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.
If you’ve been following the rumor mill lately, you’re probably aware of the frenzy that a potential blockbuster trade between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Clippers has caused, momentarily even overshadowing the NBA Finals. But before Boston and LA engaged in negotiations, Josh Kroenke made a call the Celtics, offering a first-round pick for the release of Doc Rivers.
A little over two months ago I posted a video piece on Andre Miller’s clutch play that helped seal Denver’s victory against the Indiana Pacers on Dec. 7. With eight points and an assist in just 104 seconds, Miller poured it on in crunch time to lead the Nuggets to a big road win at a time when they were struggling.
Unfortunately, we are back in the Film Room today to visit what essentially was the opposite scenario. In their heartbreaking road loss to the Celtics on Feb. 10, the Nuggets were down just two points with 48 seconds remaining in the game’s third overtime when Miller retrieved the rebound off a missed Kevin Garnett jumper. And as every Nuggets fan not living under a rock is well aware, from there the train rapidly derailed from the tracks.
The Film Room video, followed by analysis of Miller’s play and George Karl’s coaching, is after the jump.
St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2012. The Boston Celtics at the Pepsi Center in Denver (with all too many traitorous green jerseys in attendance). The only matchup between the Nuggets and C’s in the lockout shortened season. And Denver jockeying for playoff positioning as the season drew closer to an end.
It was a huge game for the Nuggets. And despite the hype surrounding the St. Patty’s-Boston imagery, the most important symbolism of the game was when George Karl uncharacteristically entrusted a rookie, Kenneth Faried, to close out the final minutes of a closely contested contest.
And the Manimal delivered. Scoring 18 points on perfect shooting, including five of five from the field and eight of eight from the line, Faried also grabbed 16 rebounds — 6 offensive — with a steal and a block on top. Beyond the stat line, he was the engine that fueled the team’s energy and drive with infectious, relentless effort. And he played a crucial role in earning the Nuggets victory.
|Kenneth Faried, F 24 MIN | 5-5 FG | 8-8 FT | 16 REB | 1 AST | 18 PTS | +9
By halftime, Faried had 11 rebounds while the entire dead-legged Celtics team had 12. He turned in a career night in only 24 minutes, which would have been about 17 had Miller and Harrington not engineered an epic fourth quarter collapse. He was the most dominant player on the floor and he’s doing it all without the support and trust of his head coach. This guy just doesn’t know to quit. Nothing stops him.
|Danilo Gallinari, SF 32 MIN | 5-11 FG | 7-8 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 20 PTS | +10
Why he got only one shot in the fourth quarter is a mystery, but all things considered this was another solid effort by Gallo on both ends of the floor. He was looking to wear down the Celtics early and none of the men in green were able to stay in front of him. Gallo’s aggression set the tone early and his shot selection was simply outstanding. Gallo’s a much smarter player than people give him credit for.
|Timofey Mozgov, C 19 MIN | 4-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 8 PTS | +4
Since returning from injury, Mozgov’s been playing his ugliest ball of the season. It was great to see him bounce back with a focused effort against a team like the Celtics, who are not the championship contenders they once were but still have one of the league’s top defenses. He appears to be getting some of his elevation back and looked much more confident on the offensive end.
|Arron Afflalo, SG 30 MIN | 6-14 FG | 2-3 FT | 1 REB | 4 AST | 15 PTS | +10
Afflalo was somehow very erratic and steady at the same time. He took 14 shots and missed some easy interior passes by not realizing when his 7-foot teammates were posting up guards. Yet he still led the team with a +10 in 30 minutes and ended up with the second most assists behind Lawson. He played well, but from a leadership standpoint I think he can still improve quite a bit.
|Ty Lawson, PG 35 MIN | 2-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 10 AST | 7 PTS | +7
It was a very rough game for Lawson, who often had to guard Allen and Rondo while Andre Miller took the night off. He took five shots in 32 minutes, which is just way too passive even though he realized the Nuggets needed to be going through their bigs, who were wearing the Celtics down. Lawson’s heads up play and staunch defense rescued Denver’s guard play from the terror of Andre Miller.
|Al Harrington, PF 28 MIN | 4-12 FG | 2-4 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 11 PTS | -1
For every good play Al Harrington made there was a boneheaded mistake. That kind of inconsistency can’t be afforded with Al anymore. With Nene out of the picture, he seems to know he’s got tons of freedom and total immunity from the coaching staff. That’s all fine and well so long as Harrington plays unselfishly and makes smart decisions. Al’s blooper reel included an uncontested three-point airball that missed the rim by about five feet. I’m serious
|Andre Miller, PG 23 MIN | 1-8 FG | 0-1 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 2 PTS | -2
He clearly doesn’t care anymore, and neither do I. Miller gets no more words out of me. Scroll down to the comments if you really wanna know how bad it was. Our informed readers can get this one for me. I’m done with Andre Miller.
|Corey Brewer, SF 17 MIN | 3-5 FG | 2-4 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 8 PTS | -4
Brew’s hands were all over the court. He hounded Rajon Rondo, whose eye popping production didn’t come without some serious pressure during Corey’s limited time on the floor. He is so adept at stealing the ball and really makes that over-aggressive style work for him.
|Rudy Fernandez, SG 18 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 3 PTS | -7
Rudy is making steady progress since his return to the bench rotation, but I’d place him in the Al Harrington category as a little too spastic in this particular game. I don’t want to judge Rudy too harshly because he was forced to play nearly all of his minutes alongside Andre Miller.
|Kosta Koufos, C 15 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-1 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 6 PTS | +9
Koufos had perhaps the perfect performance for a defensive backup Center. When you look at his numbers and the appropriate 15 minutes of playing time, you see a guy who knows exactly where he fits into the puzzle. On a night the bench just wasn’t getting it done, Kosta stepped up big.
This post is a compilation of analysis and breakdown of 2012 schedule in the hours after it was released. To view the official schedule visit the Nuggets website at NBA.com. If you prefer a printable version of the schedule to reference click here for a link to the PDF. Scroll down to read updates and new developments on all things schedule related.
How do you build a championship roster?
That is a question that General Managers and Presidents of Player Personnel must ask themselves every day. What complicates things is while every team starts every season at 0-0 not every team is created equal. What works in one market is not feasible in another. Add in the fact that no two teams are at the same point in their process of building a team and the possibilities for every team are endless. Every decision creates a ripple in the pool of NBA chaos.
With the NBA Draft now less than a week away, it’s time Roundball Mining Co. unveils it’s top ten prospects, ranked in order, from the one guy fans should be dying to get, to just a flat-out solid prospect. Factors included in determining the player-rankings were mostly size, potential, athleticism and overall skill level. Keep in mind, all the players codified in this post are ones that will likely be available when the Nuggets select at No. 22. You won’t find Bismack Biyombo on this list, because 21 NBA teams are smarter than to pass up on a guy that talented, even if he is 24-years-old. So, without further ado, I give you the official Denver Nuggets Big Board 2.0! (more…)
When I sat down tonight to watch the Denver Nuggets take on the Charlotte Bobcats, I certainly did not expect to see the Nuggets pull off the fifth biggest margin of victory in franchise history. But… THAT JUST HAPPENED! (more…)
There was confusion, miscommunication, a few quizzical glances and some ugly shooting. There was also effort, passion and a Nuggets team who clearly cared more about winning than anything else. For years the Nuggets have been all about whether their talent can outweigh that of the opposition. Now after two games without an All-Star on the roster Denver does not lack talent, but we may be seeing a situation where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
ESPN.com recently ran a feature where Chad Ford and John Hollinger ranked the potential for future success of all 30 NBA teams (Insider required). Every team was ranked based on five important characteristics, players (weighted 40%), management (weighted 20%), money (weighted 20%), market (weighted 10%), and draft (weighted 10%).
As a Nuggets fan and observer I believe they forgot one very crucial category, luck.
Whether you call it luck or intangibles, mojo or fortune it comes down to the fact some teams seem to have things go their way a little more often than others. Look at the teams that have dominated the NBA over the previous two decades. Chicago, San Antonio, Los Angeles and Boston had at least one tremendously lucky break that has paved the way for their success.
I am done pulling my punches with this team. All year long I have proclaimed them the second best team in the west. Defended their softer defense and looked the other way with their bad habits. Now that they are shorthanded on the court and on the bench all of the little things they have failed to do all season long are catching up to them. The result is a three game losing streak and what appears to be the beginning of a downward spiral that is threatening their season.
What I really wanted to do with this post is list all the lazy defensive plays the Nuggets made in the fourth quarter alone, but I rarely trust my instincts. Then I remembered that the opposite of my instincts are usually wrong too so here we go.
11:30 – Carmelo jogs back on defense and thus was not in position to defend the pass to Tony Allen after Ty Lawson stopped the ball.
10:49 – J.R. Smith allows Allen to step inside of him on a shot giving up his position for the defensive rebound. The ball came off to the other side and because Smith was not in the lane Rondo was able to collect the ball and then score on the other side of the rim because J.R. was not where he should have been.
9:19 – Rajon Rondo begins a left handed drive from five feet beyond the three point line. He gets Chauncey, who was playing several feet off of Rondo to defend against the drive, on his hip at the free throw line. Carmelo Anthony who is actually under the basket at the time has no idea Rondo is coming because he is walking along side Pierce as he moves from the right side of the lane to the left with his back to the ball. Melo was under no physical or mental duress to prevent him from seeing the ball and staying with Pierce at the same time. It was a simply unconscionable non play.
8:53 – Paul Pierce brings the ball up the floor at a trot. Carmelo for some reason has decided to go over to Rondo even though Chauncey is close by and Pierce is Melo’s man. After an attempt to communicate and get back to covering their assigned man neither one covers Pierce who drives from half court to the rim for a layup. Nene did slide over to help, but instead of being ready to make a play on the shot simply stood still allowing Pierce to easily glide past him for the layup.
8:15 – A solid defensive possession where Nene hedged on the screen, Chauncey recovered and Lawson sunk into the lane to cover Garnett on the roll until Nene could recover leads to a travel. It really is not that difficult to defend a screen and roll.
6:48 – Pierce drives away from a screen and gets past Joey Graham. J.R. Smith makes a half hearted swipe at the ball, but honestly with the assignment of covering Ray Allen it is best that he stays home. Carmelo, covering the much less dangerous Tony Allen who is in the offside corner, barely budges and never comes over to help on the penetration by Pierce. Result a three point play
6:06 – Despite the fact he has about eight feet between he and Rondo Chauncey lays back and runs into a screen instead of moving one foot closer to his man and stepping over the pick. After Chauncey gets taken out, Melo shoves Rondo for a foul despite the fact he had done a half way decent job of keeping Rondo from turning the corner coming off the screen.
5:55 – Later that same possession after J.R. and Nene do a decent job trapping Ray Allen on a pick and roll no one steps over to help cover KG on the roll. Garnett catches a pass from Allen just above the block with no Nugget within five feet of him. Graham rotates over late and flies in front of Garnett who blows the easy layup. Once again Carmelo paid tribute to ancient Greece by impersonating an ancient ruin as he stood motionless on the weak side block.
4:59 – On a shot by Pierce Carmelo stood watching the ball as Tony Allen moved past him into the middle of the lane and Rondo cut past him along the baseline both in position to nab an offensive rebound. The ball caromed off the back iron flying well over all of their heads and Melo’s laziness goes unpunished.
4:35 – After a make by Graham Rondo is walking the ball up the floor. J.R. is walking near Tony Allen. The problem is he is supposed to be guarding Ray Allen who is wide open in the corner. The pathetic thing is Smith realizes his mental error, but instead of hustling to where Ray Allen is and possibly drawing attention to his mistake he shuffles slowly as if he has nowhere in particular to be. Rondo finally notices Ray and passes the ball. Smith is completely out of position and has no chance to cut off the baseline drive. Nene saves a basket by blocking the layup attempt. On the weak side Melo looks on. Joey Graham, who was coming over to do what he could kept Tony Allen, Melo’s man from getting the loose ball and getting a layup. Still the ball goes off of Graham and Boston retains possession.
4:26 – After having success with hedge and recover and trapping schemes on the pick and roll Denver is back to switching. Carmelo is brushed off of Pierce about 30 feet from the rim and decides to sling back into the lane covering no one in particular. Meanwhile Nene and Afflalo double KG on the block after Arron switched over to Garnett on a screen. Kevin passes to Ray Allen in the corner and Chauncey leaves Rondo to run at Allen. Melo had three choices. One, he could look for Chauncey’s man, Rondo who was the leading rebounder in the entire game, and get in front of him as he crashes the offensive boards. Two, he could go box out Tony Allen who is alone in the middle of the lane. Three, he could stand still. Melo chose to stand still and Rondo swept in for the rebound.
3:56 – Carmelo is playing Tony Allen to drive as he is a good seven feet off of him. Allen still chooses to drive and blows by Carmelo who was practically standing straight up instead of crouched and ready to defend. Afflalo rotates late and fouls Allen at the rim.
3:15 – Nene and Afflalo trap Ray Allen on the left wing after a screen by KG. Chauncey is at the top of the circle and when KG gets the pass back from Allen Chauncey plays him to swing the ball instead of getting in front of him and closing a wide open lane to the rim. This time Melo does come over to help, but only to take a weak swipe over his head at the ball. Nene recovers to challenge KG at the rim and forces a miss. J.R. Smith plays the role of statue on this play as he allows Tony Allen to run from the corner all the way along the baseline to tip the rebound to Rondo who passes to KG for an open layup.
2:37 – Chauncey and Nene trap Rondo after a screen by Garnett. The Big Ticket rolls into the lane while Carmelo inexplicably waits too long to react to the play. Melo must not realize that you can be in the lane, just not for three consecutive seconds. There is no reason he was not planted and ready to prevent KG from being wide open. Melo does foul Garnett which I guess counts as a moral victory.
1:57 – Rondo drives the left side of the lane and dumps the ball to Garnett. Tony Allen dives into the lane completely unnoticed by Melo. By the time Garnett shoots Allen is back outside the lane, but he runs right around Melo who is this time impersonating an individual viewing a solar eclipse with the ball filling the role of the sun. Allen gets the rebound in front of Carmelo and extends the possession. Ray Allen hits a three to put the Celtics up 15.
I think you get the idea. The really sad thing is that was probably the best quarter the Nuggets played defensively. It did not include the offensive rebounds off of free throws or instances where Denver was leaving the entire lane wide open.
It goes to show how one player can ruin a defensive possession. All too often that player is Carmelo. He showed some real moxie early in the season on defense and I praised him for his willingness to cover LeBron during their win in Cleveland. Right now he is playing some of the worst defense of his career and it is inexcusable.
The one thing that stood out to me in going over the film again was how hard Nene played. He did a great job of making it difficult for the Celtics bigs to set their screens and he prevented the ball handler from turning the corner and getting in the lane. Arron Afflao worked very hard too and kept the mental mistakes to a minimum.
The bottom line is Denver is in danger of falling into fifth in the West by the end of this road trip. If the coaching staff does not alter their tactics and get away from switching screens and the players do not begin to play with focus and attention to detail they are going to dig themselves a very dangerous hole.
Additional Game 72 Nuggets
Ty Lawson finally saw some game action and his presence provided a visible, albeit short lived, boost of energy and confidence. The players know who should be playing and who should not. From the day he stepped foot in Denver Lawson’s teammates talked about how good he was and how he should be on the court. It had to have been a little demoralizing to see Anthony Carter constantly enter the game when Lawson was physically able to play. Now the bad news, Lawson was not very good. Following a very good initial possession on defense where he fought over the screen and along with a strong hedge by Birdman forced Nate Robinson to turn the ball over resulting in a dunk for J.R. Smith Ty looked very rusty and turned the ball over three times, all of which were absolutely horrid passes. Still, Lawson got in the game and the derustification has begun.
J.R. played a very good game on offense. He only took three three pointers which is much better than seven or nine and two of those three came at the end of quarters. His lone make came at the end of the third as he caught a perfect pass from Chris Andersen as he ran a streak pattern up the left sideline, a play that showed great presence of mind by Birdman. J.R. took a rhythm dribble to gather himself and hit a big shot that narrowed the lead down to seven.
The Celtics crushed the Nuggets on the offensive boards. According to ESPN Stats and Information Boston entered the game 28th in the league in offensive rebound rate, but that did not stop them from posting an offensive rebound rate near 38%. Their 90 shot attempts was a season high.
Advanced Game Stats
Pace Factor: 91.5
Defensive Efficiency: 123.3 – embarrassing
Offensive Efficiency: 108.2 – below average, but short of embarrassing
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.
Check out all my videos in the Film Room
The Nuggets seem to think that they have arrived and should be in the mix for the coveted veterans who are bought out and/or released by the terrible teams that they are playing for. So far there are two players who might fit that mold, Sam Cassell and Mikki Moore although neither is worth much on the court.
George Karl has spoken about his desire to bring in his old buddy Cassell to add all of those special things that veterans can add. Apparently the special veteran point guard/coach on the floor/championship experience Chauncey brought to Denver is wearing off. More importantly with Nene and Kenyon Martin having missed games in the last couple of days the search for additional big man insurance, apparently the safety blanket that is Johan Petro is not keeping the nightmares away, and Denver was hot and heavy after Moore. Surprise, surprise, despite the Nuggets best efforts, Moore signed with the Boston Celtics.
The other big man that all the contenders are panting over is Oklahoma City’s Joe Smith. Of course Denver is interested in him too. In the effort to save the Nuggets’ front office a lot of work and disappointment I have crafted the following note:
There is a good chance that the Thunder will release Joe Smith and you will envision how much high quality veteran-ness he can bring to the Nuggets. Treat the potential addition of Smith to the Nuggets roster as a fleeting thought like eating your weight in Thin Mint cookies or pushing the person next to you onto the light rail tracks right before a train approaches. No good will come of your efforts. Smith’s agent will take your call and make you feel warm and fuzzy, but there will not be a second where he will consider joining the Nuggets.
Denver is not on the same level as true contenders such as Cleveland, Orlando, Los Angeles (not the Clippers), San Antonio, Boston or even New Orleans. Do not take solace in the fact the Celtics have signed Mikki Moore. Even though that is one fewer team you must compete with it will not change a thing. As long as any of the previously mentioned teams have interest in a player, he is not coming to Denver.
Approaching Smith’s agent will only serve to remind you, and us, that Denver is still not considered an elite team, nor is it an elite destination. Whatever time you put into the pursuit of Smith, or any other quasi-useful veteran player will be time that could have been better utilized doing something else. You might as well try finding a cure for cancer because as unlikely as it is that you might be successful the chances are better than the 0.000% chance you persuade a waived veteran whose play is worth the contract he signs to join the Nuggets.
I hope you find this advice helpful, but more than that I hope you follow said advice.
P.S. Sam Cassell will probably sign with you should you make the inane decision to offer him a contract. Do not let that go to your head.
Nene out one or two weeks
As expected it was determined that Nene did not have any structural damage to his knee. Unfortunately, the bruise is bad enough that he might miss up to two weeks (see link above). Considering the Nuggets Pythagorean projected record is 3-79 without Nene in the lineup this season missing him for two weeks, with Portland and Utah breathing down our necks is not something I want to think about.
Let’s move on.
I certainly did not give Rajon Rondo enough credit for his play last night. He is quickly developing into a player who can do whatever he wants on the floor. He has tremendous instincts, a great handle, superlative vision and has a mean streak. He is afraid of no one and did not think twice about challenging Chris Andersen for rebounds or attacking Birdman off the dribble. Rondo is quickly making a name for himself and has been endorsed by TrueHoop contributor Kevin Arnovitz and Henry Abbott’s mother.
When rough is not tough
Another thing I forgot to mention in my game recap for the blowout to the Celtics was how after already having been manhandled by the Celtics the Nuggets tried to get physical. Kenyon was called, and I think rightly so, for a flagrant one on the shot he gave Ray Allen and Anthony Carter ran through Allen on a three point attempt late in the third quarter. Maybe both Nuggets felt like they sent a message and felt like they had exhibited toughness.
To me the player who exhibited true toughness was Ray Allen who after getting knocked off the court by Martin made both free throws (the start of what ended up being a five point possession) and on the play he was drilled by Carter he made the three and the free throw.
Sports movie Oscars
Denver Post Nuggets beat writer Benjamin Hochman put together a great post on his personal list of nominees and winners for the all time sports movie Oscars.
There were three simple differences between the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets tonight.
One team was the Celtics and they won by 38. The other team was the Nuggets and they lost by 38.
Playing hard for 48 minutes is a cliché. Every team has slumps of a few minutes here and there where the effort wanes and they get lazy. I promise you the Celtics played their bums off for all 48 minutes. The collective competitive spirit puts the Nuggets to shame. Kendrick Perkins was bickering with the refs with about a minute left after he was called for traveling. These guys do not care what the score is. The score is almost immaterial. They are giving it their all from start to finish.
For the Nuggets the built in excuse is that they have been on a three week long road trip and it was unfair to ask them to play the Celtics a day after they played in Milwaukee. I am not buying it. As has been pointed out by many people, including myself, the road trip they just finished was only a three game trip. Sure they played five road games in a row before that, but they had six whole days off during the All-Star break. The Celtics were the team that had to check into hotels last night after playing in Phoenix.
Honestly it did not matter who suited up, how many days in a row the Nuggets had played or what strategy the coaches asked the players to implement. Boston played with confidence and determination while the Nuggets looked like a scrawny book worm getting ready to ask out the prom queen.
Denver has now lost by 40 points, give or take a couple of points, twice in their last seven games. Does that scream contender? The game in New Jersey could be written off as a fluke, but for it to happen again just seven games later is shocking. I guarantee you the Trail Blazers and Jazz are licking their chops right now.
Denver now has a day off to prepare for an Atlanta Hawks team that was blown out by the Jazz and two days later the Lakers roll into town. They better get their act together by Wednesday or else they will be going back out on the road with a five game losing streak.
Additional Game 57 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 89.5
Defensive Efficiency: 127.4 – Fourth worst single game rating this season.
Offensive Efficiency: 84.9 – Second lowest single game rating this season ahead of only the 44 point drubbing in New Jersey.