Roundball Roundup: Part II – Shaw vs Karl, Faried’s struggle, a farewell to guards, and Denver’s DOA season

Shaw versus Karl:

It’s no secret that there’s been an internal struggle between Brain Shaw’s Nuggets and and the ghosts of George Karl’s. Despite being fifty games into his era, and equipped with a (slightly) different roster, Shaw has found himself battling not only with his own inexperience, but the shadow of the coach he replaced. Karl’s basketball sensibilities still seem imbued in this team, and his championing of shots at the rim above all else has Shaw frustrated with what, to him, appears to be his team passing up easier shots in favor of driving at the rim. Here’s exactly what Shaw said after Wednesday’s game vs Milwaukee (taken from audio on 102.3 ESPN Radio):

I’m still on our guys about, if you’re open and you have space, shoot the ball. And I’ve never been around a group of guys that, a coach has had to encourage guys to shoot the ball when they’re open. A big part of it is, when talking with the guys last year, with George Karl everything was to the rim, to the rim, to the rim. And I think that, you know, sometimes you can do that but when your have a rim-protector like Larry Sanders, unless you going to take it all the way to his chest, its gonna be hard to finish over him inside…that’s why you have to take the open shots when you have it. You always think you can get something better but the best shot is the one where you have enough space to shoot it within the rhythm of the offense.”

And here’s Karl’s response on ESPN 102.3:

There’s no question there’s a philosophical difference in what he was saying and what I believe in. But I’ll be honest with you, I can’t stand the shot selection the Denver Nuggets have now. They take more bad shots and tough twos than any team in the NBA. Tough twos go in 40 percent of the time, I don’t care if you’re open or not and its been that same percentage for ten years…In general I don’t mind jump shots, but they have to be incorporated in the philosophy of what we’re trying to do. And if the team is going to take away the rim, and going to give us wide-open jump shots we’re going to take them. Now I prefer that jump shot to be a three-pointer, but its a basic philosophy, its a simple philosophy and its based upon the wide open 18-foot jump shot is not a good shot in the NBA game today.”

Its easy to agree with Karl on the surface, not only was the offense more efficient under his reign last season, his is the strategy that makes sense. Shots at the rim are good, mid-range jumpers, generally, are bad. But Shaw’s offense, and even his comments last week, are hardly Doug Collins-ian. Karl’s claim that Denver takes more tough two’s than any team in the league is a) a made up stat and b) seems a bit misguided as the Nuggets attempt the sixth lowest number of mid-range jumpers in the league. Furthermore, while not being anywhere close to the number of shots at the rim Denver attempted under Karl last year, the Nuggets rank sixth in the league in number of attempts in the restricted area per game. Karl’s “rim-obsession” was a product of his dribble-drive system, which essentially entailed of a series of progressively sharp off-ball cuts to the basket that attempted to manufacture spacing with movement in the absence of three-point shooting. Shaw’s offense revolves much more around the high pick-and-roll, and by product of the type of bigs who set the screens and the ball handlers who run the pick, most of these plays end with a shot at the rim. Where Shaw’s issue comes in is the hesitancy Denver seems to have in the first few heartbeats of either catching the ball or getting open off the screen.

Lawson needs to take this open three but instead he turns it into a pump-fake that leads him nowhere. This is an issue that afflicts Lawson more than any other Nuggets player, but it’s one that still pervades the entire roster. It will be interesting seeing how Shaw runs his offense with a roster more inclined to run pick-and-pops but for now his gripe with the perpetuating rim-runs is a valid one.

Faried on an island:

Statistically, Faried’s having as solidly efficient a season as he had last year and yet his minutes have fallen and his role in the offense has been somewhat neutered. The overly large big man rotation is somewhat to blame but so too is an absence of a precise use for a player like Faried, which is magnified even more by the fact that the majority of his minutes are soaked up playing alongside Hickson. Shaw’s offense is predicated on the high screen and roll, and while one big is setting the screen the other usually serves as a stationary black hole. Too many times a Faried pick and roll ends with him on the elbow, with the weakside overloaded on the wrong half of the court. Faried’s only real post move is a hook shot that he’s pretty good at turning left with his right hand but abysmally inefficient at with his left hand.  This play puts Faried on an island that emphasizes his weakness and doesn’t allow for any implementation of his strengths.

A farewell to guards:

Since Andre Miller made his very public exiting of the rotation in late December, Ty Lawson has averaged 38.5 minutes a game. Since Nate Robinson went down with an ACL, its gone up to 40.3. The way Lawson darts from baseline to baseline on a fast break and relentlessly drives at the basket in the half court is exhausting enough that racking up these kinds of minutes cannot be good long term. But Shaw doesn’t have a lot of other options when it comes to players who can run a pick and roll centric offense. Fournier has been a disastrous option for anything but spot up shooting, Wilson Chandler slashes and pulls up with no rhyme or reason, and Foye is just not a point guard.

Lawson’s recent injury shines an even more harsh light on this dearth of ball handlers, and a resolution to the Andre Miller situation, by way of reclamation or trade, seems immanent. But however Denver bolsters its meager reserves, nothing can replace Lawson, he embodies the Nuggets offense when things are clicking and he salvages it when things are not. Denver will wring what it can out of what it has but, going off what we’ve seen thus far, it will be but a drop in the parched bucket of this season.

All bets are off:

There comes a season every so often where things just go awry. The reasons usually draw back from the ill-fated combination of poor luck and a faulty plan. Whether or not Denver should have shaken itself from the George Karl status quo remains something that will likely be debated for some time to come, but what matters now is how much the decisions made thereafter led to this apocalyptically mediocre season. And the answer, as it usually tends to be, is a complicated one.

The Nuggets should not have shored up its front court with the inherently redundant pair of JJ Hickson and Kenneth Faried, but then again JaVale McGee was supposed to be spear-heading the front line. The Andre Miller situation should not have deteriorated to the extent that it did and have gone so long without a resolution, but rarely does a panic trade to stave off early tumors help cure the disease in the future. The front office shouldn’t have handed Shaw a roster he clearly doesn’t seem to want and doesn’t seem to totally mesh anyway, but nobody thought the second best player on the team would be gone for the entirety of the year. The Nuggets shouldn’t be this bad with a roster this talented, but they’re about right were they should be considering how little of that talent is actually seeing time on the court these days.

It’s going to be difficult because the season is barely halfway done, but their needs to be – if not a complete refrain – a couching of the criticism that is bound to come in light of all the team’s recent failings. The product on the court is a tiring one, one that shouldn’t have to be tolerated, but one that seems unavoidable and – frankly – inevitable given the circumstances.

‘Tis a sad place to be in with a team just halfway through February, but that’s where we are.

  • Andrew

    Nice article. This really hit on how I am feeling about this season. Not a shoulder shrug, but a feeling that this is pretty much to be expected in a transition year, with a new GM, a new coach, the miller issue, and a series of bad injuries to key players. I’ve always been a Karl (the coach, not the person) detractor, and his comments sort of say it all. He did not bother looking up any stats making the comment about the Nuggets shot selection, but you will notice that he left himself wiggle room, just in case, so that he can claim it is not the NUMBER of twos he is talking about but the subjective quality of the twos. Ha ha. Typical Karl; the master of lowered expectations.
    The only point you did not hit upon was the silver lining; that It is probably a blessing in disguise if the Nuggets don’t get a playoff spot. If the Knicks end up nabbing a playoff spot, the Nuggets would still be in the lottery assuming the season considers to stumble along like it has. I’ve been happy, overall, with the Nugget’s fight so far, too. Next year, with Gallo and Geezy back, a nice pick in the draft, and HOPEFULLY, a decent trade that involves Miller, Chandler, and Faried (let’s face it, they are going to shop both Faried and Hickson, but they will most likely get more for Faried), will really provide a good look at Shaw’s development and potential as a coach. We’ll see.

    • sherlock

      I was going to comment on this article, but you sir, hit all the points I was going to make to the T.

      I agree in the fact that I’m not overly disappointed with the season, and like you aptly stated, it’s more of a shoulder shrug. I knew we weren’t going to be last years team, with Shaw/Connley at the helm. And I’m ok with that, due to the fact that we aren’t killing the regular season only to be booted from the first round a la the last ten (that’s 10, yes 10) years previous. We were going nowhere, I really believe the Nuggets were as good as they were going to be with Karl, now we have (hopefully) no where to go but up. Give it a little more time, let’s see how the trade deadline shakes out and what pick we have in the draft.

      We are still fun to watch for the most part. This team still has potential without the damned injuries.

      • LBJ

        Totally disagree. I look the Nuggets under Karl as two totally different teams. The Melo version included a lot of ball stopping and lackadaisical D. That team was going nowhere – and I don’t think Karl enjoyed coaching that team.

        The post Melo teams had a coach and GM on the same page – and was improving each of the last 3 years. Unfortunately, our season came to an end last year when Gallo went down. However, we still had a very young team that was adding pieces every year.

        That was destroyed by the offseason idiocy – which has left us with a bunch of aging journeyman, a new coach that can’t put together rotation or a decent defense and a front office that can’t make a trade to acquire players to fit the coach’s system (whatever the hell it is).

      • gimpcom187

        Its boring to watch comparatively and this team without injuries is a 45-50 win team with no shot against any team in the top 4 in west. Shaw wants to run this team like it has shaq or pau/odom/bynum or has the pacers defensive talent. Its not that team. And your 3 years of rebuild minimum from creating that team.

    • gimpcom187

      Talk about ironic. Commenting on karls lowered expectations and then being ok with a team that went from the 4th best record in the league to a lottery team. As has been said over and over and over this team lost 1 ONE series during karls coaching career with the nuggets when they had the better regular season record. Last year when faried was hurt and playing injured, gallo their tied for best player went out and ty, chandler and brewer decided they werent interested in making 3s for the series. In addition gsw were underrated by record because their best player missed 30 games and best defender missed 50 something. Gsw was the more talented team and ifyou watched the spurs series that was CLEAR. stop with this hes a bad coach in the playoffs bs. Karl had 1 playoff season with 2 top 25 guys and they made the conference finals despite not having a legit backup level wing beyond melo (most playoff teams have 3 wings better than dahntay jones).

      In terms of the midrange jump shot id have to see a breakdown though it appears he is wrong. Do they take a disproportionate amount of 15-23 foot jumpers when they are in the halfcourt? That would be the real issue. Nonetheless the truth is 3s and rim runs are BY FAR the most efficient shotsto take (and create ft shots which even at the poor low 70s % range is much more efficient than most offensive plays. The point is that karl was defending his style vs what shaw was complaining about. Shaws style is 90s style thinking. If you just want to trash karl write something like: I hated losing in the first round of playoffs and blame it on karl. I cant see anything he says rationally.

      • LBJ

        Joshy has solved the “losing in the first round” problem this year!

      • sherlock

        TLDR: GK is and will be the best and only coach capable of coaching the Nuggets. There’s also probably some garbage in there defending the 10 years of 1 and done in the playoffs (I’m sure u mentioned the run to the WCF).

        This is the last time I’m going to spend any more time on you “glass half empty” “Nuggets” fans. Why u waste your time complaining and whining abt a team you supposedly like makes no sense. And why I waste my time reading your petulant responses, I do not know. Cling to the past all you want, what’s done is done, the future looks bright no matter how bleak you and LBJ want to convince everyone otherwise.

        • Cory

          Word

        • LBJ

          Yeah, the future is bright – if you have your head buried in the sand.

          Now, instead of a young team coming off a 57 win season (38-3 at home), we get to watch a bunch of journeymen (JJ, Foye, NateRob, Arthur) play a boring style of BB with endless pick and rolls (which most of our players don’t run very well.

          I’m sure in a couple of years, JJ will be hoisting the NBA championship trophy – and we will be happy about last offseason.

          • Ryan Chalstrom

            LBJ – just stop wasting your time with the morons on this site. I switched to Denver Stiffs for my nugs coverage and it has been great! No idiots with their heads buried in the sand over there. Get off this terrible site – these people have their heads so far up their you know what that they will never see logic. Denver stiffs brotha – you won’t miss this site I promise.

        • gimpcom187

          Let’s be CLEAR: You all are the ones who keep bringing op the first round losses. It’s been explained over and over and over that this is not a realistic complaint. It’s clearly a glass half empty thought process on YOUR part.

          People on this site whined about the team when it was good and showing consistent improvement. They wanted it to be a championship contender despite ZERO top 30 ballplayers on the team when that is unheard of (they used the pistons as a proxy but completely misunderstood that Billups, both wallaces were definitely top 30 ballplayers and even richard hamilton was borderline as good as any of last years nuggets.) The more appropriate talent comparison was the Hawks of the Joe Johnson era (with more depth which leads to a better regular season record, but affects the playoffs minimally). In the West that gets you a first round 50/50 series if you are healthy and shooting well. The nuggets did neither in last year’s playoffs.

          The point is people on this site often seem not to have learned ANYTHING about their stance last year and the results this year. It’s pretty clear from the quotes that Shaw wants them shooting the mid-range jumper much more than they do. People who understand basketball understand this is backward thinking and if your coach thinks this way it’s not good. Which was obviously Karl’s point. It’s fine for you to pretend you have the high road on this but just keep your delusion to yourself.

        • gimpcom187

          This is partially copy/pasted from another site. This is what Im referencing to LEARNING something and understanding the difference. It’s not glass half full or empty. Some of us understood this in May of last year and said these same things then. But pretending that firing Karl was a good decision at this point is delusional (only Stan Van would have been worth firing Karl as was said at the time).
          Hindsight…
          In hindsight, I was a proponent of GK going. It wasn’t how he coached or the results and I could live with the playoff losses because it was fun to watch the team during the regular season and the style of ball they played. I didn’t like how he threw his players under the bus and the player interactions. It hurt the team and the drama, I believe took away from possibly even better results on the court. However, watching this year, I now think I was too hasty and wish they had kept him and had made some personnel moves to strengthen what was a successful team. I’m not a Shaw fan at all and have begun to question if he really has what it takes to coach in theNBA. We have watched the weird rotations, the benchings and then unbenchings and playing guys out of position and it is beginning to look to me like he’s a bust. And his personal interactions with his team are no better, if not worse, than GK’s were. Faried has been one of the biggest casualties of Shaw coaching along with Andre Miller. In my mind, these 2 guys hated to lose more than anyone on this team and for some reason, Shaw has killed that spirit. So I am taking it back – GK knew how to gear the team and game towards the players he had.

          • sherlock

            I had a long winded reply, but I deleted it and I’ll just say this: We are 50-ish games into Brian Shaw’s first gig as a head coach. You’re comparing him to GK who had 20+ seasons under his belt. If anyone thought we were going to pick up right where we left off last year, it is their head’s that are buried in the sand.

            I’m willing to give Shaw more then 50 games to decide if he’s going to make it in this league. Maybe we made the right call, maybe we didn’t. I do know this much though, 10 years as an average 5-6 seed, losing in the first round year after year just wasn’t cutting it. That’s the middle of the pack in the NBA, you can’t win a CHAMPIONSHIP with that business model. We have a lot of average NBA talent on this team, that’s not going to get us out of the Western Conference. If we take a page out of say Portland’s playbook, move some pieces and get a good draft pick look out, then we will be dangerous.

            The GK vs Shaw whining is last years news. GK is gone, the Nuggets are moving on, get on board. Or continue your pathetic complaints and comparisons. When the Nugs are back to a power house, we’ll see you band wagoners then. And yes please move your same old same old posts about GK to the Denver Stiffs website. Peace out negative Nancy.

            • gimpcom187

              Look the choices in reality were: Keep Karl and try to add a top 10-20 ballplayer to see how it plays out (in the west there are too many teams with multiple top 20 ballplayers and good surrounding talent to assume anything beyond the WC finals was likely). OR take on a defensive minded coach with clear basketball understanding as Karl (Van Gundy is the only guy I saw available and it was very unlikely they could get them) OR blow it up and rebuild. Anything in between was a waste of time. Which is where they are now.

              People on this site have been overestimating the talent on the team and blamed Karl for the losses. Getting rid of a top 10 coach who has been that way for 2 decades is ill advised and should have caused a swell of anger from fans. Instead many were leading the bandwagon. Welcome to the reality that the nugs are probably 5-15 years of waiting before they get a coach the caliber of Karl again.

              It’s not NEGATIVE. It’s reality. I heard the same things last year when I said they were a 50/50 shot in round one and no shot at beating the spurs or thunder (assuming they were healthy). Even I got roped in slightly going into the playoffs prior to gallo injury, but said they couldn’t be the spurs or healthy thunder.

              Ive lived in DC watching a crap organization for my formative years as a basketball fan and was in San Antonio for 7 years during the beginning of the Duncan run watching how a great organization is run. This team with Karl and Ujiri was more like the Spurs (though not quite on that level), currently they seem more similar to the Wizards.

              • sherlock

                I agree. I completely agree our front office is in shambles right now, along the lines of Washington. Now here is where we might disagree. Everything I’ve read, points to the fact that Masai was leaving for Toronto. Now maybe we could have, and definitely should have, tried to lock him into a large contract the year previous, that much is for sure. But once he got into last year and the Raptors job became available he wanted it, he has a history there for starters. We can’t blame him for that, we can blame Josh for not seizing his opportunity though.

                I think after Masai left the only thing to do was to blow it up and rebuild. The likelihood of getting out of the WC with our roster was slim, with GK or without. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that they blew it up right before one of the most highly touted drafts since 03 I think. Call it what we want this was the front office admitting we weren’t going any further the way we were constructed. I think it was a pretty ballsy move, being that brutally honest about your organization, but it might be a quick turn around if we can get the right pieces going.

              • LBJ

                I agree with you that is what the front office SHOULD have done. Unfortunately, Joshy and Timmy signed/acquired a bunch of mediocre players under the guise of competing – and losing any opportunity for a decent draft choice.
                Fortunately, all the injuries have given us a second chance to tank. Let’s hope the FO doesn’t blow it this time.

              • sherlock

                lol agreed!

  • Cory

    Can’t wait til’ what is written is focused on the future. I like this article though, really sums up how things have been. A transition year was inevitable but they can make this transition a little easier and better if they start moving pieces. Trade someone to Phoenix and nab one of their first rounders, they have 3 or 4 all we have to do is deal with Emeka Okafor. Just a suggestion though. I don’t hope we suck I just want a Star from this draft, preferably Wiggins but that would be improbable. I loved the success we had with Karl but all in all 9 seasons or whatever being kicked out in the first round is dumb because a Hall Of Fame coach would at least know how to advance. He acted like he forgot about Gary Payton and his defense and the team defense as a whole.

  • zmancbr

    One word: TANK! The nuggets need to do whatever they can to pull the plug and effectively tank the season. With a draft class this talented and a season that is over, there is no reason to continue to win. Lawson is injured again, nate is gone, gallo is gone, reports are that McGee is gone as well, and who knows how long Chandler will stay healthy. With that many injuries and no hope for this season, start the trade machine and wheel and deal for assets and picks in this draft if you can get them. Then shoot for a killer lottery pick and that “it” factor player the nuggs so desperately need! Then when everyone is back next season, play on.

  • Andrew

    Also, I have no evidence, but I can only conclude that at least part of the reason Nuggets have dragged feet on a Miller trade is to assure they miss the playoffs. The longer they wait, the less likely Nuggets/Shaw will be able to salvage a playoff spot. As the goose is now cooked, I’m hopeful we’ll see something soon.

    • etlord1

      I see where you’re coming from, but my feeling about holding off on a trade involving Miller is that a player’s trade value tends to go up as the deadline nears because that is when the bidding wars start. I wouldn’t have taken any of Sacramento’s offers right after Miller was dismissed.

  • Darius

    http://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=k34zy8m Trade included Lakers First Round Pick and Suns First Round Pick, two 2nd Rounders go to Phoenix

  • Paul Griggs

    I disagree that this roster is all that talented. Lawson can start on most teams but is not even an all-star and is a limited defender. Faried, Hickson and Chandler are 6th men on most teams. Foye is an 8th man. Mozgov doesn’t start for most teams. Robinson and Miller are 7th men. Quincy Miller, Hamilton and Randolph are roster fillers. Fournier would be good as instant offense on a good team. McGee is a goof ball and can’t play big minutes because of his health–he comes off the bench. They were deeper last year with Koufos, Iggy, Gallo and Brewer but this current bunch has one starter and several decent bench players. They looked better than they are because George Karl’s system played to their strengths. Hickson, Faried, Foye, Miller, Hamilton, McGee, Randolph and Robinson need to go to fit Shaw’s system. They need a decent post center to pair with Mozgov, a half court point guard that can play defense, a good defending/rebounding forward and a lock down defender (SG/F) to make Shaw’s system work. It’s not going to happen anytime soon. It’s time for Shaw to change his system to fit the players.

    • gimpcom187

      Amen

    • Ryan Chalstrom

      Lawson has become an all star level talent this year. Look how many double doubles he has been putting up this year. There are just too many all star level guards in the NBA right now for all the deserving guards to make the all star teams. Doesn’t mean he isn’t an all star. Plus there is no better PG in the league to take advantage of playing at a fast pace in Denver with the high altitude. He is the perfect PG for Denver because no one else can play at his pace. The problem is that Shaw’s system doesn’t take advantage of the altitude in Denver.

  • Roberta Nopper

    You can bash coach Karl if you want. But use facts and save the lies for NFL discussion.

    Karl said, ” (the nuggets) take more bad shots and tough twos than any team in the NBA.”

    That is a quote from this article. Leave the “tough twos” alone and address the bad shots. He didn’t say mid-range jumper. A contested deap 3 with 13 seconds left on the shot clock is a bad shot.

    Karl was gonna have a 50 win year. That is a fact. Karl is the reigning coach of the year. “WRITER DUDE”, please show some respect. “READER DUDES”, don’t be fooled. Do some homework.

    • DavidRMC

      If you look back at nearly everything I’ve written for this site, I think you’d find me as big a Karl fan as anyone. I thought the decision to fire him was dumb at the time and nothing has really changed my mind. But what Karl would’ve done with this team is a discussion for another day, and one that is probably useless to have either way. It’s time to move on and talk about the team that’s here, not the one that could’ve been.

      As for Karl’s comments, if you listen to the interview, he emphasized his gripe with the tough two, and that’s what I addressed. “Bad shots” is too general a term to measure just anecdotally, but as I pointed out with the Lawson video, many of them come from a hesitancy that is born from two warring systems. That’s really the point, this team is caught between two different systems and the adjustment period is likely to stretch beyond this season.

  • JED89

    “and equipped with a (slightly) different roster”

    am i the only one who understands that this roster is completely different than last years, not slightly? do you know what last years 9 man rotation was and what this years rotation is? last year was ty, iggy, gallo, faried, koufos, miller, brewer, chandler and mcgee. this year is ty, foye, chandler, faried, hickson, nate, fournier, arthur, mozgov. so that’s 3 of last years players involved in this years rotation (ty, faried and chandler). i’m sick of people thinking that this team is anywhere near as competently put together as last year. Right now my GM grade for Connelly is a D-. Shaw does not deserve the blame.