The Nuggets have had to deal with the disheartening reality that they’ve not been a playoff team this year for the better part of the last couple months. While we tend to not think of them as such, NBA players and coaches are professionals whose job is essentially to attempt to get into the playoffs and beyond. Even the worse of teams go into the season with this goal (or at least the illusion of this goal)* and when its attainability is mathematically eradicated, lethargy sets in.
*Everyone except for the Sixers this year, who made no attempt to disguise their intent. Which is probably the biggest reason why tanking has all of a sudden become such a big talking point this season.
Players are still playing for job security, future earnings, and pride but, for about half the league, this is the time of the season where the learning curve tapers off. These teams are who they are this year. Brian Shaw and the Nuggets understand this so, in an attempt to make use of the otherwise meaningless games left on the schedule, they’ve turned these few weeks into an experiment. Might as well start asking questions and seeing what turns up.
Hypothesis: Darrell Arthur and Timofey Mozgov are three-point shooters.
I’ve talked at length about Arthur’s recent three-point shooting binge but Denver’s recent obsession with stretchy bigs has now extended to Mozgov. Shaw has apparently been adamant that Moz has been a solid shooter in practice recently and he even hit one last week versus the Spurs. That three pointer also brought his career makes up to….one. Still, Shaw felt confident enough to run a play for a Mozgov when Denver needed a three at the end of their game versus the Grizzlies on Monday.
Conclusion: Arthur seems more than game but Mozgov…maybe lets give him a couple more in-game reps before running plays through him with the game on the line.
Hypothesis: Anthony Randolph is, if not a stop-gap starter, at the very least a rotation player in the NBA.
While usually getting unearthed by Brian Shaw in dire circumstances, usually ones involving catastrophic levels of injury limiting his front court alternatives, Randolph tends to get starter-level burn when he does, at least in the first half. It’s almost as if Shaw looks at the roster every now and then and re-discovers that he has this long, hyper-athletic (albeit completely inept) forward on his team and re-inserts him into the rotation.
Conclusion: As it has been in every season since he’s been in the league, the answer is no on all counts.
Hypothesis: The offense can survive heavy doses of Evan Fournier at the three.
Experiment: Wilson Chandler has been in and out of the lineup with injury lately, which has led to a lot of Evan Fournier slotted in at small forward. Fournier’s had a roughish year thus far, phasing in and out of the rotation earlier in the season and yet to glom onto any NBA-level skill he can consistently rely on. But as a small ball three, usually flanked by shooters in either Brooks/Lawson and Foye, Fournier has seen a rise in his overall efficiency this month, particularly at the rim.
Conclusion: Yes, as long as he is working in a side pick and roll that can get him to the middle of the floor and he is accommodated with the proper spacing.
Through an extended series of trial and error, Denver will limp through these last otherwise meaningless games having, at the very least, learned something new. At this point, there’s not much more you can ask them to do.
Denver’s lab experiments over the last handful of games is something I’ll continue to monitor, and will add here whenever a new one makes itself known.