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.
As the Nuggets have caught fire recently on their way to winning 13 straight games things have finally come together in the frontcourt, as all five of the main minutes getters at the center and power forward spots have taken turns playing well.
This week I wanted to take a look at that front court rotation and talk about a couple things I like and don’t like in that rotation.
Before I get into my opinions, there are a few stats that I want to take a look at so that the rotation can be understood a bit better.
So far this year the bulk of the Nuggets time at power forward has been split between three players. According to 82games.com Kenneth Faried gets 48 percent of the team’s minutes at power forward, Danillo Gallinari has played 28 percent of the team’s minutes there and Wilson Chandler has gotten eight percent of those minutes despite missing a bit of time earlier in the season.
At center things are similar as just three players there make up the bulk of the minutes. Kosta Koufos leads the pack by playing 40 percent of the team’s minutes at the position, and is followed by JaVale McGee who gets 35 percent of the minutes and Faried who plays 11 percent.
The center minutes distribution really surprised me. For a while I had been clamoring for more Koufos minutes but looking at the center distribution my thoughts have changed a bit. While I still believe that Koufos should get more minutes, the amount more is less than I had been asking for.
The reasoning for that is simple. As I and others have said before Koufos is vitally important to the Nuggets defense as he constantly makes the proper rotations, cutting off drives and rolls to the basket and forcing extra passes that the length and energy of Gallinari, Idoudala, and Faried can capitalize on and turn into easy baskets. It also allows Faried a bit more room to gamble for weak side blocks because Koufos has slowed things down a bit. Faried excels at those high flying blocks and the rotation differences in Koufos and McGee explain a bit why the Nuggets defense is so much worse when McGee and Faried share the court.
The other minutes distribution I would change comes in the form of Gallo and Chandler. While Chandler has been incredibly effective lately his numbers at small forward are actually much better than his numbers at power forward and vice versa for Gallo and his numbers at the two spots.
Gallo shoots at a much better clip at power forward then small forward (55 to 47 efg%) grabs two more rebounds and turns the ball over almost two less times per 48 minutes.
Chandler on the other hand shoots better at the small forward spot (48 to 40 efg%) grabs two more rebounds, and fouls less.
The numbers make sense for a couple reasons. Gallo isn’t the most athletic player in the world so at times he can struggle with quickness, something that he sees more and more in today’s wing defenders. By moving down to the power forward spot it allows him to utilize his ball handling ability to take the more lumbering big men off the dribble. It also allows him to get more clean jumpers as he can spot up and typically be left open as the big men defending him hesitate to be pulled that far from the basket. It really just seems like a better fit for Gallo’s talents than asking him to take someone like Kevin Durant, Tayshaun Prince or other good wing defenders off the dribble.
On the other hand Chandler is an incredibly strong physical player who is at his best when he gets to the rim. While recently he has been on a tear taking bigger players off the dribble the transition to a few more minutes at small forward shouldn’t hurt due to his strength. As we saw last night with Kevin Durant, most wings will just bounce off Chandler on drives and his strength allows him to finish once they do. His athleticism is also useful at the position allowing him to be incredibly dangerous on cuts and dives to the basket all the chance at a big dunk is always present.
What all the numbers showed just strengthen my belief in a few things.
First, Koufos should be on the floor to close games most nights and should probably get a few more minutes, up into the 25 per game range. The Nuggets are basically five points better per 100 possessions defensively with Kosta on the floor and if the Nuggets are in a close one late that defense cannot be on the bench. The fact that the Nuggets are also four and a half points better offensively with Koufos on the floor is just an added bonus.
Secondly, Gallinari needs to see more minutes at power forward. His skill set just seems to fit a bit better there as it allows him to exploit mismatches on the perimeter that he just doesn’t have on the wing. The fact that he rebounds the ball well only helps in this case as it allows him to play with either Koufos or Faried as the combination should have no problem rebounding since all three are so good at it. In fact it could allow him to play more with McGee since he is able to pick up a bit of the slack. Gallo also defends better at power forward, holding opponents to only a 53 perrcent efficient field goal percentage as opposed to 56 percent at small forward. While Gallo probably can’t survive 30 minutes a game a power forward he could probably thrive playing just a bit more there then he does right now.
Third, JaVale’s minutes are probably perfectly ok where they are at the moment, with the catch that if he is playing very well one night he should get more minutes for that game. The Nuggets are worse offensively, 4 points per 100 possessions, with him on the floor and only marginally better defensively, 1 point per 100 possessions. When JaVale is having a monster game George Karl should get as many minutes out of him as possible, otherwise let him do his usual thing of a highlight or two and a mistake or two and live with the results.
Finally, Faried is probably fine where he is. Offensively he is better at center where he uses his quickness to his advantage to get cleaner looks and finishes better (64 to 54 efg%). Defensively he is better at power forward, as he is already a bit undersized playing power forward at 6 foot 8 and at center that becomes even more of a problem. But in the end the energy, activity and athleticism Faried brings to the lineup is something that the Nuggets thrive on and needs to be on the floor as much as possible, while still keeping him fresh.
What all this information proves though, is one thing. While a big man rotation of Faried, Koufos, McGee, Chandler and Gallinari may not seem intimidating to some causal fans, the Nuggets make it work and work well. And recently they have made it a great strength.
No matter what you need the Nuggets have it with this group. Athleticism, strength, energy, shooting, finishing, sound fundamentals. Someone in the rotation has it.
The scariest part though, is that the best is yet to come. There is one thing all five players have in common.
There is room for growth. The levels of potential growth may be different but each player has something they can improve on.
And when that happens the decisions for George Karl and his staff on who to play will be made harder.
Fortunately for them it means the Nuggets will be made better.