At a time when Nuggets fans are seeing dark clouds forming over Denver’s playoff prospects due to recent news of Ty Lawson’s plantar fascia injury, a silver lining emerged in the form of Evan Fournier. Seldom used this season, he led all Nuggets in scoring with a career high 19 points, and sparked the second quarter surge that put the Nuggets in control for the rest of the game.
|Danilo Gallinari, SF 32 MIN | 5-12 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 6 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | +15
Gallo’s inconspicuous stat line belies a balanced, well-fought and effective effort. The obvious thing to assume it would be important for him to do on a night when Lawson is out is lead the team’s offensive production. But tonight was more about picking up the slack left by Faried (just two rebounds) and Miller (just three assists). More than scoring, his playmaking and defense were on display, and he had one especially impressive assist to Fournier in the paint for a layup.
|Kenneth Faried, SF 19 MIN | 2-2 FG | 0-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 4 PTS | -1
Among players who rely on their physicality to be effective, it sometimes seems that Faried is the least physical. He loves to battle for rebounds down low, but he’s more of a pogo stick than a bruiser. Enter a “real” nut-grabbin’ tough guy like Reggie Evans, and Kenneth tends to wither, getting frustrated, getting outmuscled — basically getting abused, as he did through most of the game tonight. He made Evans look like Al Jefferson in the post, and he made himself look like — well, not himself on the glass. Faried can and will be a beast someday if he can find his way to doing the mental equivalent of a Vulcan mind meld with Kenyon Martin. He needs to shed his fear, and learn to never back down.
|Kosta Koufos, C 24 MIN | 6-8 FG | 1-4 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 13 PTS | +13
Koufos blew up straight out of the gates, scoring ten points in the first seven minutes of the first quarter. We didn’t see much offensively from him after that, but he had more rebounds (seven) than Faried (two) and McGee (four) combined. And perhaps most importantly, he did an outstanding job of defending Brook Lopez, who shot just 4-15 in large parts to Kosta shutting him down. Fournier’s big night will overshadow everything else, but Koufos was arguably the second most important player in this game.
|Andre Miller, PG 27 MIN | 4-9 FG | 4-4 FT | 1 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | 0
In a 22-point blowout, only two starters failed to land on the positive side of the plus/minus divide, the afore maligned Faried, and Andre Miller. I had flashbacks to the Allen Iverson days at times during this game. Not in terms of any specific skills, but in terms of approach. Watching the guy take the ball up the court, dribble it to a pulp until there are less than ten seconds remaining on the clock, and then driving into a defensive brick wall instead of initiating some ball movement to find a better look. To his credit, he did have a couple of good drives and he made all four of his free throws. But Miller was, for the most part, shifting gears between selfish and indifferent tonight. Nowhere was this more evident than on the defensive end, where Denver was lucky that Deron Williams missed the majority of the open 3-pointers Andre didn’t contest. Miller can be a boon to this team, but that all starts with him realizing he needs to be a facilitator rather than the hero on offense, and with him putting in an ardent defensive effort.
|Andre Iguodala, SG 32 MIN | 4-5 FG | 0-2 FT | 3 REB | 8 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 9 PTS | +5
One nice thing about Iguodala’s game tonight was his decision making. He attempted – and made – only one 3-pointer, bringing the remainder of his shot attempts to the rim where, frankly, they belong. He also led the team with eight assists, as he was called upon by Karl to play point guard in stretches — and to put it bluntly, did a better job of it than Andre Miller. But at the end of the day he really didn’t make too big an impact on this game, and his defense lacked the vivacity that some of his teammates brought off the bench.
|Anthony Randolph, PF 4 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | +5
|Jordan Hamilton, SF 3 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-1 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +3
Inconclusive. Except to point out that he did a nifty little showboating mid-air-pass-to-himself dunk which, while probably a bit unsportsmanlike, was pretty cool.
|Quincy Miller, SF 3 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +3
|Corey Brewer, SF 26 MIN | 5-9 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 13 PTS | +18
Brewer had a quietly efficient game on the offensive end tonight, but made his real imprint on defense, especially through the 16-2 second quarter run that put the Nuggets in the driver’s seat. He did a good job of disrupting passing lanes and denying easy shots.
|JaVale McGee, C 17 MIN | 4-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | +3
McGee has proven over the course of the season that at times he can play in a more controlled, fundamentally sound manner. Tonight was not one of those times, however. He was in wild chaos mode for much of the game, and really struggled on defense. To his credit, though, he did come up with a couple of key putbacks inthe third quarter that helped to prevent the Nets from digging too deeply into the Nuggets’ lead.
|Evan Fournier, SG 21 MIN | 6-9 FG | 6-6 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 19 PTS | +22
Through the preseason and occasional limited minutes this season, we have seen flashes of Fournier’s potential, though often marked by mistakes and some poor decision making. But tonight was his coming out party, as he put on full display the best of his capabilities, and kept the errors to a minimum. He went supernova in the second quarter, exploding for nine points in seven minutes. His dynamic dribble penetration was exactly the spark that the Nuggets offense needed, and his defense was great as well. He completely owned C.J. Watson on both ends of the court, driving by him at will, and forcing the ball out of his hands on most possessions. More than either Miller or Stone, Fournier has the tools to approximate Lawson’s basket penetration game, and if Ty is going to miss several more games due to injury, Fournier delivered a positive sign tonight that he might help to pick up the offensive dropoff. He also made all six of his free throw attempts, which is great news for a Denver team that struggles from the line.
|Wilson Chandler, SG 29 MIN | 4-8 FG | 7-8 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 16 PTS | +19
Like Fournier, Chandler did an excellent job of driving, getting to the line and knocking his free throws down, going seven of eight from the charity stripe. On a night when the rest of the team shot just 8 of 17 free throws (.470), Chandler and Fournier (6/6) combined for 13/14 (.929). And Wilson was a big part of the big second quarter run as well, with his defense playing a big part.
This was one of those “hard to grade Karl” games. On the surface, how can it be right to second guess the guy who just coached his team to a 22-point blowout when they were missing their most important player? Nitpick all you want, the results are definitive.And actually, there were some things I really liked abut what Karl did. When Fournier caught fire, he left him on the court (something that isn’t necessarily very Karl-like) and have his run. This was his most important coaching decision of the game, ultimately, and the right one at that.
But what would grading Karl be without some nitpicks?
Truth be told, as good of a playmaker as Iguodala is, I’d rather not see him run the point as much as he did tonight, especially when he’s sharing the court with Fournier. Andre’s best playmaking seems to come as inspired improvisation in the flow of a play, rather than in the deliberated running of the offense. The plays initiated by Fournier had better ball and player movement, more energy. Like Miller, Iguodala tends to stop and dribble at the top of the arc. I don’t begrudge Karl doing a point forward experiment with Iguodala, because in principle it could be effective. But it really doesn’t fit Denver’s offense very well.
The bigger issue was frontcourt foul trouble. In the end, nobody fouled out, and some will say that proves Karl was right. But I’ll stick to my guns, and stand by my in-game comments that he should have found some minutes for Anthony Randolph and/or Timofey Mozgov. Strictly from a strategic perspective, letting his three best bigs remain in the game for extended stretches with four or five fouls opened up the possibility that they would be unavailable at crunch time (if it came down to that) due to fouling out. It’s also likely to cause them to play more tentatively to avoid fouling. Spotting in Randolph or Mozgov for at least a few minutes at the end of the third or beginning of the fourth quarter could relieve some of that pressure and allow them to play with less inhibition.
Additionally, Faried, and to a lesser extent McGee, just weren’t playing very well anyhow. Perhaps Karl considers this preparedness education for the playoffs (“You must learn to play through this.”). But in this case foul trouble is a legitimate reason for diggin deeper into the bench. And if the Lawson injury and Fournier’s performance tonight teach us anything, it’s that the bench players need to be fully prepared to go as well. Not only in case of injury, but in terms of adjustments and matchups as well. What is the value of a deep bench if you don’t exploit it to the fullest advantage?
At any rate, Karl get the B for the definitive win and freeing Fournier, reservations notwithstanding.
Two Things We Saw
- Fifty. The Nuggets are the fourth team in the NBA to reach fifty wins with tonight’s victory. As the Clippers lost tonight, they move back up to the third seed, a half game ahead of the Grizzlies, and a full game ahead of the Clippers. (For more on the remaining schedules, see this post from earlier today: http://goo.gl/d70EF). All three teams, however, have 24 losses, and since the Clippers hold the tiebreaker over the Nuggets, they still control their own destiny for the third seed, while the Nuggets, with the tiebreaker over Memphis, still control theirs for the fourth.
- Ujiri is smarter than you? As Kalen wrote on Twitter after the game (http://goo.gl/vC0md), “Evan Fournier scored a game-high tying 19 points tonight in his first real meaningful game of the season. Ujiri drafted him for a reason.” I will readily admit to being extremely skeptical of the Fournier pick, nearly to the point of anger, when it went down on draft day last summer. But as my basic take is that Masai has done enough to earn the trust of Nuggets fans, I decided to suspend judgment until we could see what kind of player he develops into. Tonight was a great sign that Ujiri made a solid pick, and I will be very happy to have been wrong if that ultimately proves to be the case.
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