself to teach a couple to the team.

          Karl is pretty unorthodox and intuitive, is the point I’m making. This idea that everything he does is coming from some deep well of reason and old-school basketball diligence is just nonsense.

          • airvaid

            Yeah I am not saying Karl is some genius who can’t do anything wrong. He has his flaws.

            But most of the criticism, on this site especially is just unfair. Like just assuming he doesn’t motivate them. Or that he sets low goals?

            Teams just don’t win 50 games year after year by just showing up.

            Teams don’t just reach the playoffs year after year by setting low expectations.

            Teams that have better talent can’t even have winning records let alone make the playoffs. Losing superstar? No problem. 50 wins.

            3 players out in China? Half the team getting persistent injuries? No problem. Back in the playoffs.

            And this is happening in a packed Western Conference. Where the Nuggets haven’t had a lottery pick in a decade. Let alone two or three.

            Is Karl the greatest coach in the world? No.

            Are the Nuggets a stable team who will make the playoffs year afte year with Karl? Yes.

            Does this team a healthy dosage of luck to win the championship? Yes. But this team needs it with any coach. Even Phil Jackson could be coaching this team and the results wouldn’t be skewed much.

            Pop is great, but would he have four championships without Duncan, Robinson, Parker and Ginobli?

            Phil Jackson, 11 without Jordan, Pippen, Shaq and Kobe. Hell how were Phil and Kobe doing before Pau got there?

          • theo

            Love your stuff, but oh jeez, don’t go there with the counter cultural Karl coaching by karma and intuition stuff. You sound like somebody who knows his way around the block. Nobody survives 25 years in the NBA biz if they don’t know what they’re doing backwards and forwards. Karl and his staff know the relevant stats. They play percentages like everybody else.

  • Giovanni

    Karl is a good coach but not an elite…
    The truth is in the middle(original!!!???)

    That is simply reality…

    Karl is the reason why we lost vs the Lakers in conference finals…

    Psremeber last year that Faried did not play a minutes until some bigs come down..
    His prefence players are the worse aspect of his coaching..
    So the defensive plays…

    Maybe with another coach we not arrive in play offs,,,
    Maybe we can conplete with elite for years,,,

  • Ckwizard

    You mention 3 coaches that had high standards but are those standards or perhaps better expectations applicable to the players and those players given experience level on the Nuggets. I am asking you to equate players on those coaches teams to our Nuggets… Who is our Robinson, Duncan, Parker…. Who is our Jordan and Pippen… Who is our Stockton, Malone, Hornecek… The problem with your idea is that those mention Coaches probably had different expectations of those players as Rookies or even second year players…. Also all of those players I mentioned were “Profesionals” in every sense of the word, actually those players help Define the way we view profesional athletes… On this Nuggets team who is the “profesional” that is the equal of the players on those said coaches teams? Maybe our closest and bet profesional is Igoudala… So is it wrong for a coach with a young team of players learning to be “Profesionals” to have “realistic” expectations for his team….. The Nuggets are a talented and exciting team with “potential” but they need to be better “Profesionals” to win on the road. George Karl has done a good job with this team if you use that lens and when you compare him to those other coaches and how they interacted and treated those players you need to understand who those players were.