When the Nuggets brought Randy Foye on board last offseason as part of the Andre Iguodala sign-and-trade, the reasoning was clear: They needed shooters, and he was a shooter.
Unfortunately, we now must, at least for the time being, say “he was a shooter” strictly in the past tense, because any remnants of the consistent and reliable 3-point shooter who played with Utah last season have long disappeared.
The extent to which Foye has dropped off in December is as damaging to Denver’s offense as it is inexplicable:
(Stats from Basketball-Reference.com)
His 3-point shooting percentages are the salient data here. According to NBA.com/stats, 57.7 percent of his field goal attempts are 3-pointers, and bombing from long range is what the Nuggets acquired him to do.
As you can see, his .372 percentage from the arc through the end of November was almost precisely in line with his .374 career average, and somewhat below his .410 percentage last season.
In December, however, his percentages have run off a cliff and fallen face first on the bottom of the canyon floor Wile E. Coyote style. He has shot a miserable .280 from the arc and even worse .287 from the field. To get some idea of just how bad this is, of the 56 players this season who have averaged over four 3-point attempts per game, only one is below .300 – Josh Smith. Foye’s .336 mark on the season leaves him ranked 46th in that set of players, which is bad enough for a “3-point specialist,” though if we used his December numbers he’d be ranked even lower, and only above the worst 3-point shooter in the league.
This goes a long way in explaining Denver’s slow starts in first quarters and their inability to get their offense going. Foye is there primarily to space the floor with his perimeter shooting, and secondarily to add a bit of a scoring punch. He is doing neither, and the Nuggets’ offense is paying the price.
As such, the time is overdue for Brian Shaw to extract him from the starting lineup. Foye’s poor performance isn’t “just a slump” at this point. It’s a major liability and an obstacle standing in the way of Denver achieving better starts and a more efficiently run offense.
As Vytis recently detailed in depth in his great post on the Andre Miller-Nate Robinson duo (check it out if you haven’t yet read it),that tandem is the Nuggets’ most efficient two-man guard lineup this season. As of this posting, they have an astonishingly high +13.0 net efficiency rating.
The next highest among Denver’s 2-man guard lineups that have played over 150 minutes together this season is Ty Lawson-Andre Miller, with a -1.4 net rating. That’s not very good, but it’s better than the -3.2 of Lawson-Foye (which is certainly much worse in December).
Additionally, while the Lawson-Foye offensive rating of 105.3 considerably trumps the 98.2 rating of Lawson-Miller, the opposite is true defensively. The Lawson-Miller lineup has a respectable 99.6 defensive rating, while the Lawson-Foye duo has a fairly terrible 108.6.
In essence, the starting lineup has been awful defensively, but has thrown enough offensively at their opponents not to lose too much ground. But when, among other things, the bottom falls out on Foye’s shooting, that tips the scales heavily in favor of the opposition.
By contrast, the Lawson-Miller lineup, while it hasn’t packed the same offensive punch, has been more consistent defensively, which is critical if the goal is to prevent opponents from getting out to huge early first quarter leads.
And so I propose – and admittedly there’s a big part of me that can’t believe I’m saying this – that Shaw replace Foye with Miller in the starting lineup, and see how the Lawson-Miller tandem rolls. At least for a few games.
A one-dimensional 3-point shooter who can no longer shoot is effectively useless. He can’t space the floor, he can’t provide additional scoring, and in Foye’s case, he hasn’t been able to do much on the defensive end either. And who knows? Maybe getting brought off the bench might just be the fire under his hiney that he needs to get his shot falling again.
There may be some risk involved in breaking up and reducing those effective Robinson-Miller minutes, and losing some of the impact that lineup has had in boosting Denver’s bench performance. But it’s not as if Shaw can’t return to that at any point in any game when he so chooses.
Some might call for replacing Foye with Evan Fournier. Strictly on the level of player development I might agree with this. But the Nuggets are trying to win games, and the harsh truth (as much as I wish it weren’t so) is that Fournier has been even worse than Foye this season. There are times, such as the last two games, when Foye has dropped such obvious stinkers that sending in Fournier looked like a no-brainer. But as a fixture in the starting five, a coach wants reliability, consistency and leadership, and in the many chances he’s been given this season, Fournier has not yet demonstrated that he can deliver those qualities.
The other candidate would be Robinson, but he has been so effective as the Nuggets sixth man this season that it would seem very counterproductive and foolish to disrupt that dynamic.
Replacing Foye with Miller is worth a try. Things certainly couldn’t be much worse than they have been recently. And it just might work out for the better, not only in terms of the starting lineup playing more effectively, but also with shaking Foye out of his slump. (There might even be the side bonus of showcasing Miller to boost his trade value).
Brian Shaw has repeatedly issued the message this season that his players must earn their minutes and their roles. It’s time for him to recognize that Randy Foye has earned himself a seat on the pine.
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