The Nuggets don’t have any shooters.”
Even as the 2012-13 Nuggets were working towards their most successful season in franchise history, there could be heard (as is always true in sports) some recurring complaints and criticisms from both fans and analysts. Prevalent among these was Denver’s lack of shooters, and with the acquisition of 3-point specialist Randy Foye, the team sought to address that need.
At the beginning of the season Foye got off to a somewhat slow start, but proceeded to settle in fairly quickly and start delivering on the promise of bringing some reliable perimeter shooting to the Nuggets’ arsenal. So far this season, among players with ten or more points per game, he is 10th in made 3-pointers per 36 minutes. (Nate Robinson is 17th, and the last on the list). And while Foye’s limited point production and .376 3-point percentage prevent him from joining the ranks of the elite gunners, he’s adroitly performing the task he was brought to Denver to do.
And, as we shall see in the video and analysis below the jump, Ty Lawson is playing a huge role in helping him get the job done. In fact, 70 percent of Foye’s shots have been assisted by Lawson, including 72.6 percent of his 3-pointers. And many of those assist have been among Lawson’s most impressive this season.
Those Nuggets fans still lamenting the loss of Corey Brewer and his knack for leaking out and scoring easy points in transition may take solace in the knowledge that Foye is at least partly filling the vacuum Brewer left behind.
Denver’s production via transition offense has slipped only slightly this season, despite the ostensible shift to a half-court focus. The percentage of their offense coming from transition plays has dropped only a little, from 18.8 percent to 16.2 percent, but their points per possession in transition has essentially remained the same. And a big part of the reason for the latter is that, despite the fact that Brewer and Andre Iguodala got out in transition more frequently than Foye has, they generally also went to the rim rather than pulling up for 3-pointers.
When Foye gets out in transition, he goes straight to the 3-point line practically every time unless the play dictates otherwise. And Lawson has proven to be excellent at knowing exactly where to find him, and hitting his mark with a sharpshooter’s accuracy.
The chemistry the two have developed seems (as Foye himself generally does) to have gone under the radar. But not only has it grown impressively quickly, it’s truly a thing of basketball beauty. Lawson’s court vision and passing accuracy have grown by leaps and bounds, and when he quarterbacks a pass from well in the backcourt over a herd of players and hits Foye perfectly in motion at the arc to set up his shot, the evidence of Ty’s growth as a distributor could not be clearer.
I started off this season as a full-fledged, card-carrying member of the “Start Fournier over Foye” camp. But after having done this deep-dive into how well Lawson and Foye pair up together (which, in terms of effectiveness, is not unlike Andre Miller and JaVale McGee), it has become easier to see why Brian Shaw would not want to mess with a good thing.
Foye’s go-to move: Head to the corner, then drift up the side
Randy Foye has one m.o. that dominates all others. On most possessions, when the Nuggets take the ball up the court, he immediately heads for the corner (usually the right corner), and then slowly works his way up the sideline further up the 3-point arc. He really doesn’t move about the in the halfcourt much at all, preferring instead to just park it on one side or the other, and casually drift up from the corner towards the hash mark. And it’s almost as if this barely perceptible movement endows him with some sort of invisibility cloak, as he gets an abundance of open looks in this way.
Of course, it’s no coincidence that Lawson is, more often than not, the one feeding him those shots. It’s a testament to how much opposing defenses fear his dribble penetration that Lawson is consistently able, when he gets into the lane, to draw defenders away from Foye at the arc, and into the paint. And it’s a testament to Foye’s good court sense (and probably to Shaw’s coaching as well) that he just hangs around pretty much lollygagging over there on the side while the defense (apparently) forgets about him until it’s too late.
But as nifty as this trick seems to be, in all honesty I’d like to see more variation in how Foye is deployed in half court sets. In a playoff series this is something that could be adjusted for fairly easily, and if the Nuggets (and specifically Foye) get overly reliant on it, it could end up being to their disadvantage.
Spotting up around the arc
I don’t have too much more to add here. I wanted to include these clips in the video because there are some more pretty great Lawson dishes. But it is worth noting that Foye knows exceptionally well among his teammates exactly what his role is, what his limitations are, what to do and where to go. Even on broken plays he finds his way back to his sweet spots, he has the composure and consistency that a veteran should, and (save for the occasional misguided over-dribbling drive into the paint) he generally minimizes his mistakes.
What we’re seeing now from Foye is probably pretty much all he’ll ever be, and the tension between his reliability and the need to develop players like Evan Fournier and Jordan Hamilton could easily get heightened if he gets into a shooting slump. But the Lawson-Foye tandem should by now officially be considered an important fixture of the Nuggets’ offense, and as such it seems likely that Foye will keep his starting job unless a younger player really breaks out in a big way.
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