The Way Forward

Yesterday I wrote about the previous year in Nuggets basketball, and ended by noting the challenge facing Tim Connelly and Brian Shaw following such a wild season.  Here are some issues from the previous year that they will have to deal with going forward:

1) Missed shots. The Nuggets were 25th in the league in 3-point percentage and 28th in free-throw percentage. The teams that eventually played for the championship, the Heat and Spurs, were both in the top four in 3-point percentage. The Spurs were third in free throw percentage, while the Heat were just above the league average. Corey Brewer and Andre Iguodala both led the way by taking a high volume of threes and free throws, and missing too many of them. Giving more of those shots to Wilson Chandler, Evan Fournier, Jordan Hamilton, and possibly Erick Green could bring the Nuggets percentages way up. Bringing in a shooter like Kyle Korver to replace Corey Brewer is also an option.

2) Attacking the paint. The Nuggets set an NBA record (since the stat has been tracked) for points in the paint at 57.3 per game, easily eclipsing the previous mark of 54.1 set by Shaq’s 1997 Lakers. Nuggets guards and wing players relentlessly attacked the defense, and the starting bigs, Faried and Koufos, were both in the top six in the league in offensive rebound percentage, generating points off of tip-ins. With the trade of Koufos, who was also among the Nuggets’ best at setting screens to allow guards to get into the paint, there may be some dropoff in this area. It remains to be seen how Darrell Arthur might help.

3) Defensive fundamentals. The Nuggets traded for one of the league’s best wing defenders and still allowed opponents to shoot above the league average on three pointers. The Nuggets led the league in offensive rebounding, but were among the league’s worst in giving up offensive rebounds. Some of this was due to the intentional strategy of having players gamble for steals and leak out on the fast break, but some of it was due to defensive laziness from players like Andre Miller, and poor positioning by McGee, Faried, and others.

4) Effective player combinations. When the Nuggets had Iguodala, Gallinari, and Chandler all healthy, they were among the best teams in the league, running off a 29-8 record between Chandler’s return and Gallinari’s injury. On the down side, when Faried and McGee shared the court, the Nuggets gave up points at a rate similar to the Sacramento Kings. It will be up to coach Brian Shaw to figure out how to manage his players, not just individually but in combination with each other.

  • Kyle Wurtz

    bingo. personally i think that number 3 is by far the most important. at the end of the year, i did a univariate analysis of some of the nuggets’ team stats to see which stats were most predictive of a nuggets win (link for the curious: http://kylewurtz.com/projects/2013/6/11/reflections-on-the-nuggets-season ). the most predictive stats, aside from whether it was a home or away game, were all defensive oriented. defensive efficiency was far more predictive than offensive efficiency, opponent effective fg % was far more predictive than own effective fg %, and the second most predictive stat was the difference in three point %. their defensive shortcomings, especially from beyond the arc, were on full display in the playoffs, and we all know how that ended up… ultimately, i think their lack of defense is the most significant hurdle they need to overcome in order to get into the top echelon of teams.

    • Mikey K

      Look at the final 4 teams left–Memphis, San Antonio, Indiana, and Miami. All four preach defense to offense (though some will say in Memphis offense was optional). Everything they do starts on that end of the floor. It was even evident in the regular season and not just something they started doing once April rolled around. It’s why they got the seeds they did in the playoffs to start with.

      I’ll say it again, 57 wins was smoke and mirrors. The real Denver team was exposed as the frauds they were in the playoffs yet again. I think cleaning house was necessary to finally get things moving in a direction where REAL success can be found. I think the hiring of Shaw was a great start. The draft, other than taking Green, was about saving money and developing McGee who they invested heavily in. We still don’t know what Kroenke and Connelly have planned for free agency this coming week.

      • Charliemyboy

        Ridiculous logic. How many of the top teams did we beat? Except for Miami, we were more successful than any other NBA team against playoff teams. Eat that. We fell apart in playoffs due to player injuries and poor coaching. But throughout the season they were real. Now they are a small question mark.

        • EWilson

          I do think Denver overachieved at 57 wins, but I also think it’s crazy to clean house and hope that somehow we’ll get superstars in the draft. They certainly won’t come through free agency without ridiculously overpaying, which will undercut any chance of building a team around them that could actually win.
          I’m perfectly willing to give Shaw a chance to develop the guys we have, particularly at the defensive end. While a lot of our guys may have flaws, we also have a ridiculously athletic team. And, that athleticism, if properly channeled can produce a strong defense. After all, we won 57 games with a mediocre defense and a team that couldn’t shoot the 3 to save its life. Yes, we overachieved, but NO team overachieves 15+ wins. There is depth and ability in Denver. Let’s see what Shaw can do with it.

        • Mikey K

          It’s nice in the regular season you can run and gun, put 120 on the board and tell the other team to beat it. Defense was a second thought (23rd in points allowed at 101.1 per) and in the playoffs, the game slows to a crawl. Karl wasn’t going to do it.

          It was sounding like Masai for all his awesome dealings (he just fleeced the Knicks again tonight) was buying into Karl’s anti-star rhetoric. Time to hit the reset button on that. The talent here is good, not great. Let’s get Iguodala back and let’s develop some of the young guys and then let Connelly see what he can do to trade for someone or someones that can really get Denver to that next step.

          • marcusthejames

            We’re seriously still using PPG as an indicator in 2013? Nuggets were 11th in Defensive Efficiency last year. (Points allowed per 100 possessions)

        • David Acker

          The 57 wins were great but you can’t blame injuries. David Lee was injured and GS still beat us. Gallo was our only major injury. Poor coaching yes! Roster not good enough to compete out of the first round yes! This team doesn’t need a major overhaul it just needs a few more pieces. A couple of shooters and a back up point guard that can actually run a bit and defend would also be nice

    • Brad from Arvada

      Nice work, Kyle. Stats are cool, and your analyses of the Golden State series is fair enough . . . But, firstly, wins and losses say the Nuggets were and are in the top echelon of teams, and GK is most responsible for that rare air classification of the Nugs . . . and he’s also most (but not solely) responsible for the first round debacle with GS. I loved GK, but as I wrote yesterday this series showed more clearly than ever how he panics in the playoffs, as if he’s never been there before, and consequently he instilled the same panic and doubt in the players. And key players simply sucked in the series, esp. Koufos, Miller, Fournier and Brewer — guys who could be relied upon nearly every time they were on the floor during the season on both sides of the ball. Stats show what players did and didn’t do in games; a lack of confidence and trust got Denver beat in the 2013 NBA playoffs.

      • Kyle Wurtz

        by “top echelon of teams” i meant spurs/thunder/heat territory…teams that make it to and win finals. the nuggets aren’t there yet, and defense is a big reason why. i definitely agree that the coaching was subpar and not everybody played superbly in the playoffs…i was just providing another perspective and reinforcing what tom wrote about the nuggets’ priorities going forward.

        • Brad from Arvada

          The 2 months before Gallo got hurt, everybody would have agreed that the Nuggets were as good if not better than the Spurs and the Thunder and that they would be a scary matchup even for the Heat. Even comparing the stat sheets during that period would have borne that out. Leadership is the missing ingredient for the Nugs when the playoffs came around — from coaches and players. BTW, I loved your link to the article and graphs you created, seriously, nice work.

  • Duane Grasmick

    I expect a huge improvement in defensive fundamentals this year and a relentless attacking offense that will hopefully have better shooters to kick the ball to when the paint gets collapsed

    • dynamo.joe

      Because we traded away our best interior defender? Ya, that makes sense.

      • Duane Grasmick

        When did Koufos become Patrick Ewing? Oh yeah never.

        We will be better defensively because it will be emphasized by this coaching staff. Not like Karl and his staff who gave lots of lip service to defense but didn’t ever try to build solid fundamentals of it.

        • dynamo.joe

          No, you’re right it was the brilliant defense of JaVale and Faried.

          Video analysis of half of the plays in the NBA (only half of the arenas have the sportvue system) shows that Kosta is the 5th or 6th best paint defender in the NBA. But I’m sure your eye and anecdotal evidence trump that.

          • Duane Grasmick

            So when Dalembert went off for like 36 on Denver and other centers seemed to routinely hurt us it wasn’t because of Koufas who is the 5th or 6th best defensive center in the league? Kosta Koufas? Really? The same guy (along with Karl’s brilliant strategy) who let Andrew Bogut kill us in the playoffs?

            • dynamo.joe

              Do you mean the Feb 5 game? The game when Kosta Koufos and Sam Dalembert were literally never on the court at the same time? Or did you see them shake hands before or after the game? Cuz, I might have missed that.

              http://popcornmachine.net/cgi-bin/gameflow.cgi?date=20130205&game=MILDEN

              • Duane Grasmick

                You win…I try to avoid debate with guys over their favorite players and I didn’t realize you were a big Kosta fan…I am done…his loss will make us a 20 win team if we are lucky

  • Paul Griggs

    The team didn’t play solidly as a unit. Gallo has good team D instincts despite his lack of athleticism, Faried’s strength (manic energy) leads to him being out of position, McGee is a goofball, Iggy could play good D all day and there would still be 3 other holes. They need a defensive minded guard–Lawson is awfully limited in that way and Miller is too old and slow. I think letting everyone in the front office go was a big mistake and my only hope is that Shaw gets them to play team D. I suspect fans will miss Karl once this team starts losing. The talent on this team isn’t as good as Karl made it seem.

    • dynamo.joe

      But the smart fans will miss Masai.

      • avarra

        We’ll absolutely miss Masai to be sure and I know that Josh didn’t want to let him go.

        Paul – I have to disagree with you about one thing, I believe that the talent on this team is incredibly good. Karl is a very good coach – for veteran teams. (In the regular season) For this team, I believe that Shaw will have a lot more success – it will take a couple of years but ultimately, Shaw will get these guys to be playoff heroes.

  • Paul Griggs

    AND, that was a pathetic draft…that must have been a bunch of money they got to trade down 19 spots. Trading Koufos is going to look really stupid unless McGee stops being such a goofball.

    • Mikey K

      He was a “goofball” as you put it because of the coach. The coach put zero effort into his development and at the first sign of his making a mistake, was benched. I think you’re going to find Shaw being far calmer in this regard. You don’t learn without making mistakes. Doing it in practice is one thing. Doing it in a game is a different animal. If we start out really slow, I’m ok with it if it means we’re hitting our stride come March and April.

      • Charliemyboy

        I love McGee; Washington let him play; there is no track record for Shaw; a Hall-of-Famer coach is out the window; why are we picking up back up forwards who no one ever heard of?

  • EWilson

    It’s kind of funny to read this article–which makes the team sound like a middle of the road club–and realize they set a team record for wins in the regular season. Yes, the postseason was a bummer, but I don’t think you win 57 games in the regular season, particularly with the brutal scheduling the Nuggets had, if you don’t have a lot of talent.
    To me, the big improvement the Nuggets need to make is perimeter defense, and they have a lot of quality athletes to make it happen. The key is to get those guys to take advantage of their athletic skills and communicate to prevent breakdowns. Improving the defense even further–and last years team was MUCH better than teams in the past at that end of the floor–will go a long way to boosting post-season success.
    On offense, I think Shaw would be smart to keep the paint-attacking scheme he inherits because points in the paint are still the highest percentage points in the game. I agree with those who think Denver needs to convince Iguodala and Brewer (if he’s still here) to show fewer 3s, and give Lawson, Hamilton and perhaps Green more opportunities. I’m not sure getting Kyle Korver is an answer because I can’t see him helping the perimeter defense.
    Personally, I expect a dip in the number of win next year, but if everyone buys in and works hard, especially at the defensive end, I think we might be rewarded with more post-season success.

    • TomRMC

      I totally agree that the Nuggets have a lot of talent. The question is how to build on last season — which had some incredible highs, and some lows — and turn it into greater success. (Yesterday’s post covered many of those highs, and a few of the lows, in detail.)

      Kyle Korver is a much better defender than he used to be. The time he spent in Chicago really helped. He’s not a great stopper, but he’s usually in the right position and he puts in the effort, which is a big step up from some of last year’s Nuggets players.

  • Paul Griggs

    It amazes me how Nuggets fans hate Karl so much…he’s won more games than all but 6 coaches, he took over a perennial loser at Denver and turned them into a perennial winner despite a lazy and petulant star in Melo, he turned a pack of moderate talented players–many of whom hadn’t done well in the NBA until last year–and used their talents so as to best hide their many flaws (Lawson’s awful D, how can someone who is so quick on offense be so slow on D, Miller’s age, Faried’s constant poor positioning, etc.). This is a team of interchangeable parts–no stars, very few bums. You can’t win a championship with that mix (even the Spurs have Parker and Duncan) but Karl got the most out of them. Fans attack Karl because he wouldn’t try something different and I say he knew they wouldn’t work and he knows more about basketball than the fans.

    • Warner Dean

      Wow how long are we going to be hearing from you Karl apologists. He had a great run in Denver but his time was up. He’s incredibly and I mean INCREDIBLY stubborn and short sided which ultimately led to his demise. There’s a very good chance the nuggets won’t win 57 games next year but until fa is finished it’s far too early to tell. However, I’d gladly sacrifice 6-8 wins next season to find out what our young core is truly worth and to get them some experience. This means that brewer will probably be gone and miller will be limited to a much smaller role until he’s eventually traded. It’s time to see what we have in McGee (which I actually agreed with Karl on how he used McGee and I’m afraid if this team gambles its future on McGee then it’s future will be grim) and its time to give Ty the keys to the team without miller on the court. By basically all accounts this team is very very talented and is one star away. This was true under Karl and it remains true under shaw. Hearing what shaw had to say, it sounds like a fair amount of Karl’s offense will remain intact but with some additions like set plays and a more established half court offense. (How Karl never used either still astonishes me to this day). Oh, not to mention defense! Give shaw a chance I believe this teams future is very bright.

      • Paul Griggs

        I’m no Karl apologist–I’m trying to bring a dose of reality. Karl is a very good coach but not a great coach. His team’s have always played up tempo offense and emphasized mid-sized players and great team defense. I disagree very strongly with you that this team is very talented. They looked talented because Karl used his coaching strength–using the players strengths and hiding their weaknesses. Karl didn’t run many half court plays because Miller was the only one that could execute them properly. Most of this team doesn’t have a clue if they have to play disciplined or think. This group of players can’t play great defense no matter what coach they have. The only great defensive player on the team was Iggy and he may not be back. Gallo was solid. Miller was old and unathletic and unmotivated at times but was a better defender than Lawson. Most of the players took too many chances and were more interested in making a spectacular play than playing good team defense. I think Karl did a good job tempering Faried before letting him play big minutes. He was doing the same thing with Fournier (who I’m afraid will never be a great defender–he’s too soft). This team will will maybe 45 games next year, if Iggy stays.

        • EWilson

          I think you’re wrong to assume this team can’t play good team defense. Outside of Andre Miller, they certainly have the athletic skills to be a bunch of quality defenders. It’s a matter of getting them to buy into the importance of working together and getting them coordinated.
          Part of the reason, they took chances was because Karl wanted to run, which is predicated on getting steals. The key to such a strategy is knowing WHEN to gamble for steals and when to play solid positional defense. For such a young team, I actually thought the Nuggets defense improved quite a bit this year. They weren’t the Spurs, but they did enough defensively that the easy points they got from running went a long way.
          One of the reasons I hope they re-sign Iguodala–though hopefully NOT for a max contract–is that he was the first PROFESSIONAL defender the team has had in ages. And I think some of the younger players were starting to see what it really means to play D. If Iguodala goes, Denver ought to look at a Tony Allen-type to replace him for the same reason.
          The physical ability is there. Now Shaw needs to get the mental effort to follow.

  • Brad from Arvada

    Anyone else see Rip Hamilton in Erick Green’s game?

  • ny nugs fan

    i don’t understand how any list of “issues” could miss ft shooting

    • Sir_Cox

      read point 1.

      • ny nugs fan

        oh yeah… doh! i just glanced it late last night

  • EWilson

    Apropos of the discussions going on here about the future, I think this article by Ken Berger at CBS Sports makes some worthwhile points. You do have to read past the stuff about Dwight Howard to the end, though.

    http://www.cbssports.com/nba/blog/ken-berger/22584770/howards-decision-obscures-other-free-agent-storylines

    I think it will be important to see how this year’s free agent period plays out before Denver decides on how to proceed. If the new CBA works the way the league hopes it will, there will be a lot fewer max contracts handed out, which should benefit smaller market teams because they won’t have to overpay stars in such a way as to cripple their cap situation. For instance, Denver might not have to give Iguodala a max contract to keep him.
    But, if the big market teams simply accept the cap penalties and accelerators as the price of competing for a title, then Denver is basically screwed the same way they were under the old CBA. They’ll have to let Iguodala go because he isn’t worth a max contract with the money they can spend, compared to the money another team could spend. And that will remain true of any superstar.

    If that’s true, then they might as well proceed with Ujiri’s plan of stockpiling solid, inexpensive talent and letting them play together for awhile to see what they can achieve.
    If, on the other hand, the CBA curtails the spending of clubs, then Denver might want to consider moving some of their mid-priced assets to make room for a BIG asset because the stars will be spread more evenly across the league. That will benefit the teams that do the best job of identifying talent and putting it together correctly.
    The next few days will tell the tale. What really matters isn’t where Dwight Howard lands, but where guys like Iguodala and Josh Smith land and for how much. There are a number of teams with a lot of cap space. Do they spend their money wisely getting good players for good rates, or do they splurge and give guys like Iguodala and Smith max contracts that they don’t really deserve because they are trying to make a splash with their fans?

    • Mikey K

      In a way this is already happening. See what the Lakers are doing. They used to spend and spend like they were printing it in the basement, but even they’ve come to realize that the penalties are just too high. Right they’re willing to max out on Howard, but that’s it. Around him, aside from Kobe, they’re going to go small in terms of contracts in the future.

      I think the only 2 teams that won’t care about the tax implications are Dolan in New York (taking Bargnani’s contract for instance) and Prokhorov in Brooklyn. Beyond that, I think it will eventually begin to work as the penalties stiffen.

      • EWilson

        Well, it will be interesting to see how things play out. The Clippers are going to sign Chris Paul to a 5 year, $107 million contract. In some ways, that’s a no-brainer because the Clippers need to maintain the momentum they’ve built up after being the laughing stock of the league for years. Paul is one of the best point guards in the league, and he’s only 28.

        BUT, he’s played a LOT of minutes already in his career and he’s been nicked up quite a bit the last few years. Under the new system, that’s a lot of money to have locked up in one guy who might be getting a little fragile. They certainly had to do it, but if it were me, I’d be holding my breath just a little.
        I really think that if the new system plays out the way NBA executives hope it will, you won’t see too many max contracts like that. Only the best players will get them and ONLY when it makes sense with regards to their age.

        Smart teams will not give such contracts to guys who are very good but not transcendent talents. Instead, what they should offer is an option. Either you get max money OR max years, not both. You want $20 million a year, then you get a 2 or 3 year contract. You want 5 years, then you’re talking $12 million a year.

        Of course, that requires teams to be disciplined financially, and we’ve never seen that.

  • slugdugg

    I have to say I actually stood up and applauded when Scott, during his initial introduction to the media in Denver, said that he learned by watching the old Phoenix Suns that teams who run hi-power fast-paced offenses fail in the playoffs unless they can run half-court offense. He said he wants to focus on half-court offense and improved defense to go with what the Nugs are already doing (running). That alone made me 100% a fan of Scott.

    • Brad from Arvada

      Did you mean “Shaw” or did I miss somethin’?

      • avarra

        I think he meant Shaw. But yes slugdugg – I completely agree with you as that’s what sold me on our new coach as well. I also grooved on his insistence on teaching good defensive fundamentals and on player development. It is a fact that players will develop much better when they are allowed to make mistakes. No one performs well when they know that one mistake will get them benched.