The regular season is upon us, ladies and gentlemen. On Tuesday six teams began their 2013-14 campaigns and the altered roster of the Denver Nuggets will go through their initiation Wednesday evening. The first confrontation of the year will come in the form of the Sacramento Kings.
Denver had a tough offseason, and after a huge leap in 2012-13, the Nuggets took a step back. As it so happens, so did Sacramento. While Kings fans are mostly overjoyed that the Maloofs are no longer associated with the organization and that the franchise remains in town, their summer was a curious one. Sacramento let go of Tyreke Evans, drafted Ben McLemore and signed Carl Landry and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. While McLemore has a lot of upside, the other two acquisitions are simply role players.
Keys to the game
Ty Lawson is questionable for the game and this will be a very tough contest if he is forced to sit out. The rest of the starting lineup will comprise Randy Foye, Anthony Randolph, JJ Hickson and JaVale McGee. Yes, Randolph (who was ranked dead last in our #NuggetsRank series) will occupy a starting spot.
Needless to say, the starting lineup above won’t make its mark on the defensive end. The good news? Sacramento doesn’t really play defense either. Last season the Kings ranked dead last in opponent points per game, allowing 105.1 points per contest. They also allowed the third highest opponent field goal percentage in the league.
Other than adding Mbah a Moute to the roster, the Kings didn’t really address their dilapidated defense this summer and will likely be as bad on that end of the floor as last season.
Exploiting the pick-and-roll
One of the biggest flaws in Sacramento’s defense is their pick-and-roll coverage. According to SynergySports, Sacramento ranked 30th in the league in opponent points per play in both P&R ball handler and P&R roll man categories. The fact that both ball handlers and roll men constantly burned Sacramento’s defense substantiates the notion that the team has been highly disjointed and uncoordinated.
The Kings’ big men are not particularly versatile, so you will rarely see them switch in the pick-and-roll. They hardly ever blitz and their double-teams are lackluster at best. Sacramento often leaves the opposing team with several options to beat their coverage and it’s very exploitable.
So how can the Nuggets take advantage of this? While Denver’s bread and butter last season was transition offense, they were also an above average pick-and-roll team. Lawson’s potential absence would hurt the team a lot, as his quickness and passing ability is very hard to deal with. Hickson has a chance to be a key contributor in the game as he can mix it up by rolling hard to the basket or electing to pick and pop. Darrell Arthur’s mid-range game should also be of use if Shaw decides to give him a decent amount of minutes. While McGee doesn’t have a consistent jumper in his arsenal, he could still be effective if he is patient with his screens and doesn’t slip too early.
As always, pushing the ball will be extremely important. If the Nuggets can force turnovers, Kenneth Faried would thrive off the bench, as the Kings are often slow to get back.
Defense and the 2013-14 Nuggets can hardly be mentioned in one sentence, but Denver will have to defuse two major threats. DeMarcus Cousins is a crafty offensive center and you can bet that McGee, or whoever guards him, will face a strenuous task to prevent the 23-year-old from filling up the box score.
Cousins is practically unstoppable when he gets close to the hoop, but his efficiency drops significantly the further away he is from the basket. Among centers, Cousins ranked second only to Dwight Howard in free throw attempts last season. If you allow Boogie to establish a deep position in the post he will likely either score or get to the free throw line. The key for the Nuggets will be to try to front Cousins, fight him for position down low and force him to catch the ball further away from the basket. If Cousins does catch the ball in the low block the Nuggets should not hesitate to double team.
Another major threat for the Kings will be Isaiah Thomas. Whether he comes off the bench or starts, Thomas is a handful to deal with. He is still fighting for a starting spot so he will undoubtedly come at the Nuggets all guns blazing.
Much like Lawson, Thomas depends on his incredible quickness. He loves pulling up for three when defenders go under screens and he can easily blow by big men who are trying to help. Thomas can score from just about anywhere on the floor and can provide a huge spark for his team if he is coming off the bench. When and if the Nuggets double Thomas, they will have to commit to it completely as he can often find ways to maneuver out of tricky situations.
What do you think the Nuggets will have to do to win the season opener? Let us know in the comments.
You can follow Vytis on Twitter: @VytisLasaitis
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