In what surely had to be one of the more disappointing season openers in recent memory, the Nuggets put forth a confused and defensively-bereft effort Friday night as they succumbed to the Blazers in ugly fashion. Point guards Nate Robinson and Ty Lawson each scored over 20, while Brian Shaw once again juggled with an 11-man rotation that failed to produce any form of cohesion. Additional grades and notes below.
|J.J. Hickson, PF 22 MIN | 2-13 FG | 1-2 FT | 9 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | -11
We’re two games into the season and I already can’t stand much of what Hickson does. For every bout of lackadaisical defense Faried has, Hickson ups him one by not even boxing out or taking a wild, ill-advised shot. Though he might be able to rebound well, there’s also something to be said for when and how he pulls down his boards. While Faried utilizes his tenacity and will, Hickson seems to simply extend his arms and jump upwards until he feels leather of falls down.
|Anthony Randolph, PF 15 MIN | 2-6 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | -5
Randolph was once again a ghost. He had several buckets but hardly made his presence felt in the 15 minutes of time he was allotted.
|JaVale McGee, C 13 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | -11
McGee did an excellent job of getting to defensive rebounds and tipping the ball back to his teammates. Although he played solid and didn’t make any glaring mistakes, he once again received less than 15 minutes of action, which is somewhat of a head-scratcher.
|Ty Lawson, PG 38 MIN | 7-16 FG | 5-8 FT | 5 REB | 6 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 21 PTS | -11
Lawson made a three early and did a good job of finishing in the lane when he chose to penetrate. He also got back in transition (unlike many of his teammates) and snagged a few steals as a result. At this point, Lawson is about the only form of reliable offense the Nuggets have.
|Randy Foye, SG 33 MIN | 2-10 FG | 2-3 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 6 PTS | -21
Foye played the most minutes of anyone outside Lawson, yet I can’t remember him doing anything. He didn’t make any threes and finished with a negative 21 plus-minus, which was eight points worse than the next lowest Nugget.
|Darrell Arthur, PF 16 MIN | 1-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -13
Arthur seems to be the only guy who plays with zeal on the defensive end. He takes the little things to heart and is scrupulous about his positioning in relation to his opponent. That said, his impact was hardly felt in this game.
|Kenneth Faried, SF 24 MIN | 3-7 FG | 5-8 FT | 11 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 11 PTS | -7
I have a hard time seeing Faried in any role outside 30-plus minutes per night. His energy, enthusiasm and heart are too valuable to be brushed aside because of his deficiencies. Though he can’t do as many things as other players, the things he can do he does better than anybody on the team. He came off the bench with vigor, played good defense in the first half and rebounded well all game long.
|Timofey Mozgov, C 21 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-2 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | +12
Mozgov had a tipback, blocked shot and cut to the basket that turned into a dunk in his first two minutes of the game. He also held the ball for 10 seconds as the shot clock wound down, before hoisting up a desperation 3-pointer. But overall Mozgov played well. The next step in his progression must be limiting his foul rate.
|Andre Miller, PG 17 MIN | 4-4 FG | 2-5 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 10 PTS | -4
He was invisible in the first half, but Miller came to play in the second. Like Lawson, he’s one of the few Nuggets who understands how to get his no matter what style of offense he’s playing in. He scored almost all his points in the paint, as usual, and didn’t miss any of the shots he took from the field.
|Nate Robinson, PG 29 MIN | 8-17 FG | 4-4 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 24 PTS | 0
Robinson was excellent from long range and ignited the Nuggets in the third quarter when all looked lost. Without his energy the Nuggets would have lost by at least 20. However, Nate certainly seems to be making a career out of these types of performances. It’s great he’s showing heart, but the Nuggets need him to play with this type of effort on a consistent basis.
|Evan Fournier, SG 13 MIN | 0-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -4
Fournier seems unconfident… or nervous, or confused. Perhaps it’s just one; perhaps it’s all three. Either way, he’s not doing much of anything on either end of the floor. His perimeter defense was awful, and on offense he couldn’t throw a pea in the ocean. He needs to get back to penetrating the lane and using his vision to find open teammates.
After the season opener I tweeted the one thing I took away from that game was the old writing adage, “Less is more.” Shaw is trying to do entirely too much right now. He’s over-thinking and it’s rubbing off on his players. The game of basketball isn’t complicated. Sure, we’d all like to see set plays and an intricate half-court offense; but when your players seem to be thinking harder than they’re playing basketball, you’re doing too much. Though he may want to distance himself from Karl, playing the role of contrarian will get him nowhere. Karl was a good coach who did a lot of good things. Shaw must take those things, use them to his advantage and infuse his own style on top of them. Utilize the altitude, run like hell (10 points to whoever gets the musical reference), emphasize defense, THEN work on ironing out your offensive sets.
Five Things We Saw
- The Nuggets defense was atrocious. Matt warned us about the difficulty of playing good team defense without good defensive players and after two games we might already be seeing this prophecy come to fruition. I’m not sure I remember the last time the Nuggets’ defense was this bad, and keep in mind: George Karl was never known for his defensive schemes. In the first half alone a Blazers player dribbled from the top of the 3-point arc to the basket for an uncontested layup on two separate occasions. The Nuggets also allowed a 40-point second quarter and 64 points by halftime. Guys had no clue where to be or which players to guard and often just gave up trying to defend altogether. I don’t care if this was Shaw’s second game as a head coach or his 3,000th — this type of defensive effort is inexcusable.
- In addition to the Nuggets’ defense being atrocious, so were the lineups. Again, this falls on Shaw’s shoulders. There is absolutely no rhyme or reason for what he’s doing. Eleven-man rotations do not work in the NBA on a consistent basis. Though he may argue he’s trying to see which combinations work best, I would have thought that’s what the preseason is for. Shaw needs to cut at least two players from his rotation altogether and find small combinations that work. Faried and Robinson could be a great energy duo. Andre Miller and JaVale McGee still have a psychic connection last I checked. Arthur and Mozgov might just have enough interior defense between them to at least prevent opponents’ power forwards from having career nights every game against the Nuggets. If Shaw keeps playing this many guys every night, roles will become more undefined and egos will flare. It’s a no-win situation — literally.
- Anthony Randolph and J.J. Hickson do not fit well together. Neither is a great defender and both make questionable decisions on a regular basis. When you pair them with McGee, you’re entire front court is composed of questionable (to say the least) defenders with a history of bad decision making. This is not a recipe for winning basketball games. Randolph is not a small forward and Hickson is not a starting-caliber power forward. This conundrum must be resolved before it costs the Nuggets more than it already has.
- Nicolas Batum is a certified Nuggets killer. He accounted for 15 of the Blazers 24 points in the first quarter and once again torched the Nuggets from downtown. Randy Foye did a solid job of containing him in the second half, but boy did the Nuggets miss Corey Brewer and Andre Iguodala on more than one occasion this game.
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