Staking a Claim is a new column that will be taking a look at all things Nuggets through the eyes of an outsider. As those who follow me on Twitter know I am a Bucks fan, so it will give Nuggets fans an opportunity to see things through the eyes of someone who follows the team closely but isn’t necessarily a fan. Please leave any subjects that you would like to see addressed in the future in the comments below or send them to me on Twitter @Matt_Cianfrone.
In the Nuggets fan community there are a few questions that have groups of fans divided on the answer.
Who deserves more minutes, JaVale Mcgee or Kosta Koufos? Is Andre Miller worth it? And who has the highest ceiling Gallo or Ty seem to be some of the most common.
But no debate brings out more opinions, or more intense debate, than if George Karl is the right coach for the Nuggets.
Some fans want him gone as soon as possible, while others defend him against a seemingly constant onslaught, based on the way a player or two plays in a game, or even the level of talent on the roster.
I have found myself falling in between the two camps, disagreeing with some decisions Karl makes, mainly rotation ones, while still feeling that Karl is a good coach and one that is going to get the most out of the current Denver roster.
On the bad side most of the problems seem to stem from too much trust in certain players and not enough in others. That problem is the most evident in the minutes of Andre Miller and the three main bigs on the roster.
In short, mainly because the both topics will likely be a “Staking a Claims” for another day, I believe Kosta Koufos and or JaVale McGee need more minutes and Kenneth Faried needs less minutes at center and more at power forward. In the Miller situation he just does not fit the team makeup and his bad decision making has cost the Nuggets games. Also, if Karl really feels that Miller needs to play as many minutes as he does then it is time that Ty Lawson gets a bit of a break. This season Lawson is averaging 35 minutes a game, a number that is entirely too high when the backup point guard is also averaging 25 a game. But again, those two topics will be more for other days.
One of the other criticisms of Karl is the way he handles his timeouts when other teams start making runs. Karl typically will not call a timeout to stop an opponent’s run; instead hoping to let his team play themselves back into the game. While this rubs many fans the wrong way I am not actually bothered by this tactic.
It would be one thing if the Nuggets were a young team full of rookies playing important minutes, but the Nuggets rotation players for the most part, are all guys who have been through many game situations before. They should be able to handle things, and if they do those timeouts are able to be saved an important late game situation. Obviously though, this can be taken to an extreme. If the Nuggets are on the wrong side of a 15 or 20 point run a timeout needs to be taken, but I have no issue with trying to avoid burning a timeout because of an eight or 10 point run, especially with the explosiveness of the Nuggets offense.
While Karl does have his faults in the end I believe that he is the right coach for the Nuggets, and much of that has to do with his offensive system. In an era of advanced statistics Karl has built his offense around the three most efficient shots in basketball; layups/dunks, free throws and three pointers. This has allowed the team to become one of the best offenses in basketball despite not having a super scorer on the roster.
At the moment the Nuggets have the fifth most efficient offense in the league behind only the Thunder, Heat, Spurs and Knicks, all teams with at least one better offensive weapon than the Nuggets best (Durant, Westbrook,Wade,LeBron,Parker,Melo and arguably Duncan and Bosh).
That offensive firepower is very much attributed to the Karl dribble drive offense, especially since there are not a lot of floor stretchers on the roster. The ability to have an offense that is able to get into the paint so often despite not having a reliable shooter outside of Gallinari on Lawson drives or Lawson on Gallo drives, is very much due to how Karl schemes his attack. The spacing is very effective and his new compromise to allow Lawson to shoot mid-range jumpers shows flexibility to making his attack the most effective it can be. This kind of scheme and spacing is a critical thing in Denver where the ability to gain and keep an elite scorer on the roster may always be a difficult thing.
One of the other big criticisms of Karl and his tenure in Denver is the lack of postseason success. While Karl’s past is not an encouraging sign this roster is clearly the best that Karl has ever had in Denver, and while it is already battling for a possible third seed, it is clearly still growing. With another year of growth for important players such as Lawson, Gallinari and Faried and the addition of a knockdown shooter or two this team can be extremely dangerous next year with Karl at the helm.
What makes it even more encouraging is the growth of young players under Karl. While some people point to the handling of Evan Fournier and Jordan Hamilton as reasons that Karl is not good for young players much of the Nuggets roster speaks otherwise.
Lawson, Faried, and Gallinari have all shown great strides in their game since they entered the league or the Nuggets organization and all seem like possible All-Star berths are, at the very least, possible in the future. Even other players have shown a smaller amount of growth into valuable rotation players like Kosta Koufos and Corey Brewer or even JaVale McGee who has grown greatly as a player since he arrived in Denver.
The final thing that has to be taken into account when assessing Karl is the other head coaches in the league and who could replace him. Gregg Popovich is clearly the best head coach in the league and the only one who has shown a great handling of defense and offense. A look around the other elite coaches in the league show that they struggle with things too.
In Boston the Celtics offense has consistently been below average under Doc Rivers, the same with Tom Thibodeau in Chicago. The fact of the matter is that even really good coaches aren’t perfect and Karl fits that mold.
If the Nuggets do fire him, who is the replacement that can keep this team at the level they are at? Stan Van Gundy needs shooters to fit his system and the next best coach available at the moment is probably Alvin Gentry. Is Gentry really an upgrade from Karl? I doubt it, especially when the roster is so well constructed to fit Karl’s schemes.
Sure Karl may not be Popovich but come playoff time I like my chances in a Lionel Hollins/George Karl coaching matchup. Or a Karl/Vinny Del Negro duel. In fact I like Karl’s chances to outcoach, or at least not get outcoached in any possible playoff matchup in the West outside of Popovich. If he does that the game decided by the players on the floor, which is what fans want.
Is Karl perfect?
No. But the problems he has can be fixed by the strong Nuggets front office. Get rid of his crutch of Andre Miller, and maybe even Wilson Chandler forcing Karl to play a bit bigger more often. But given what the Nuggets have built, and it is a great foundation, Karl needs to be around if they want to reach their highest ceiling in the next couple of years.