The amount of control a coach has on defensive possessions is finite. He can scheme and plan to his heart’s desire, but in the end, the duty of execution rests on the players. The key to such precise execution, and therefore positioning, is communication.
“The veteran teams that you see, like Miami and Boston with KG, they emphasized talking a lot,” Nuggets forward Darrell Arthur said. “It’s all about communication out there.”
Arthur is the second unit, at times even the first unit’s coxswain.
“I have to let (my teammate) know where the pick is coming from, what side to force (the ball handler) to,” Arthur said. “If we’re pushing the ball handler to the baseline, I have to call it out three times. If we’re blitzing the pick and roll, I want to say ‘blitz left, he’s coming off your right hand or your left shoulder.’ If one guy messes up a call, then it messes up the whole team.”
Before the injury-fueled decimation of Denver’s bench, the Nuggets had one of the best defensive bench units in the league. In fact, Nate Robinson led the team in net rating by a significant. Robinson attributed his defense to Arthur’s communication, as he always knew what was coming and what position to be in.
As a quick aside, to this day no one really knows why the hodgepodge bench unit was so good, not even head coach Brian Shaw, who one day, with a grin on his face, said of the unit’s defensive numbers, “We don’t know why it worked.”
Arthur’s athleticism doesn’t present itself in the same manner of his teammate JaVale McGee, but rather in terrific lateral mobility, allowing him to quickly cover ground on defense — hedging then recovering before the ball handler can take advantage. Watch the possession below, and see how Arthur’s able to switch and recover multiple times.
He believes he’s underrated because a lot of what he does on defense doesn’t show up in the box score, and if one were to look at his raw numbers — 3 rebounds, 0.4 steals, 0.7 blocks per game — they’d agree. However, one glance at Denver’s defensive rating with Arthur on and off the court — 96.8 on and 107.7 off, respectively, according to NBA.com/stats — and his impact is undeniable.
Denver’s defense, specifically their starting front court, has been a glaring issue all season, as the starting duo of Kenneth Faried and JJ Hickson surrender 108.7 points per 100 possessions. Given their struggles and Arthur’s defensive acumen, wouldn’t it make sense to start Arthur over one of those two? To hear Arthur tell it, he’s just fine where he is.
“I like coming off the bench,” Arthur says. “I try to see what’s going on, what’s working for them, what’s effective what’s not, and I try to go out there and exploit it.”
Statistical support provided by NBA.com/stats