I have seen the calls for my apologies. The demands that I come out and eat crow for predicting the Nuggets were clearly lottery team. The wonder at where I have been during the recent streak of great play. (For the record I was away for ten days for the holiday).
But I have been thinking about things, about how I was potentially so wrong, and it all led me to one conclusion.
I was wrong, but it was only because I was misinformed.
You see, I made the prediction based on all the information we had at the end of the preseason and after an offseason full of talk from Brian Shaw and the Nuggets brass.
Almost everything they said pointed to a few big changes that would be coming to Denver, most notably that the Nuggets would be playing slower, that they wouldn’t be playing small and that developing the young guys was going to be a priority.
The preseason came and went and Denver looked bad. That continued into the first five games of the regular season when the offense was running through Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee post-ups and blown rotations from JJ Hickson and Jordan Hamilton highlighted the defense and the Nuggets went 1-4.
Suddenly though, things changed and now the Nuggets have run off a 9-2 stretch where they look really good and the playoffs seem entirely possible, if not probable.
It isn’t a coincidence though, that the change has coincided with all that stuff from the offseason being thrown out the window.
Suddenly Denver is running again, small ball is back, sometimes in the form of Andre Miller at small forward withTy Lawson and Nate Robinson next to him, and Evan Fournier can’t get on the court.
Brian Shaw talked plenty about slowing the game down, playing inside out and becoming what he thought was playoff ready. The general idea was that the game slowed down once the postseason arrived and Denver needed to be able to score effectively in the half court and defend better in general to have success in those moments.
Yet this season the Nuggets are third in the league in pace, (the number of possessions a team uses a game) up from 97.8 last season to 100.6 this season, which ranks third in the league. That number will clearly drop, no team reached the 100 mark at the end of last season, but the point remains. Right now the Nuggets are playing the up-and-down game that a lot of fans seemed to hate when the Nuggets didn’t win a first round series last season.
The trade-off was supposed to be an improved half court game based around the post and a high-low game with the big men. Yet the Nuggets looked awful early in the season offensively when things were primarily based in the half court. Once started running again, and Nate Robinson started yelling his own name in Dallas after his hero ball jumpers started falling, things suddenly were different and the offense is back to being above average, at least until Ty Lawson sits.
In fact despite the faster pace, the Nuggets’ offensive efficiency is down from last season’s 107.6 mark to 104.4 far this season, which means any gains in the half court are small at best, and in all reality largely based on the spectacular play of Lawson who is now surrounded by actual capable shooters.
Another thing Shaw seemed to be brought in to eliminate was the constant use of the Andre Miller/Ty Lawson backcourt that George Karl used to consistently close games with. Yet all season the bench backcourt has been the strangely successful Robinson/Miller combination and Shaw has used the Miller/Lawson/Robinson combo to close multiple games.
Finally Shaw was supposed to be brought in to develop the young players on the roster. But outside of Jordan Hamilton’s place in the rotation (mainly due to injuries, as he seems to be destined to be the odd man out when Gallo returns) where has that improvement really, honestly been seen?
Evan Fournier doesn’t play, Kenneth Faried still has no offensive game besides catching the ball in front of the rim and is still a poor defender, Hamilton still can’t defend, and while it was possibly a product of his injury JaVale McGee, while better, clearly hadn’t made a significant leap yet either.
While some will credit Shaw for Lawson’s leap, plenty of people (including multiple of us here at RMC) expected a jump in production no matter who was coaching him. While it is hard to have seen this big an improvement (on the offensive end at least, on defense he is an absolute train wreck as evidenced by the fact the Nuggets are 15.8 points per 100 possessions when he comes off the floor, typically for Robinson or Miller), it is also hard to give Shaw the lions share of credit for his stellar play.
Timofey Mozgov has been a pleasant surprise this season, though it is hard to give Shaw all the credit for that either, as Mozgov is really the only backup center on the roster, so he has to play and the problems he has always had, catching the ball and avoiding fouls, are both still present.
None of this is to take anything away from Brian Shaw. He has done a tough thing as a first year coach in backing off his ways and being adaptable to find success, but that adaptation, for the most part, has been going back a season.
What it is meant to do is figure out how I (and plenty of others here and around the nation) were wrong about this season’s Nuggets, based on what we have seen recently.
It all comes back to one thing.
These aren’t the Nuggets we were promised.
While the return to tenants that produced last season’s 57 wins has brought success with it, it has also brought a new set of questions, with one main one sticking out.
Do the Nuggets mean what they said this offseason or in the end are regular season wins more important to the organization?
All of this is going to come to a head at some point; most likely either when the team is fully healthy or this offseason and we will learn a lot about what the Nuggets actually want to do.
If Shaw and the organization truly do want to play slow and through the post, the early games of the season showed us that there probably will need to be plenty of roster moves made to allow for that to be successful, which would mean that this season of playing fast would be a wasted year of development for the guys who are kept around to play that way.
On the other hand if Denver continues to play fast and with this core, it throws out everything the front office said this offseason about that style not being able to win in the playoffs. After all the defense is playing at basically the same place they were last season (102.2 defensive efficiency right now compared to 102.0 last year) and has become more and more effective by starting to switch more and more, another thing Karl used, people hated and Shaw mentioned he wanted to stay away from early in the year.
That is what makes this season so interesting and why I think I was so wrong about what has transpired so far.
This isn’t the Brian Shaw team or style we were promised. This is the George Karl style with few Brian Shaw tweaks.
We were promised massive change and that hasn’t arrived.
So yes I was wrong, but it was only because I was misinformed.
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