There is no doubt that the Denver Nuggets are going to have to defend the pick and roll at least competently in order to have a chance in this series. The Denver bigs are all capable of playing good to great pick and roll defense. Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen all move their feet well for their size and should be very useful in slowing Chris Paul down.
The Nuggets seemed to get better and better at defending Chris Paul as the season wore on. In the final meeting between the two teams Denver forced Paul into six turnovers thanks to an aggressive trapping scheme. However, it is important to note that the Hornets were playing without Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler. Trapping Paul will not be as easy with Chandler diving down the lane and Peja spotted up on the weak side.
Denver will need to employ more than one scheme as Paul will be able to solve anything they throw at him eventually. Look for the Nuggets to trap, to surround Paul with a soft umbrella of help designed to keep him out of the lane and even to switch. In an interview on Friday with 1510 AM George Karl said the coaching staff had considered starting Melo or Kenyon on Paul. By starting with a mismatch they can then switch and then have everyone matched up correctly. Of course, in that situation my response would be to skip the pick and roll and exploit the mismatch. I imagine someone like Chris Paul would figure that out as well. However, in watching film from the previous matchups whenever the Nuggets switched Paul would almost exclusively pass off to the screener. I wonder if he will be so passive in the playoffs.
Once again I have put together some clips of the Nuggets pick and roll defense looking at both successes and failures. It should come as no surprise that the Hornets were able to take advantage of the slightest breakdown or belated rotation by earning a quality shot. As I point out in the video instead of Julian Wright taking open jumpers, in the playoffs it will be Peja.
Chris Paul showed last season that he is capable of raising his game to incredible levels in the playoffs and Denver will have to deal with a determined, supremely talented and aggressive player. The one thing that really frightens me is Paul’s ability to draw fouls. Look for him to drive into the body of the Nuggets’ bigs in an attempt to draw fouls. If he can get two out of the threesome of Nene, Kenyon and Birdman into foul trouble it will be a big advantage for New Orleans.
Paul is going to play like a man possessed and Denver better be ready to match his desire and intensity.
One of the key matchups in the upcoming series between the Denver Nuggets and New Orleans Hornets will be the battle between big men David West and Kenyon Martin. The good news for Nuggets fans is that we do not have to hope and pray that Kenyon can outscore West, because the chances of that are similar to the chances that the Celtics, Spurs and Blazers all lose at home on the first day of the 2009 NBA playoffs. Well, maybe that is not the best analogy, but you get the idea.
Kenyon is a superb defender, especially when he puts his mind to it and I think he will have a much greater chance for success than the previous postseason when George Karl chose to have him cover the NBA MVP Kobe Bryant.
He can move laterally as well as any power forward in the NBA yet can still hold his own in the post. Kenyon is far from an infallible defensive player, but a player like David West is right in his wheel house. The players Kenyon struggles with are ones who are either heavier or taller than him. Size wise both players are listed at 6’ 9” and 240 pounds and Kenyon is certainly capable of dealing with anything West can bring to the table.
Even so West will get his points. Despite not being blessed with explosive athleticism West is still a very good scorer. He is not a player you think of as taking you down to the block and abuse you, but if you do not respect his touch around the rim he can embarrass you. West is also a capable driver and will utilize spin moves and pump fakes to get a clear shot at the rim. However, his most effective weapon is his jumper. West can kill you without ever setting foot in the lane and that makes him a difficult cover.
Once again I have put together some video to see how these two matchup and I think the video shows what an even matchup it will be.
You will notice that all of those clips were of Kenyon covering West. It is vital that Kenyon keeps West from posting big scoring nights it is also important that this does not become a matchup that is only worth watching at one end of the floor. Kenyon is a capable scorer as well and he has the talent to put some points up on West himself. It seems to me that since his back and rib troubles Kenyon has not been going to the rim nether as frequently nor as effectively as he did earlier in the season. We have not seen much of his spin move and push shot from the lane and I think it is important that Kenyon make West work at both ends of the court.
The Hornets supporting cast is not good enough to afford a down series from West. Peja Stojakovic and Tyson Chandler look to be less than 100% and if West is held in check it will be virtually impossible for the Hornets to win. Over the previous two seasons against the Nuggets West has played in six games and only made 44 of 106 field goal attempts. That is only 42.3% and it is more than 5% lower than he shot over those two seasons.
If West only hits 42% of his shots over the next couple of weeks I think the Nuggets are a shoe in for the conference semifinals.
Two big questions we all face heading into the Nuggets/Hornets series is how healthy is Tyson Chandler and what kind of impact will he have? Chandler himself claims to only be about 70% healthy so what that means we will have to wait and see. Chandler did not play in any of the four contests between the two teams this season, but we can look back to previous matchups to see what his presence means for the Hornets.
I have compiled some clips from game 44 of last season. Chandler had ten points on four for five shooting and 16 rebounds as the Hornets defeated the Carmelo-less Nuggets 117-93 in New Orleans. However, Chandler only had one block and played somewhat passively on the defensive end.
I do my typically sterling job narrating the eight clips, but watch for the timing he and Paul have on the pick and roll. The duo combines to execute on plays where Chandler cuts to the rim immediately, when he makes a delayed cut and even in transition. You have to wonder with Chandler missing so much time if they will still possess that sense of timing and chemistry.
Defensively I thought it was interesting how Chandler was content to watch the action. He moves well and generally is in the right position, but his lack of big shot blocking numbers can be attributed to the fact he is content to let his opponent score largely unchallenged. We see the opposite end of that spectrum in Birdman who launches himself at shots that he has no business attacking, but we have also seen Birdman have a larger impact through forcing altered shots than Chandler does in the clips to follow.
Again these clips are from last season when Chandler was healthy. Who knows how much of this performance he can duplicate. According to Ryan and Niall at Hornets 24/7 Chandler had four throw downs of the pick and roll in the last game against the Spurs. However, if he is feeling any discomfort I would expect him to play ever more passively on defense and hopefully Nene can take advantage of that.
I mentioned in my game recap of the Denver Nuggets 121-96 victory over the New Jersey Nets that Denver played very strong pick and roll defense. I purposely left the details out because I was planning on putting together some video evidence so here you go. Take note of how the Nuggets defended as a group and every movement was done deliberately with a purpose behind it.
The frustrating thing is watching them defend the pick and roll correctly it really is not that difficult. No one is doing anything superhuman or spectacular. To be fair, defending the pick and roll against Keyon Dooling is slightly easier than when Devin Harris has the ball, but the same principles apply no matter who is dribbling the ball.
The Denver Nuggets proved for at least one night they can lock down even the best offensive team in the league. More than one person I have spoken with over the previous couple of days has claimed that the Nuggets played the best defense they had even seen them play, and these were not young fans either.
The organization, focus and effort the Nuggets displayed on defense against the Lakers was not only stunning for its overall brilliance, but also for how unexpected such a performance was. Just two days before they tried to implement an aggressive trapping scheme for the pick and roll against the Hawks and failed miserably. In that game they looked like five guys at the rec all having received different advice on how to play before they took the floor. Somehow all that changed when the Lakers rolled into town.
I have been critical of how Denver has seemed to rely on flipping the switch to win games, but the game last night proved that they do have a level beyond what is displayed during the average game and that bodes well for the playoffs when everyone tries to raise their game a level. Some teams show that they do not have an extra gear for the postseason, picture the Denver Nuggets of the previous five seasons, but I think this version of the squad just might be able to reach that extra gear. I need to be careful not to jump to conclusions on their performance for just one game, plus it was clear the Lakers were worn out from their early morning arrival in Denver, but their defensive performance was just that good.
As promised I have put together some clips to show how they worked together and how in sync they were as a team. Individuals can carry a team on offense, but if even one player misses an assignment on defense the entire structure can crumble. Cohesiveness is vital to be an exceptional defensive team and for at least one night the Nuggets had a collective consciousness rarely seen in the Mile High City. While watching the clips notice the way they help and rotate. There was practically no wasted motion.
I wish I had done a better job documenting the work that Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith put in guarding Kobe. Kobe lit Melo up, but it was not because Melo was slacking off of him. He was in his face almost the entire time and J.R.’s defense was so strong that George Karl said of his play, “J.R. was a man.”
Going forward I do not think it is fair to expect that kind of defensive performance every night, but it is a sign that we sure as heck should not be subjected to the kind of defense we were the four games prior to the Laker game.
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The contrast between the Boston Celtics and the Denver Nuggets in the 114-76 demolition last night was quite startling. One of the biggest gaps between the two squads was how they defended screens. The Nuggets continue to rely too heavily on switching while the Celtics help and recover as well as anyone in the NBA.
I have put together several clips that display very clearly the hedge, help and recover system the Celtics use on pick and rolls and the switch and pray system the Nuggets are so fond of.
Keep in mind the Celtics played defense like this without Kevin Garnett who is a vital defensive cog in their system. Had KG been on the court it is possible the Nuggets would not have broken 60.
The point is as long as the Nuggets defend screens like this, regardless of the opponent, they will be lit up more often than not. Switching does rarely work as it did against Orlando and Philly, but against most teams it is like asking Stephon Marbury to show the new female intern his truck.
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There are numerous ways to defend screens in the NBA. You can trap, show and recover, hedge, lay back and guard the rim or attack and rotate. The worst of all the options is the straight switch although lay back and guard the rim is pretty bad itself. There are some situations where it is appropriate to switch screens such as with two seconds or less left in a game when you just need to make sure you can challenge the shot. Switching nearly every single perimeter screen for an entire game is pure lunacy.
For some reason the Denver Nuggets chose to do exactly that against the Sacramento Kings.
The result was a disinterested defensive effort, mismatches galore, foul trouble for Nene and open shot after open shot for the Kings. Fortunately for the Nuggets after the first 15 minutes of the game the Kings grew board from making so many easy shots and started daydreaming about the end of the season.
The idea behind switching is that you never allow your opponent’s perimeter shooters to be left open coming off of a screen. For some reason the Nuggets version of the switching defense had the opposite effect. Denver’s bigs were so eager to help when a guard was stuck playing defense in the post the Kings were rarely able to work the ball inside. Denver’s guards did a good job of fronting while the weak side help, particularly Kenyon Martin, did a great job of tipping or intercepting the lob. The bad news is Sacramento was able to get open jumpers from fifteen feet and out whenever they wanted. Against a better offensive team Denver would have been lit up.
I have put some clips together so that the Nuggets themselves can demonstrate the folly of switching screens.
If going into the possession you know you are going to switch screens you might as well start off in the mismatch and when the screen is set you can switch into a normal matchup. Needless to say I hope this is the last time I have to watch Denver use this tactic.
I did not really want to post this and make too big of a deal out of it, but thanks to Mark Cuban’s histrionics after the game last night Cuban’s crusade to get J.R. in trouble with the league has been well documented. Just so everyone knows what Cuban is talking about here is the clip.
As I said during the video, I am not sure J.R. intended to actually hit Wright. They were close enough that I would think J.R. could have made contact if he intended to. Of course, he had a horrible shooting night and maybe his poor shooting spread to the point where he was inaccurate with his elbow too.
I bet you guys thought I forgot what may have turned out to be the biggest shot of the game on a night the Nuggets won by two.
With Carmelo Anthony out for three to four weeks the Denver Nuggets are going to have to pay a little more attention to detail on offense in order to earn good shots. So far they have done a very good job in the first halves of their two games they have played without Melo. However, in the second half of those two games they have stopped moving without the ball and attacking the rim. They begin settling for outside jumpers and as a result their production really falls off. They got away with it against the Miami Heat, but the Nuggets basically handed the Detroit Pistons a win due to their poor second half execution.
For my very first Film Room segment at RMC I have compiled some clips from both halves of the Detroit game to show the stark contrast between how the Nuggets have played offense in the first half compared to the second half.