Five things we learned about the 2012-2013 Denver Nuggets offense

As the 2012-2013 NBA calendar winds down we take a look at the season that was for the Denver Nuggets, starting with an overview of the offense. 

The Nuggets finished with the fifth-best offense of the 2012-2013 season in terms of offensive efficiency. It was a record setting year with Denver securing a franchise-best 57 wins and the most points in the paint scored in a season in NBA history. Denver has now had a top five offense for five years in a row, but their fall to fifth represents a decline from last year’s third-ranked team and the league-leading Nuggets offense of two seasons ago.

If we dig a bit deeper we see the effects of horrendous shooting from the perimeter and the free-throw line reflected in the Nuggets True Shooting percentage, which fell all the way to 54.9% this season. While that is a solid figure good for 7th in the NBA, it’s also the Nuggets worst mark since the 2006-2007 season and rather pedestrian compared to what they did with similar talent in years past.

The Nuggets were still the Nuggets this season, but the offense clearly took a step back despite everyone’s best efforts to reorganize as a sturdier defensive unit under Iguodala (and the defense did improve). Denver scored enough points to win most games but it was on the offensive end where the Nuggets saw most of their flaws exposed, both with the roster and the style of play.

It’s pretty remarkable that a team with no shooters and inexperienced, unskilled big men still managed a top five offense and 57 wins. Looking at the numbers it’s clear the Nuggets had a plan to maximize what they do best and executing that consistently covered up many individual flaws. I took a look at what else can be gleamed from the Nuggets offensive numbers this past season and here are five revelations, if you will, as we wait to see how the Nuggets try to improve in the draft, free agency and beyond.

1. Andre Iguodala’s shot selection must improve

Andre Iguodala’s 74.3% shooting at the rim this season was second only to MVP Lebron James among players with more than a handful of attempts. You would expect the second-best finisher in the league to thrive in an offense like Denver’s but Iguodala struggled to score throughout one of his worst offensive seasons yet. Iggy’s 52% True Shooting this year was a career low and his 15.2 PER was the lowest he’s posted since the 2005-2006 season.

A big reason Iguodala struggled to be efficient was his shot selection. Take a look at his shot distribution relative to the rest of the Nuggets in the regular season and the playoffs (chart shows FGAs)

2012-2013 Shot Distribution | Infographics

Iguodala was a super-elite finisher at the rim and he was above league-average efficiency from three. Unfortunately, Iguodala rarely got to the rim and he took the most two-point jumpers out of anyone on the team.

If the Nuggets are able to retain Iguodala, another year to recalibrate his shot selection should help tremendously. He showed more familiarity with the offense as the season went on and if he simply aligns his shot selection with that of a typical Nuggets player, he’ll get results. Denver’s offense is proven to work for players like Iguodala and he started to figure it out in the playoffs.

2. The Nuggets really couldn’t shoot from anywhere

Denver blew away the rest of the NBA with 62% shooting inside of five feet. From every other zone on the court, Denver was below league average efficiency.

The lesson here is that the Nuggets simply didn’t give their offense a chance to reach its potential due to personnel issues.

It’s hard to compete without a single player who is a good bet to make an open three. Denver had no role players like that and it was evident in the playoffs. To make matters worse none of the rotation mainstays shot the ball well either. Gallinari, Lawson, and Iguodala all had subpar shooting years.

Expect the Nuggets to add shooters, and I emphasize the plural there. The fatal flaw on this roster is that they simply didn’t employ enough players who can make shots and it hurt them all year long. The Nuggets were able to live with that imbalance all season but it became impossible to hide in the playoffs.

3. Andre Miller killed ball movement

MillerTable

Take a look at the graphic above to see how the Nuggets offense performed with and without Andre Miller on the court. It’s self-evident that the offense was faster, more efficient and more productive with Andre Miller on the bench.

The most telling statistic is the assist ratio. Denver was significantly worse in this area when Andre Miller took to the court.

The Nuggets’ assist ratio without Andre Miller was 18.3, which would have been the fourth-best mark in the league. It dropped all the way to 17.6 with Andre Miller, which would have put the Nuggets outside of the top ten, right behind the Orlando Magic.

For a team so reliant on ball movement to generate offense, that is a hugely precipitous decline. I can’t stress how important it is to keep the ball moving in Denver’s offense, which doesn’t feature a go-to scorer who can bail out the team when the ball gets sticky.

Miller pounded his way to a slower pace and a good individual assist rate, but he played so much it actually ended up hurting the Nuggets’ passing in a big way.

4. One-dimensional bigs

This past season, JaVale McGee had the lowest assist rate in basketball with a pretty hilarious 3.3% of his possessions ending in an assist. Not far behind was Kosta Koufos at 5.0%, which makes him the fourth-worst center in that category (behind McGee, DeAndre Jordan and Brook Lopez).

Kenneth Faried is listed as a small forward for some reason, but his 7.7% assist rate ranked as the sixth-worst in the NBA at that position. Faried is a power forward so his mark isn’t as bad as Koufos or McGee, but it was still well below average.

The point here is Denver gave almost all of their minutes at power forward and center to three players with terrible hands. If the ball went into ANY of the Nuggets’ big men, it never came back out.

There is nothing wrong with covering up your big men’s flaws. There is no law that states you need bigs who can pass in order to compete. Denver did a good job getting their big guys to fill a role but the problem is they were all asked to fill the same exact role.

This is another example of extreme roster imbalance that the Nuggets were somehow able to live with all the way up until the playoffs.

If the Nuggets want to develop their big men into complete players who help on both ends, they must change course now. JaVale needs more development on both ends and the Nuggets should bring in at least one dynamic big who can help the offense in more ways than one.

5. George Karl runs a great offensive system

The problems the Nuggets had on offense were not for lack of trying or a lack of direction on the part of the coaching staff. As I explained earlier they had a lot of issues with personnel that severely limited what they could do on that end of the court.

The fact Denver still had one of the very best offenses in the league without a single top-20 scorer is incredible. It’s a testament to the system implemented by George Karl’s coaching staff which simply works brilliantly and gets consistently good results year after year.

All season long, the Nuggets bought into that and executed which helped them survive without fundamental skills like shooting. But a team without shooters can’t contend for championships and it’s easy to lose sight of that in the midst of the sting and disappointment of another first round exit.

  • Fraser

    Great analysis, I hadn’t realised the nuggets big fellas being so bad at passing, but now you bring it up I can’t think of any of our bigs having 2 good passes in a game!

    Kind of comes from the gameplan though, not much big man stuff happens on the elbows- just kinda gets dumped to Faried/KK/McG for a lay up/dunk.

    Who do you think will come in as a shooter? Not sure if a pure shooter is the perfect match for us (the only 3 point shooters who can defend the perimeter are highly sought after). I read on Bleacher Report that Dorell Wright could be a potential option. Good 3pt shooter, good foul shooter, could fit the system and replace Brewer, who is a damn terrible 3pt shooter.

    • Fraser

      Also good on you for giving credit to GK’s coaching. I LOVE his system, but hate his personnel/rotation decisions!

      I’m sure the way to get the best out of the nuggets is to just get rid of the players he uses too much (Looking at Andre Miller!) just the same way as Al Harrington was moved

      • ryanvdonk

        the problem is that al could have been a great fit for the system, unfortunately karl loved playing him at center as the only big on the floor. that left him guarding people like duncan and gasol.

  • http://twitter.com/A_Rodriguez8 D3Ntilthe3ND

    How bout the amount of missed shots inside of 3 ft?

    & the amount of times Koufos has missed out on two points by having hands made of stone. lol

  • http://Denverstiffs.com slader

    GK’s system certainly works well in a transition game (those high % in the paint are boosted by fast-break dunks) even with a team that can’t shoot.

    Our poor shooting was badly exposed, however, when the game slowed down in the PO – especially as we were caught off guard by Bogut’s returning just in time to make life tough in the lane.

    The offense needs three things: 1) an alternative approach to dribble-drive in the half-court; 2) shooters who can, well, shoot; 3) a big with a post game.

    So: 1) Princeton? PnR? Triangle? 2) Fours, Jham, Korver (no Brewer, no Dre) 3) JaGee McVale, AR?, draft Mike Muscala.

    All done. Problem solved. Dynasty.

  • Charliemyboy

    Like taking medicine, there is always a counter effect. I’m not sure any drastic changes are necessary given the success this year. I would rather drive and pound inside w/offensive rebounds than shoot outside anyhow. We beat virtually everyone this way. That is Karl’s mentality and the skill of our team. Tweaking it with focus on jump or outside shots creates other weaknesses and lower offensive effeciency. I think management knows this rather than jumping to overreaching back-seat solutions. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t change a little; ie, Fornier instead of Miller. W/Gallo we could possibly be beating SA right now; no problem w/Memphis. Can’t wait for next season. JaVale, get your butt on the floor working block moves and passing 6 hrs a day to deserve who you are paid for and can be!!

    • http://Denverstiffs.com slader

      I would definitely rather pound inside, too. it’s just that in some situations you would be wise to have an alternative ready at hand. For one thing, getting into the lane creates kick-out opportunities that must succeed to keep the lane stretched open. We just need a second reliable way to score.
      Maybe most of our needs can come thru internal development, like improved JaVale and Fournier (not to mention a little addition by subtraction, nudge nudge wink wink). I hope so.
      I still like Muscala: post-up game and range, passing, smarts. just needs to pump some iron.

      • DAN

        I’m very high on the kid as well. Let Hess at him in the weight room and look out. he is just so skilled, something we could use in our big men.

  • http://yahoo.com prospector

    Faried is clearly improving his assists, and actually was one of the higher nuggets after the big three….. Faried is a star.. You may not see it but every team in the Association would jump at him… KARL sucks and no post is going to sugar coat his BS, headgames, and playoff failure… I take you for a KARL half full guy… Some people never learn..

    • DAN

      I really noticed Faried improving his passing as the season went on. Hopefully he continues to make strides, he seams committed to getting better.

  • heykyleinsf

    Andre Iguodala (Denver Nuggets)
    2012-2013 Salary: $14,718,250
    Iguodala has been playing under the guise of a superstar for several seasons. His salary and long-time status as the best player on the 76ers have both contributed to his superstar disguise. The reality is, no one ever mentions Iguodala in the same sentence as guys like Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Derrick Rose. That won’t stop him from getting paid like them though. A 6’6″ guard with ferocious athleticism but a streaky jump shot, Iguodala hasn’t been able to lead his team out of the second round of the playoffs in five chances. His scoring average has steadily dropped since it peaked back in the 2007-2008 season at 19.9 points a game; and Iguodala never blossomed into the franchise player that Philadelphia hoped he would become. Now part of a motley crew in Denver, he may thrive playing as someone other than the number one option. But his $14 million salary is number one on the Nuggets, and that’s a scary number for a guy whose prime is fading behind him.

    • Charlie

      I could be wrong but I think it’s a new NBA and Iguodala will not fetch near the max on the open market. He’s 29 and just coming off a max deal. A bad franchise won’t look at him as a guy they can build around for the future.

      He’s an amazing addition to any playoff team. I think those are the teams that will look at him and it will be interesting to see how much they are willing to pay. One thing I’m fairly confident in saying is that it won’t be near the max. That’s an unwise decision for any team in this day and age if you ask me.

      • heykyleinsf

        long story short.. Nuggets over paid.
        The dude didn’t make any defensive team either.
        The Nuggets fans compensated so much..
        wanted so much to believe that he was all that
        and a box of cookies..
        I won’t deny that he’s a great basketball player.

        But the Nuggets fans vastly over-rated him, and
        I could tell by the gushing that happened before
        he even produced results to speak of…
        that it was anything but an objective evaluation.

        Iguodala walking would not break my heart.
        In fact… he stands to come back for yet a
        million more next year.

        Hope he does walk.

        • http://twitter.com/A_Rodriguez8 D3Ntilthe3ND

          1. They technically didn’t pay anything.. They traded for him. They didn’t give him the contract the Sixers did.

          2. You can’t use making or not making an all-defensive team as a barometer of someone’s skill. The voting for that is a joke. Multiple snubs, Marc Gasol & Tyson Chandler winning DPOY and being named to the 2nd team.

          3. Iguodala brings energy that we haven’t seen since maybe Kenyon Martin in terms of pumping up teammates. He’s always right there to congratulate & celebrate after a big play. I can’t say I remember any of that last year.

          4. Yeah, he stands to make a million more, but there’s a 99.9% chance he’s going to opt out to get a new, long-term contract while he can, in which case he’ll almost certainly be making LESS than he did this year.

          We could always sign Chauncey though, right? His jumper isn’t streaky.

          oh…. & the dude was selected to represent the USA in the olympics…

          • heykyleinsf

            Thanks for coming through…

            By bringing up

            Kenyon Martin..

            Who wasted $90 million for nothing.

            KMart was the WORST money spent
            in Nuggets history.

            You people are not reading me.
            I always said he was good, helpful.. yada yada.
            When did I ever say he wasn’t?

            He is not worth $16 million.
            I hope he walks and we re-sign Brewer and
            add Korver.. we’ll have money left over..
            We’ll miss his defense.

            And yes. Bring Chauncey back.. at this stage
            more of a coach but still a capable PG approx 10
            minutes a game.. He’s money at the free throw
            line as well… yet another place that this team suffers.

          • heykyleinsf

            one more thing..
            one more hilarious thing..

            how do you come up with.

            “they didn’t pay they traded”

            That was epic!!!
            and about your speed.

            • dynamo.joe

              HeyKyle, good to see your skills haven’t diminished in your absence. With any luck, we will get the GM and Coach to buy-in and do the opposite of everything you say.

    • nugswin

      Dude, at $14 mil a year Iggy has the 21st highest salary in the league. Yes, he’s overpaid but not by some outrageous amount.

      Did you read the article? He shoots second only to LeBron James at the rim and Denver scored an NBA all-time record points in the paint. Not to mention our defense improved by an metric you want to measure it by. You think any of that would have happened with Aaron Afflalo?

      We won 57 games and, with Gallo, were at least the 4th best team in the league. I’d like to hear some names of players you could pay $11-12 million (about what Iggy will get), put on our roster and have the same amount of success. There are two teams in the league that have a better guy than AI in that role. Shockingly enough, both of them are still in the playoffs (Indiana and Miami).

      Letting him walk would be the height of foolishness. There is no possible way we could replace him and have the same amount of success. There aren’t any options for the scenario that Iggy walks and Denver improves. We were already one of the better teams in the league and yet improved in every area except shooting percentages (not all on Iggy’s back). This isn’t easy to do — the jump from from 25th best to 10th best team is way easier than 8th to 4th, for example.

      Look how bad Philly was this year without him. Essentially the same team made game seven of the second round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs last season. This year they won 34 games and didn’t even make the playoffs. You think Iggy doesn’t make a huge difference?

      I don’t understand your dislike for the guy. You keep putting the strawman out there that everybody thought he would be a superstar and he failed. But I don’t remember anybody saying that. I do remember people saying this would be possibly be the best Nugget team ever and that having a slightly overpaid Iggy would be a major part of that. And, you know, that’s what happened.

      We all hope he works hard this summer on his shooting. Also, we all hope Andre Miller plays for a different team. We all hope Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried become better defenders. We hope JaVale develops a useful post game. Everybody has their flaws. But to say we should let AI walk because he’s paid too much is just suicidal to our continued success as a team.

  • http://Denverstiffs.com slader

    I wouldn’t be in a hurry to get rid of Iggy. Re-signing him at 11m/year would be good IMO.

    Our D improved thanks to him, and would be even better if he didn’t have to compensate for immobile geezers and out-of-position youngsters.

    He should be our 3rd option on offense. Would any one be complaining if he had shot his career FT avg of 73% instead of 57%? That at least should change next year.

  • http://twitter.com/A_Rodriguez8 D3Ntilthe3ND

    Iggy’s contribution doesn’t always show up in the box score, so I can see how it can be easy for those who don’t follow as close to not recognize his value.

    Iggy was a huge part of the success this year. Want proof? Go look at the 3 OT game against Boston after he went out in the 1st half, & the 3-4 subsequent games following.

    • heykyleinsf

      you want to single out games?

      I can take Brewer and match you all day.

      Lawson, Gallo and even Miller had the
      “remember that game when….”

      The truth is.. Iggy showed up FINALLY
      at the end of those “remember that game..”

      Again.. . I’m far from saying he sucks.
      I’m saying.. RIDICULOUSLY over paid..
      and hilariously over credited.

      • http://twitter.com/A_Rodriguez8 D3Ntilthe3ND

        1. If you really think George Karl will limit Chauncey Billups then you should check yourself into an institution.

        2. I guess you didn’t follow what I said, which is alright because like I said, it’s hard for someone like yourself who doesn’t follow the team very closely to understand some intricacies, so allow me to slow it down for you. Around halftime of the 3OT game in Boston, Iggy went out with a neck injury. He didn’t return. George Karl, in all his wisdom, decided to put Andre Miller on Paul Pierce & we ended up losing that game. Iggy then MISSED the next 2 games due to the neck injury & the Nuggets lost to Toronto & Brooklyn. So, I’m not exactly sure where you’re getting this “Iggy FINALLY showed up” notion.

        3. I don’t recall ever seeing anyone here say that Iggy is a superstar or he deserves 16 mil a year, in fact, most of us agree he’s a 10-12 mil player. So, I don’t see how you can be “far from saying he sucks” & yet say we “hilariously” over-credit him when I’d say he’s pretty appropriately credited & in fact sometimes under-credited.

        But, again, I understand it’s hard for Iggy to live up to Chauncey in your eyes. Let’s just have Iggy walk & bring Chauncey aboard.

        • nugswin

          Right. Nice.

          Let me just add something else to your comment. heykyleinsf had effectively said that he’d rather spend the Iggy money on Korver and Brewer. A ton of otherwise good hoops observers make this kind of mistake.

          It’s the same idea of diminishing returns, only going the other way. As you approach an achievement pinnacle that others are also striving for, it becomes exponentially more difficult to reach it the closer you get to the goal. We all understand that LeBron James is, effectively, absolutely irreplaceable. That Miami could not trade LBJ with any two or three teams that would bring players that could make the Heat better (which is why they are going to win the championship again).

          Unless they could trade him and James Jones for Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Paul George, Danilo Gallanari and the #37th pick in the draft, trading him is a losing proposition. LBJ playing with a lineup of NBA mediocrity can and have challenged for the championship trophy.

          The same idea also applies to the second and the third and the fourth tiers of NBA players. That third tier of player may not be nearly as good as the top tier but is still irreplaceable relative to the fifth tier kind of guy. You cannot put two fifth tier guys in place of a third tier player. That is a losing proposition.

          Iggy occupies an upper tier. In fact he’s on a level that is irreplaceable as far as Denver is concerned. Without him we are not even remotely possibly a championship contender. Zero chance. With him, our chance is non zero — the health of LBJ is, um, important in that calculation obviously — very possibly as good as the Spurs chance this season. Would it be wise to throw that away for a few million thrown at the right Andre? Let the armchair GMs on the board decide. . .

  • matthew

    Truehoop ran a piece about how Popavich and other coaches have consistently played the younger guys minutes with the attitude “if a player makes a mistake use it as lesson” Karl has the coaching ability to develop players,why he hasn’t allowed JaVale to play a lot is crippling his develpoment. The playoffs in the WC are tough to make, but if Javale played more especially in the early season, wouldn’t he in theory be more likely to do the right things that Karl wants him to do?

    Karl will have to accept that he needs to play his young players so that this very talented team can reach it’s potential.