As was first reported by Yahoo!Sports.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Toronto Raptors are targeting Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri for their vacant GM position after having dismissed Bryan Colangelo earlier this week. According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, the Raptors are more than willing to make Ujiri one of the top paid executives in the league at over $2 million per year. Stein also claims Denver’s front office is confident in its ability to re-sign Ujiri to a new deal. Ujiri was rumored to be the lowest paid GM in the NBA under his previous deal that expired this year.
Staking a Claim is a column that takes a look at all things Nuggets through the eyes of an outsider. As those who follow me on Twitter know I am a Bucks fan, so it will give Nuggets fans an opportunity to see things through the eyes of someone who follows the team closely but isn’t necessarily a fan.
A little over a week ago the Nuggets season came to a disappointing end in a Game 6 loss to the Golden State Warriors.
Over that time I have thought a lot about how to classify the Nuggets season.
Was it a success or failure? How much can be built on and how much should the team get away from? Can this roster compete for a title with a few tweaks or is there a major change that has to happen?
And finally after watching the Warriors continue their, to steal a term from Matt Moore, nova shooting against the Spurs things started to become much clearer to me.
The greatest regular season in Denver Nuggets history deserved a better ending.
No one expected a return to the postseason irrelevance of Karl’s previous Nuggets teams, who frequently battled near impossible odds against heavily favored contenders on the road. This team was different. They were the favorites, having built a 57-win three-seed around a young core just one year removed from taking the Lakers to 7 games.
So what happened?
Capitalizing on the many mistakes made by the Warriors down the stretch, the Nuggets put themselves in a position to win this game near the end. They closed the deficit to just two points with 32 seconds remaining after having trailed by as many as 18 earlier in the fourth quarter. But with poor offensive execution in those final seconds, punctuated with symbolic flair by a missed Andre Miller 3-pointer on their final possession, they ultimately fell short of a comeback, and fell to their ninth first round playoff exit in ten seasons, eight (or seven) under the tenure of George Karl.
There is a lot that could be said about this one game. But it was essentially a microcosm and extension of the entire series. The Nuggets were (more…)
As George Karl was forced to make adjustments to counteract Stephen Curry and the Warriors new small ball lineup in the series, two main thoughts started to pop up. First let Curry get his points and limit his teammates and second play a big lineup, like Denver has done all season long with two traditional bigs instead of Wilson Chandler at the power forward spot.
Unfortunately for the Nuggets, despite a victory in Game 5, doing those things may not be possible together. One of the important parts of the Nuggets playing with two bigs is Kenneth Faried playing Harrison Barnes on the defensive end. But Faried has struggled a bit in that role as his unfamiliarity of defensive rotations has allowed Barnes to get a lot of open shot attempts, some he has knocked down and some he hasn’t. The following are four examples of the problems Faried has had, three makes and a miss, from Game 5 when Barnes had 23 points.
Denver got up big early and held on late to win the first of three straight elimination games, thanks to a dominant effort by Andre Iguodala who scored 25 points and added 12 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals and a block. Denver also got good games from Wilson Chandler and Ty Lawson among others.
Those are going to be the words that Nuggets fans hear a lot between now and Game 5, between the end of the season and the draft.
After a thrilling loss like that, you need a day just to absorb everything. A 2-1 series hole looms over all the good in game three, where I thought the Nuggets did a better job reacting to small ball than they did in game two. Ty Lawson is turning a pretty good series into a great one but the Golden State Warriors and the emergence of Steph Curry are the definitive stories of this first round matchup. The Warriors weren’t pleased with their game 3 performance and are still in position to take a commanding 3-1 series lead on Sunday, which would effectively make the Nuggets a long shot to get out of the first round… again.
For all the good the Nuggets did in game 3, they still can’t defend the Golden State Warriors, whose offense sure came back down to earth – all the way from 74.3% eFG in game 2 to 57.5% in game 3. That just won’t get it done in the playoffs. Obviously there’s a lot to worry about but as bad as the Nuggets’ issues have been, they still have a chance to essentially hit the reset button on the series with a win tonight.
While we wait to see if the Nuggets can seize that opportunity in a pivotal game four, which is obviously huge, here are some bullet point thoughts on what worked and what didn’t in game three.
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.
There are two ways to look at the Nuggets’ current 1-1 series tie to the Golden State Warriors. The cheery narrative gives a convenient regular-season excuse for Denver’s familiar playoff woes – it’s only one game, blowouts happen, and losing home-court advantage while squeeking out a 1-1 split really isn’t that bad.
It’s too bad this isn’t the regular season anymore.