I went in depth about how Lawson’s game has evolved last week but it’s worth reiterating how good he’s been. It’s difficult finding five point guards playing better then him right now, and his three-point shooting is only just now starting to come back around. In fact, Lawson is one of only two players this season to combine prolific shooting with his amount of passing in the league. I’d say he’s in pretty good company when it comes to point guard play. Combine that with his seeming invisibility once he beats his man off the dribble, and you have a good idea why he has the 11th best PER in the league.
If you take away Denver’s horrendous three-game start to the season, the Nuggets are 7-3 with a 4.4 net rating, good for ninth in the league. The offense, at first featuring Anthony Randolph prominently in the rotation, has now stabilized with the inclusion of Wilson Chandler to the top-ten caliber offense that this roster has projected to be for a while now. The defense, an unequivocal tire fire for the first couple of weeks, has shaped up to be instead rather middling, a victory if you consider the defense-defecient roster. Through 13 games, Denver is looking more and more like the borderline playoff team many thought they’d before the season, as opposed to the lottery-bound fodder they masqueraded as to start the year. Whether that’s a good thing or not is debatable.
Andre Miller was born an old man, there really is no other explanation for the wealth of “50-year old pick up player that still can school you” tricks he has at his disposal. A new ruse Dre has been fond of employing is the post-up flare screen, where he’ll back down his man around the extended elbow (sometimes with the ball, sometimes without) and he’ll just flip the ball to an open three point shooter, usually Jordan Hamilton.
I highlighted the disaster Denver’s defensive hedging scheme had been to start the season earlier this month and it seems I wasn’t the only one to take notice. Shaw seems to have scraped that scheme in favor of one that relies far more heavily on switches, one where contact doesn’t even really need to be made on a pick and roll for Denver to switch a wing onto a big and vice-versa. The possession below is a good example of this, where the play begins with Hickson hedging to corral Ellis but then descends into many fast-paced switches between both Miller and Chandler and Miller and Arthur. Denver’s wings are dynamic enough to pull this off, as Chandler and Arthur do here, but the solid defense is wasted because Nate Robinson, as he often tends to do, was playing free safety and lost his man badly enough to end up being stuck guarding Marion in the post.
The ball handlers in pick and rolls are still abusing Denver, but overall the Nuggets have taken to this style of defense rather well, and have climbed into the top ten in points allowed per possession per SynergySports.
The Pacers inside-out roster, much to Brian Shaw’s chagrin, is constructed much differently than the dribble-drive Nuggets. That said, Shaw has still made an effort to bring many of the plays and principles that made his former team so successful back to Denver. The Nuggets have started to run a ton of flare screens for Chandler, Hamilton, and Foye that begin with the shooter cutting baseline, a staple of Indiana’s offense, and it’s benefits are seen in the Nugget’s highest three-point shooting percentage in three years.
Shaw has also brought in a play Indiana ran a ton for George Hill, where a player posting up, usually around the elbow, flips the ball to a driving guard before setting a quick back screen. Denver has run this play many times using both Faried and Hickson as the post-up players and Foye and Miller as the guards.
Denver also seems to have acquired the new defensive mandate to not double on defense under almost any circumstance, a principle the Pacers took pride in all of last year. When done correctly, with the nearest man stunting (a form of semi-doubling that doesn’t leave one guy open) correctly, this has been a success. But Denver’s switch-heavy scheme leaves a lot of clearly mismatched defenders left alone on an island. There needs to be a balance here, and that, hopefully, will come in time.
Matt wrote a great piece on Darrell Arthur’s hidden value that is well worth your time, and this particular set play Denver likes to run with him on the floor reinforces that value on offense. The play begins with the strong side guard on the right wing, Arthur at the top of the key, and another guard waiting on the opposite wing to form an inverted triangle.
From there the ball can swing to the weak side guard for a three-pointer off an Arthur flare screen, it can swing back to Arthur for an open jumper if the defense overplays the three-point shot too much, or Arthur can set a screen to create a driving lane if his defender sticks to him. The play does a good job emphasizing how versatile a player Arthur can be, and the productive way Shaw is using him (when he give him minutes).
Chandler’s Reverse Split Action:
Golden State runs a split action play where Curry will set a screen for Iguodala before popping out to the three point line while Iggy cuts to the basket. Denver has a sort of fun inverse version of this play where Chandler will set a running pick for a popping out three-point shooter before cutting to the rim. The version of the play below features Andre Miller’s incredible ability to fake out defenders with his lobbing ability, another wrinkle that makes the reverse split extremely difficult to defend.