Around this time of year everyone’s doing some sort of rankings series. Pundits are ranking teams, players, players on teams (as we’ve done), coaches, general managers, mascots, they’re giving out preseason awards, they’re writing books. It’s kinda crazy, to be honest. And as you might expect from a fairly traditional sports blog, Roundball Mining Company got in on the craziness as well, in the form of our #NuggetsRank series which ran alongside ESPN.com’s larger #NBARank. But unlike most other outlets, here at RMC we like to occasionally take a step back and critique ourselves. Sure, we offer you our opinion in unbridled fashion and proclaim certain players to be “definitively” better than others, but we also realize those pompous proclamations are just our opinions. We know they’re the furthest things from facts; and so, in our latest 5-on-5 we collectively acknowledge the absurdity of rankings and immediately revoke all written analysis we may have previously stated as set in stone. As always, please join us in the comments section below to dish out your thoughts and opinions on #NuggetsRank, and be sure to let us know what we could do better next time to improve.
[Nit'picking is a new feature at Roundball Mining Company where the writers take the opportunity to go off on a rant about something that is grinding our gears, rubbing us the wrong way, or otherwise sticking in our craw.]
As the 2013-14 Nuggets training camp and preseason began with both Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler decommissioned by injuries, a tremendous opportunity opened up for Jordan Hamilton to prove himself. Buried for his first two seasons at the bottom of George Karl’s depth chart (and perhaps in his dog house at times), Hamilton has seen very little daylight outside of garbage time up to this point in his career.
It seemed that while Chandler was still recovering from his hamstring injury that Hamilton would be the clear favorite to start and make an impact at the small forward position. But things have not played out quite as expected. His shot has not been falling, and aside from a decent outing in the first preseason game he has not shown many encouraging signs.
To make things worse, (more…)
The shorthanded Nuggets pushed the Clippers all night long before finally dropping the game in overtime 118-111. Some thoughts on the game:
The new look Nuggets got a chance to show off for the first time in front of their home crowd and for the most part they looked good doing it.
First the good:
The preseason is a weird thing. Wins and losses don’t matter and teams play somewhere between 12 and 15 players for double digit minutes.
Really the preseason is a lot like summer league, where players take things that they worked on during the offseason and bring them into live action for the first time.
This season the Nuggets are also incorporating a brand new system for a brand new coach and through the first two games it is becoming very clear that that change is going to be radical.
And through those games, things, for the most part, don’t look pretty.
Every year, roughly one month prior to the NBA regular season kicking off, the Denver Nuggets host an annual Media Day press conference. This event gives media from around the Denver metro area the opportunity to (kindly) interrogate the players, coaches and team executives about all things Nuggets in preparation for the upcoming season. This marks the second year in a row that Roundball Mining Company has had the privilege to attend Media Day, and just like last year there was a definitive buzz about the arena given the changes that took place during the offseason. Here is a recap of the day’s action…
Q: Which players have the Nuggets signed for 2013-14, and what are their total combined salaries?
A: Based on the latest reported offers, the Nuggets have $60.3 million dedicated to 13 players: Lawson, A. Miller, Foye, Fournier, Hamilton, Gallinari, Chandler, Q. Miller, Faried, Hickson, Arthur, McGee, and Randolph. (Foye and Hickson cannot officially be signed until July 10.) The salary cap is $58.6 million.
Q: Can the Nuggets still sign players even though they’re over the cap?
A look at the rollercoaster year of Nuggets basketball
Hopes were high for the Nuggets at the end of the 2012 offseason, with some analysts predicting up to 59 wins and a top two playoff seed. Masai Ujiri had acquired Olympic gold medalist and star defender Andre Iguodala in a trade, and extended Ty Lawson and JaVale McGee with long-term contracts. He surrounded the team’s young core with veteran Andre Miller and cheap talent like Anthony Randolph and Evan Fournier.
But a difficult early schedule loomed. The Nuggets would play 22 of their first 32 games on the road, including 8 sets of back-to-back games. By the end of November, the team had a pair of four game winning streaks sandwiched in between three losing streaks of three games each, including worrying losses to the lowly Suns and Magic.
|Kenneth Faried, SF 30 MIN | 6-7 FG | 3-3 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 15 PTS | +2
Faried’s numbers are better than he actually played. But considering this was only his second game, and first start, since coming back from an injury, it could have been worse. Faried just can’t keep up with the defensive schemes the Nuggets need to run in order to stifle the Warriors on offense. He played valiantly, had some nice dunks and a few strong rebounds, but he’ll need to play out of his mind on defense in order to win more games this series.
|Ty Lawson, PG 38 MIN | 11-22 FG | 12-12 FT | 3 REB | 10 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 35 PTS | -2
Lawson had his best game ever in the postseason. His 35 points were a career playoff high and only two short of tying his regular season high. He had about three or four unbelievable plays this game — the type that make you drop your jaw in amazement. That said, he missed some crucial shots down the stretch and turned the ball over when the Nuggets had a chance to win the game. Had he made just one more shot late in the game he likely would have gone down in Nuggets postseason lore.
|Wilson Chandler, SG 37 MIN | 4-8 FG | 1-2 FT | 9 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 11 PTS | -6
Chandler did his best playing center. It’s only the second time in his career he’s started at center and neither performances were ones to remember. He gave solid effort on defense for most of the night and hit some big shots, but he hasn’t been the type of scoring machine he was after Gallo went down in the regular season. If the Nuggets want to win this thing, he’s gonna need to step up offensively — which would likely be much easier if he were playing his natural position.
|Andre Iguodala, SG 42 MIN | 6-15 FG | 0-1 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 14 PTS | +5
Iguodala had a typical Iguodala game: He started off incredibly hot, then pretty much disappeared offensively for the rest of the night. His defense was excellent through the first half, but once the third quarter rolled around his performance slipped along with every one of his teammates’ sans Ty Lawson. He also made a crucial turnover when the Nuggets had a chance to win the game late.
|Evan Fournier, SG 13 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -8
Fournier saw minutes early on and played well, but was inexplicable taken out for almost the entire game after that.
|Anthony Randolph, PF 4 MIN | 2-2 FG | 0-1 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 4 PTS | -2
Randolph had one of the worst goaltending violations I’ve ever seen. That was about all I could recount from his brief, four-minute stint.
|Corey Brewer, SF 24 MIN | 6-12 FG | 3-3 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 16 PTS | +11
Brewer was probably the second best player on the team this game. He provided a great spark off the bench that led to the Nuggets grabbing their biggest lead of the game in the second quarter and shot the ball well all night. Late in the game he got a little dramatic with his flopping which led to some bad turnovers, but overall he did a great job of giving the Nuggets a spark off the bench.
|Kosta Koufos, C 11 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | 0
I’m baffled at what’s come of Koufos lately. He’s had a steady decline the last month but he’s been virtually worthless in the playoffs. I hate saying that because he’s been so solid all year, but at this point I can’t see anything positive he’s bringing to the roster. He refuses to score, he’s slow on defense and doesn’t play with a chip on his shoulder anymore. At one point in the year Koufos was the toughest guy on the team. Now he looks as if he just wants to run and hide somewhere safe.
|JaVale McGee, C 14 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-2 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | -1
McGee was mostly a train wreck. Not full-on train wreck, but close. His defense is just unbelievably bad this series. He’s a guy who needs to stay in the paint and contest shots, yet the Warriors are forcing him to come out of his comfort zone and into the perimeter which is confusing the hell out of him. Like Koufos, he’s slow to react to everything thrown his way. Once the Warriors get him off balance, it takes just a few extra passes to penetrate and get an easy bucket at the rim, or an open shot from downtown. Thankfully his offense is still functioning… somewhat.
|Andre Miller, PG 27 MIN | 2-13 FG | 2-3 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 7 PTS | -9
I don’t even want to talk about it. I don’t even want to. This guy is driving me nuts. He’s making me lose my mind when I watch this team. His defense is nothing short of embarrassing. It’s insulting to anyone who’s ever tried to prevent someone doing something in the history of the world. His defensive effort is nonexistent; it’s grotesque at the same time. I just, for the life of me, will never understand what it is George Karl sees in him. I promise, as bad as J.R. Smith was at times, I don’t think I ever remember him underhandedly sabotaging the Nuggets like this. Now, obviously Andre Miller isn’t purposely trying to lose this series for the Nuggets, but if he were he wouldn’t be playing a whole lot differently!!!
Usually his offense bails him out, but his game it only exacerbated his issues. His selfish, “Hero Ball” mentality cost the Nuggets at least eight possessions, which could have been used to actually try something intelligent when it came to scoring the basketball. If he sits out the rest of the series I’ll have no problem with it. In fact, that’s probably the Nuggets’ best shot of winning, as his perimeter defense seems to be the genesis of the Nuggets most costly problem against Golden State.
I really want to give Karl an F. I’ll just say that. But he did manage to keep this game close and he did suite up and he did show up and draw up plays and form sentences that made syntactic sense — so because of that I can’t give him an F. But judging his coaching alone, I think an F might be warranted.
He started Chandler at center, which just makes no logical sense whatsoever. He also had wacky lineups all game long, none of which seemed to have any positive effect after the first half concluded. Mark Jackson continued to win timeouts. The “plays” the Nuggets did run didn’t work at all — especially Lawson’s isolation at the end of the game. And overall the Warriors played much better, more focused defense than the Nuggets did, which likely won them the game.
But Karl’s biggest mistake was his insistence to ride Miller until he dragged the Nuggets down to the lowest depths of humiliation that could possibly be felt by someone who refuses to take any sort of defensive pride whatsoever in their game. (Note: Hyperbole likely present in previous sentence.) How fitting it was that Jackson, a first-time playoff coach decided to stick with his young rookies like Barnes and Green, whereas Karl went down gunz-a-blazin’ with Dre Miller and both took the entire team with them. At this point Karl is getting out-coached while his lineups and obsession with going smaller than his opponent just seem like futile, nervous farces that a coach of his experience should not be making.
There’s been some recent chatter about getting Anthony Randolph more involved in this first round series with Golden State, and for good reason. The agile 7-footer is actually Denver’s fifth-leading scorer in this series with 16 points in just 16 total minutes.
Randolph came on strong towards the end of the season, where he was a great source of paint points and rebounds when Faried went down. His defense, however, is inconsistent at best and Randolph is prone to forcing up bad shots and falling apart on the offensive end. Because JaVale McGee suffers from a lot of the same stuff and neither one of them can pass, it’s tough to bring both off the bench and George Karl has avoided even messing with it for most of the season.
With Golden State switching to guerilla tactics after the David Lee injury, this series is now small ball all the time and Randolph may have found himself a niche role against the Warriors zone defense, which they’ve favored for important stretches of the first two games.
Here are just a few examples of how Randolph has demonstrated his ability to successfully attack the zone.
The Nuggets hadn’t lost a home game in over three months. They also hadn’t given up 130 points in a game all year. Both of those trends changed on Tuesday night when the Nuggets submitted one of their worst performances of the year. The fact it came in the playoffs was both surprising and somewhat predictable.
As the Nuggets look towards tonight’s Game 2 a big key will again be limiting the damage Stephen Curry does, especially now that David Lee, the team’s second leading scorer this season and thorn in the Nuggets side, is out for the rest of the season. On the Nuggets side of things Kenneth Faried is expected to play in Game 2, though he probably will not be in the starting lineup.
As a look ahead for Game 2, I went back to Game 1 and took a look at all of Steph Curry’s shots to see if what the Nuggets did was replicable or if it was more of a matter of Curry just missing open shots. Below is a short breakdown of each shot.
Thanks to an incredible offensive game that included the game winning bucket from Professor Miller the Nuggets took game 1, 97-95. Miller took over the game on the offensive side of the floor in the fourth quarter, willing the Nuggets to points. Defensively the Nuggets kept Stephen Curry in check for most of the game despite him hitting a three to tie the game up late.
The Denver Nuggets clinched the three seed after smashing the Suns by 20 points in their final home game of the year. The sun sets on a historic regular season as the Nuggets now await their first round playoff opponent, either Houston or Golden State.
UPDATE: The Nuggets will face the Golden State Warriors in a 3-6 first round matchup with home court advantage. Playoffs start Saturday, April 20, at 3:30 p.m. MST, then continue on Tuesday, April 23, at 8:30 p.m. MST; Friday, April 26, at 8:30 p.m. MST; and Sunday, April 28, at 7:30 p.m. MST. All other games are TBD.