Faried’s blossoming post game:
Matt had a great write-up on Faried’s improvements but I thought it was worth reiterating it a bit here. Faried began the year a player adrift. The GM who coveted him when so many others had passed and the coach whose up and down offensive style seemed designed to maximize his athletic ability while minimizing his half court deficiencies were both gone. Trade rumors swirled around him and Brian Shaw seemed dead set on forcing him to go to work on offense with his back to the basket. Faried’s subsequent failures started costing him minutes.
And yet, something weird happened. Despite what seemed like irrevocable differences between play style and offensive capability between player and coach, Faried did the thing that Brian Shaw was always purported to be able to do to players, one of the core reasons he was hired. Faried got better.
In the 19 games since the All-Star break, Faried is averaging 18.2 points and 8.8 rebounds a game on 56.7 percent shooting. His minutes and usage rate have gone up significantly and Faried post-ups are no longer a comedy of errors, but a staple of the half court offense*. Faried’s shooting a cool 50 percent on post-ups and is 24th in the league in points per possession among qualified players per SynergySports.
*Just under 19 percent of Faried’s offensive plays come out of post-ups, a far cry from the 5 percent he garnered under Karl’s post-averse system last year.
As Matt pointed out, much of this has to do with his improved positioning in the paint. But there’s also an element of manifested athleticism here, a talent Faried has so dutifully applied to rebounding and off-ball cuts under Karl. He’s not just outrunning everyone to barrel his way to a dunk anymore, but using it as a means to bully an unsuspecting big into ceding good post position*. His face-up game isn’t about pump fakes that fools no one, but correlated jab-steps whose dance tends to end with an explosive first step and a chasing defender prone to foul.
*Per NBAWowy, Faried is shooting 60 percent from the floor when someone else on Denver grabs a defensive rebound and 54 percent after the opponent scores on a hefty number of shots. This is more or less the statistical confirmation that Faried likes to run the floor, and he tends to get rewarded for doing so.
It’s hard to know how much credit Shaw and Faried deserve proportionally for the improvement, and perhaps nothing more comes of it. Faried is still getting consistently burned in the post on the other end and, while it’s a nice weapon, a series of isolated post ups an efficient offense does not make. But as Denver is eying their bloated cap sheet going into next season, and with Faried’s market value is still up in the air as well as the direction of the team, significant signs of improvement are always encouraging. It may well be that Brian Shaw has just molded his first building block.
Darrell Arthur finding the oasis:
For a lot of guys trapped in a desert of inefficient mid-range jumpers, the oasis is just a couple of steps behind them. Darrell Arthur, a perennial 18 foot jump shooter since he came into the league, was one such player and it seems to be Denver’s goal this season to introduce him to the added efficiencies of a three point shot. Before this year Arthur had attempted 27 threes in 4,500 minutes. In 997 minutes this season, he’s taken 33 threes, shooting them at a cool 48.5 percent clip.
Arthur’s potential development into a stretchy big is a huge boon for the offense, and Brian Shaw has been more than happy to exploit this new wrinkle within the half court offense, especially of late. In the first play, Aaron Brooks runs a simple misdirection, fooling Nelson and Vucevic into thinking the pick is going to be coming from J.J. Hickson on the right elbow and instead going at Darrell Arthur on the left. Arthur’s defender must leave him to contain Brooks’ dribble penetration and an easy pin down screen from Hickson frees Arthur up for a three. The next two plays involve Arthur setting an off ball screen for a court-crossing wing and either popping out to the line after setting a ball screen himself or finding the crease in a reeling defense after a pick and roll is run at the opposite elbow. The last play has Hickson and Fournier run a dribble hand-off, and Arthur’s defender gets stuck trying to guard two players as Fournier dribbles his way into the paint and towards a waiting Arthur in the corner.
These are pretty basic sets, but Arthur’s presence as a three point shooting big gives them weight, he makes them all viable options. If he keeps on this pace, teams will update their scouting reports on Arthur and defenders won’t play off him as liberally as they do now. And that’ll be when the entire offense will get to enjoy the oasis of efficiency.
J.J. Hickson, out for the season with a torn ACL, joins the ranks of JaVale McGee, Danilo Gallinari, Nate Robinson, Ty Lawson, and now Jan Vesely (with bruised ribs) as Nuggets who have either missed the entirety of the season or a good chunk of it. The timetable for Jan Vesely is still up in the air, and while his effort and energy – not to mention his AIRWOLF-ness – will be missed, his absence will only mean more rotation minutes for Darrell Arthur. Hickson, though, is a sad loss, if only for how much better he’s gotten throughout the season.
It’s helped that Shaw finally realized that J.J. is not a center, a cruel joke Portland played on the world last season. He’s not agile or skilled enough to take advantage of his bigger counterparts, and he’s more than susceptible to the usual disadvantages of undersized big men. But as a four, and coming off the bench – his minutes staggered to avoid the defensive disaster that is a pairing with Faried (how the hell was that the starting front court for the first half of the season?) – Hickson was at the very least put in a position to succeed. And he seemed to be starting to, his solid statistics slowly bleeding their way through to his now not-so-horrendous plus minus. But, like all the good things sprinkled sporadically throughout this season, it ended unfairly fast.
Following Denver’s win over the Wizards last Sunday, Brian Shaw had some very interesting things to say about Denver’s future, most notably how satisfied he is with the implementation of the core concepts within the Nuggets current schemes. Per Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post:
“Over the last three weeks,” Shaw said. “We were all over the place defensively, (but now) we’ve kind of settled on what we’re going to do in our pick-and-roll situations, which is the main thing that you see night in and night out. We’re kind of settled on that, and we’re going to go forward on that.”
So what exactly does that mean? Denver’s defense has been in the bottom ten for the majority of the year and the last five or so games hasn’t really shown a marked improvement. The pick and roll scheme Shaw is talking about essentially boils down to a happy medium between the blitz-happy system of earlier this season and the one where the big drops all the way down to the foul line on every screen (like you see from Indiana or San Antonio).
Denver was so atrocious at keeping the the ball handler off a screen and roll out of the paint because the big defending the screener would more often than not screw up the trap. Even when they did execute it properly, the screener would inevitably be rolling free and weak side help (a must when employing this system) is something that Denver seems morally opposed to doing. Having the big, like Mozgov here, drop back you eliminate the need for such pesky things like rotations, just at the risk of having Mozgov isolated on a guard like Reggie Jackson. This is a system that lends itself to having long, versatile individual defenders (which is part of the reason Indiana is so damn good at it).
Yet, even at its most healthy, the Nuggets roster still has a ton of defensive holes. McGee has yet to prove he can drop back and defend the rim without obsessive-compulsively chasing blocks. After Foye, the biggest guard on the team is Ty Lawson. Wilson Chandler seems to have been sapped of all his defensive prowess this season and it’s impossible to know how good Gallo will be coming off an ACL. Faried has been erratic in the pick and roll and consistently horrendous defending the post and Hickson is who he is. If this is the scheme Shaw wants to mold his defense around, the roster is going to need more malleable players.