Take a mediocre team, remove its best player, add a dash of All star weekend on the horizon, a pinch of road game, a dollop of blowout fatigue, a sprinkle of “what’s the point, we’re not making the playoffs anyway” malaise, and BOOM, you’ve got yourself a 30-point loss to a sub-.500 team.
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.”
It’s getting tiring, folks.
Unable to overcome the absence of every remaining point guard on the roster, a severely thinned-out Nuggets squad suffered yet another ugly loss at home. The Raptors cruised to an easy win while the Nuggets continued to struggle offensively, committing 26 turnovers and notching just 6 fast break points. The worst news of the night however came early in the first quarter when the Nuggets announced that Nate Robinson is out for the season after undergoing surgery for a torn ACL.
Mid-way through the 2011-12 season, Masai Ujiri decided to take a risk. In return for the ever-steady Nene, Ujiri and the Nuggets would get to inherent all the problems and promise of the raw yet gifted JaVale McGee. The initial risk morphed into a long-term investment in the form of a 4 year, $44 million deal that banked on McGee’s enormous pool of untapped talent to make it a worthwhile endeavor by the time the contract reached its back-end. Big men take awhile to develop, after all, and what’s a few years of limited production if the ultimate gain is an elite big man?
And yet, ironies of ironies, as Ujiri is off cavorting in Toronto and McGee is bench-ridden with injury, it is another raw big man who’s reaped the rewards of quiet development. It’s the forgotten cog that – at the time – almost laughably derailed the Melo trade, who has risen up this season to champion hope for the future.
Sans the steady hand of Ty Lawson, Denver’s offense stuttered down the stretch as they drop a tough one on the road to the Bobcats.
The NBA season is really just a string of smaller ones, held together by a unifying narrative we superimpose over all 82-games for the sake of coherence. It’s how we give meaning to the ultimate inconsequence of a mid-January game: What can we use in this one game to help fuel the overriding story of the season? It’s a practice that, despite being arguably irrelevant, helps both the fans and media talk about the regular season while playing the waiting game until the playoffs, when things start really mattering again. When a team plays harmoniously with what their narrative would dictate, even if that means getting blown out because they’re a tanking team, it becomes much easier to contextualize and, thus, far more comforting.
But sometimes there’s a team whose season is as tough to pin down as a water drop with a thumbtack. Every stab succeeds only in warping its shape.
Although it could never truly be #THUNDERNUGGETS without Russell Westbrook (get well soon Russ), Denver still treated the game with the usual amount of reverence. Ty Lawson ran really fast, Randy Foye flipped off his shooting slump, Evan Fournier did some cool stuff, and Quincy Miller did the Mailman dunk. It was a pretty good night, all things considered.
After the infinite abyss that was the seven-game losing streak, Denver has shot off four in a row. It’s almost as if the sky is, in fact, not falling after all.
At 16-17 with a seven game winning streak and an eight game losing streak to their names so far this season it is hard to see the 2013-2014 version of the Nuggets as anything more than a confusing inconsistent and mildly talented collection of basketball players.
When things go well and shots fall the Nuggets win, when they don’t and Denver turns the ball over, they lose. Through the first 33 games of the season it has become clear that Ty Lawson is far and away the best and most important player currently healthy on the Denver roster, meaning it seems like the play of Lawson more than anybody determines if the Nuggets will win or lose a game.
But a deeper looking into the win/loss splits of the main nine rotation players for Denver this year (Lawson, Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, JJ Hickson, Nate Robinson, Jordan Hamilton, Darrell Arthur and Timofey Mozgov) show that there are actually a few other players that make more of a difference in win or loss than Lawson. Below is a quick breakdown of some interesting splits for each of those nine players.
In a game Denver lead by as much as 21 points, the Nuggets succumbed to the perpetuating issues that have plagued the team all season.
Defensive systems in the NBA are predicated on rules, when and who to help off of, what type of pick and roll to switch on, where on the floor to direct this point guard, where on the floor to direct that wing, ect. Denver’s defense (currently 12th in the league in defensive efficiency and sixth overall in opponents points per possession) is starting to round into a more principled form following the stutters, stops, and fixes that defined the early part of the season. A specific mandate that is becoming more and more clear by the game, is when and how the Nuggets will switch on a pick and roll.
Winning in the NBA isn’t an easy task. Even games against bad teams can swing on a single play, a made jumper or bad bounce on a deflection that leads to a run out.
So continuously getting off to bad starts is something that teams should want to avoid. Unfortunately for the Nuggets in the past nine games that isn’t something they have been avoiding, thanks to a porous defense that allows just about everyone to blitz them to start games.
Against the Jazz, a team that is getting better but is still bad, the Nuggets gave up 18 points in the first 4:33 of the game. Brian Shaw hinted after that game that he had thoughts about changing the starting lineup to halt those early game problems, but in the two games following that contest the starters have stayed the same and in both games Denver trailed after a quarter because they allowed their opponents to get off to hot offensive starts.
It is time for Shaw to make the change. Luckily for him there are two good options to do so.
In a rather subdued edition of #THUNDERNUGGETS Oklahoma City displayed their superiority in a game that was sloppily played throughout. Every run had an answer and despite spirited play, Denver couldn’t help but fall in the face of overwhelming talent.
Nate Robinson languishes in a chair he made seem a throne following Denver’s win over the Pelicans Sunday night, an icepack perched appeasingly on a single knee, as he surveys the locker room before him with a discerning eye. As the media shuffles their way into the middle of the room, Robinson decides that music is required and soon Chris Brown is heard trumpeted over the speakers as Robinson sings over the lyrics with Denver Nuggets-themed mad libs. In a flash he is out and about, cavorting around his hemisphere of the locker room, putting on a show for all those who cared to look. He teases Faried, barks at Jordan Hamilton, and tries to get Mozgov to dance.
“If they had a category for energy level,” Robinson said confidently. “I’d have the best energy level in the league.”
As the Nuggets got off to a rocky start to begin the season, it was hoped that help would be on the way in the form of Wilson Chandler when he returned to play after missing their first six games due to a hamstring injury. And while he has made helpful contributions to an extent, he has clearly fallen short of making the impact many Nuggets fans were hoping for.
For starters, his impact on the court versus off has been essentially neutral. Consider, for example, the discrepancy between Chandler and Mozgov in this regard: (more…)