The 2013-14 Denver Nuggets season was not exactly what we all hoped for. It was oftentimes ugly, occasionally depressing and teeming with injuries. But there was also an assortment of quality performances turned in from nearly everyone on the roster — mainstays and midseason transplants alike. Although the gaudy numbers produced in these outings didn’t often add up to wins, they still made for some exciting basketball and alleviating moments of salvation in a season filled with what seemed like never-ending tension. Now if we can just get all these guys to replicate each one of these performances every night in unison, then we might have something…
I think it’s fair to say Quincy Miller hasn’t quite lived up to the lofty expectations Nuggets fans had of him when he was drafted back in 2012. Yes, he was a second-round pick, but he was a high-profile high school talent who many thought would eventually challenge Danilo Gallinari for the starting small forward role a few years down the road. (OK, so maybe that was just me.) Miller’s minutes have fluctuated greatly this season and he hasn’t always been given the most room for on-court improvement; however, his recent 19-point performance against the Rockets should give fans revived hope that he can in fact play a legitimate role at the NBA level. Miller has five more games left to show Brian Shaw that his improvements in practice can translate seamlessly to the bright lights of real, in-game NBA action. Let’s just hope he has a few more of these up his powder-blue sleeve.
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.
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.”
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.
The Denver Nuggets might lack a bonafide superstar, but the team has something a lot of other teams don’t — depth at pretty much every position. Even with injuries to some key players, Brian Shaw has a lot of pieces he can throw into different lineups and he experimented quite a lot early in the season. The rotation is pretty solid now and with a decent sample size we can begin to examine the trends.
Going into the season, we were all mentally prepared for how bad the defense was going to be, especially when factoring in the absence of Denver’s two best wing defenders. But what has occurred over the span of these four games has been an organization-wide breakdown on a fundamental level when it comes to defense, from system to effort to the makeup of the roster. We’ve already covered the big man dilemma as well as the inability to defend the three, now it’s time to dig into the high pick and roll defense.
The basics of Denver’s pick and roll defensive principles is essentially for the traditional centers, McGee and Mozgov, to drop back to around the free throw line when defending a screener and for everyone else (essentially anyone guarding the screener) to hedge high. The theory behind hedging is basically for the defending big is to impede the ball handlers path around the screen enough so to give the ball handlers’ defender enough time to navigate the screen. Considering the kinds of athletes Denver employes at the forward positions, and the diminutive nature of the backcourt, this kind of help and recover system should, in theory, work out well. In theory.
I don’t often use the term “must-see TV,” being that contemporary television mostly consists of pregnant teens, plastic housewives and half-ton parents, but this is as close as it gets. Do yourself a favor, set aside 15 minutes of your day and watch this. It’s also worth noting that Bill Simmons is pretty spot on with this analysis of the Nuggets’ tumultuous offseason.
As many of you already know, writing about the NBA draft is one my favorite aspects of covering the Nuggets. And I’m not just a casual fan who watches YouTube clips on a handful of players slated to drop in the Nuggets’ range come June. I really do love the draft. Throughout the entire season I’m listening to podcasts, watching real games (imagine that!) and exercising my free ESPN INsider account to read every single bit of news and information Chad Ford posts about each year’s draft class. I don’t know why, but I’m nearly obsessed with the process. This year I haven’t had time to go as in depth as I would have liked due to the constant barrage of hirings and firings that have taken place within the Nuggets organization over the last month, but I’ll try and get you as up to date as I can on the guys I like.