Highway to the Danger Zone?

Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson, Timofey Mozgov, Arron Afflalo. They all have missed game this season with an ankle sprain.  Some have been serious (Gallo) some have been much less so (Afflalo).  However, I think I speak for Nuggets fans everywhere when I ask, “What is with all the ankle sprains?”

Let me propose two potential causes that are the two pillars of Denver’s offense, pace and paint points, two categories in which they lead the entire NBA.  Maybe the Pepsi Center should be known as the Danger Zone. (more…)

Nuggets News: Gallo’s return and a Chandler update

For those not following us on twitter, there’s been a couple more rumors swirling around the ongoing Wilson Chandler saga. The first coming out of hoopshype stating that the Toronto Raptors are actively trying to free up space for an offer sheet by trading Leandro Barbosa. The second and most compelling rumor causing much consternation amongst Nuggets fans is out of Sportando, an Italian basketball website which is reporting that Chandler’s agent Chris Luchey is “in serious talks with an Italian team to seal a deal for rest of season.”

Both rumors are sourced only to twitter and it’s fair to say they’re rooted in speculation more than anything else right now. As we’ve gone through several times with the Chandler situation, he is in a unique position and only able to negotiate in earnest with one team — the Denver Nuggets.

I would not put a lot of stock into the Leandro Barbosa rumors. He’s been on the trade block for a while and the Raptors know that desperately giving him away in a hurry is a questionable move considering there is no guarantee Denver does not just match their offer sheet. As has been reported by ESPN and Hoopsworld, the Raptors seem resigned to the fact that putting together an offer sheet at this late stage is not likely to work out well.

The rumors of Chandler’s agent negotiating with Italy only reinforces our view that Denver holds all the cards in terms of Wilson returning to the NBA. It’s clear that he wants to be in the NBA, even going so far as to negotiate an early release from his Chinese team and seek an early letter of clearance from FIBA. As we have assumed for a long time, Denver has no interest in signing Chandler short term and granting him the holy grail of unrestricted free agency in exchange for a few months of service.

Wilson must feel he is being forced over to Europe due to Denver not willing to accept a one year deal. Chandler can certainly apply pressure by threatening to head over to Europe for the remainder of the season, but Denver would still own his rights whenever he returns. Not to mention Chandler runs the risk of serious injury while he remains a free agent and there is no guarantee he will be rewarded with the richer contract he’s seeking by waiting till the summer.

The Nuggets are playing hardball with Chandler, as expected. All it means as the process will be longer and more drawn out as Chandler exercises his leverage and continues to test Denver’s resolve to give him the long-term deal he seeks. The Nuggets clearly seem more interested in protecting themselves rather than just getting him on the floor and it looks like a 50/50 proposition in terms of whether or not he’ll be back.

I highly recommend following us on twitter, as I often discuss Chandler stuff there and the situation is such that we won’t post about every future development as it occurs. You can follow me here and go ahead and give Kalen and Jeremy a follow as well.

On to the current links and Nuggets news, bullet-style this time for convenience.

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The 12 Game Road to Recovery

The new year started out kind to the Nuggets, especially after beginning January with a franchise best 12-3 record. Although they went on to lose their final two games in January, coach George Karl still called it “maybe the best month I’ve ever had” as the Nuggets were talked about as legitimate contenders for a top four seed in the Western Conference.

That was three weeks ago. Even the worst case scenarios back then might not have predicted the precipitous slide the Nuggets would go on after losing those final two games in the month of January. Unfortunately the nightmares have come true as the Denver Nuggets limp into the All-Star break reeling and out of the playoff picture altogether. To say they have fallen on hard times would be a massive understatement.

The injuries have gotten so bad moral victories have the Nuggets feeling pretty good about themselves despite going 1-5 in their last six games. It seems ridiculous, but the optimism is not misguided. To say the Nuggets have a favorable schedule coming up would be putting it lightly. 10 of the next 12 are at home and the Nuggets will be playing on at least one day of rest for ALL of them. Let’s take a look.

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Rapid Reaction: Denver Nuggets 99 San Antonio Spurs 114

San Antonio Spurs 114 Final

Recap
| Box Score
99 Denver Nuggets
Corey Brewer, SF 29 MIN | 9-17 FG | 3-4 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 23 PTS | -18
It’s really tough to rely on Brewer’s offense, but his constant energy and enthusiasm sure is fun to watch. Brewer was having a pretty poor start to his night before exploding in the fourth quarter where he scored 12 of his 23 points. In an interesting development Brewer guarded Tony Parker with Andre Miller off the floor and was able to pressure him. Brewer’s being asked to fill too big of a role with all of the injury problems and his all effort deserves praise.
Kenneth Faried, F 22 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 4 PTS | -18
He was benched for Al Harrington yet again, but Faried proved he is indeed still a rookie and struggled to keep the fundamentally sound Spurs off the boards. The “Manimal” has been expanding his game and showing flashes of offensive talent but needs to be more consistent on the rebounding front to solidify his place in the rotation. Games like these will happen for the inexperienced Faried and while he struggled to be effective you never once had to question his effort and his ongoing drive to improve.
Timofey Mozgov, C 20 MIN | 3-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 8 PTS | -1
Mozgov was playing solid ball before getting injured against the Lakers and he’s really struggled to get back into form since returning. He once again started poorly, showing his penchant for fouling and turning the ball over too much. Mozgov did play better as the game wore on, but was generally dominated by the Spurs front line and it’s hard to overlook the fact he’s largely ineffective in his minutes right now.
Andre Miller, PG 27 MIN | 7-10 FG | 5-6 FT | 1 REB | 7 AST | 20 PTS | -17
Miller is more reliable as a starter than a reserve, so his impressive stat line doesn’t come as huge surprise. What the numbers don’t tell you is that Miller held the ball a lot and struggled to create decent opportunities as Denver fell behind by as much as 28 points with him directing the offense. Staying in front of Tony Parker also proved to be a nightmare for the slow-footed Miller, who tallied four fouls in 27 ineffective minutes.
Arron Afflalo, SG 39 MIN | 6-16 FG | 4-5 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 19 PTS | -8
Afflalo is banged up, clearly feeling the effects of nagging injuries and being asked to assume a big-minute, high-responsibility role as the Nuggets battle through numerous injuries. Despite Arron tweaking another muscle and struggling with fatigue he battled through a 39-minute night the best he could and came within one point of another 20 point performance — which would have been his seventh in the past nine games.
Al Harrington, PF 26 MIN | 4-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 9 REB | 3 AST | 8 PTS | +3
Eight points on 10 shots and another tough performance to grade. While Big Al has continued putting up numbers in this injury-riddled stretch, the team is getting killed on defense as the ball movement on offense grinds to a halt. Harrington hasn’t missed a game yet and is clearly exhausted, but as a veteran leader he needs to focus on defending and getting the Nuggets offense back to their high-efficiency ways.
Chris Andersen, C 9 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | -12
It wasn’t totally clear why Birdman entered the game, but he didn’t do anything of note outside of blocking two shots and badly missing a baseline jumper. Birdman could have come out with better energy, but he didn’t get much of a chance and was not in the game long enough to have an impact either way. It’s another example of why the Nuggets are struggling to keep Birdman involved considering they have no idea what to expect when he’s inserted into a game.
Kosta Koufos, C 19 MIN | 4-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 8 PTS | -2
Koufos played very few minutes until the game was well out of hand, but he was part of a unit that sparked a second half run and showed life for the first time all night. He grabbed three offensive boards and was clearly more effective than most of the other Nuggets bigs, most notably Harrington and Mozgov. On nights like tonight you’d like to see him get rewarded and show what he can do in a big minute role.
Julyan Stone, G 21 MIN | 2-6 FG | 4-4 FT | 1 REB | 7 AST | 9 PTS | +2
When Stone becomes more of a threat to score the ball his game will really start opening up. Right now it’s clear he doesn’t have a lot of confidence in his scoring ability and he gets out of control trying to attack and do too much. Defensively, Stone’s play was top-notch and sparked a run where the Nuggets actually put up some resistance to Tony Parker and threatened to get back in the game. Stone is a rookie who needs work, but he brings great energy and in terms of overall point guard play I believe he thoroughly outplayed Andre Miller despite not being able to score.
Jordan Hamilton, G 27 MIN | 0-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 9 REB | 2 AST | 0 PTS | -4
Rough night for Hamilton, who took some bad shots early and showed where he still has a lot of room to grow in terms of figuring out how to best use his array of offensive moves. Jordan was hesitant tonight and often caught in between trying to drive or shoot. Although Hamilton was a dud in the scoring department, he grabbed nine boards and showed off his versatility as a big guard who can compete on the glass. Ultimately Hamilton’s role is to score and while he needs to be more aggressive and decisive with his offense, Jordan showed there’s more to his game than just shooting.

Film Room – Offense: Movement vs No Movement

The Roundball Mining Company Film Room is back!  Today we are going to compare the Nuggets offensive execution against Oklahoma City in the second quarter to their offensive execution at the end of the fourth quarter.  Maybe there is a reason why they struggle at the end of close games.

The film does not lie.  Free flowing offense getting shots in the lane versus standing around and awaiting the inevitable horrible shot.  I have no idea why they get away from what works in an attempt to do things the way everyone else does.  The devotion to iso heavy stagnant sets with one player who is not suited for the role tries to play hero is baffling.  Surely over his long and illustrious coaching career George Karl has picked up a few nice plays to run in that situation.

What is interesting is the group that was moving so well was comprised of players who most fans would expect to struggle to score.  It looks to me like they could teach the starters a thing or two.

Rapid Reaction: Denver Nuggets 103 Minnesota Timberwolves 101 (OT)

Minnesota Timberwolves 101 Final
Recap | Box Score
103 Denver Nuggets
Corey Brewer, SF 43 MIN | 4-15 FG | 4-6 FT | 8 REB | 3 AST | 12 PTS | -3
Brew logged huge minutes in this one and kept himself useful by shooting less. He hasn’t found his touch from outside in the past two games but has been much more reliable on the defensive end. Zero turnovers is a positive development and he continues to do a good job using his length to disrupt the passing lanes.
Kenneth Faried, F 36 MIN | 4-4 FG | 2-2 FT | 14 REB | 0 AST | 10 PTS | +6
Faried had the rebounding outburst many have long been expecting. He tallied 14 total boards and extended crucial possessions late in the game. The Manimal finally shined in big time minutes and made several game saving plays, most notably tying up Love for a jump ball in the closing seconds. Faired will put double doubles reliably when he becomes a part of the regular rotation.
Timofey Mozgov, C 11 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 4 PTS | -17
Mozgov had a forgettable game. His conditioning was an issue last night against the Thunder and he was laboring up and down the court from the opening tip. He didn’t really fight for position much and despite being on the wrong end of some terrible passes by Miller 4 turnovers in 11 minutes just can’t be afforded.
Arron Afflalo, SG 44 MIN | 6-18 FG | 8-10 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 20 PTS | +3
Afflalo was big, especially after he rolled an ankle and stayed in the game to battle through. The Nuggets are reliant on him to pour in points during this difficult stretch and he seems to be embracing the added responsibility. Arron is carrying the largest load in terms of everything he is asked to provide on a nightly basis. His shot selection is improving as is his willingness to step up in important moments.
Ty Lawson, PG 17 MIN | 5-7 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 13 PTS | +2
Lawson was well on his way to turning around a a horrible start when he went down with another left ankle sprain in the second quarter. Ty did finish the half but was held out of the game following halftime. While he’s still struggling to execute the most basic of concepts on offense, Ty had the pace going in the Nuggets favor early. His loss will be costly if he’s out for the upcoming back-to-back and it was unfortunate to see him go down right as he started to get himself going.
Al Harrington, PF 40 MIN | 14-29 FG | 0-5 FT | 9 REB | 2 AST | 31 PTS | +17
I’ll give Harrington credit, he took 29 shots en route to a season high 31 points and were it not for his early offense Denver might not have mustered enough energy to erase their big deficit. He was not badly exposed defensively save for an awful mistake against Kevin Love with the Nuggets up four and in position to close with 14 seconds remaining in the game. Not only did Harrington inexplicably foul but he gave Love a great look at the rim and was fortunate to avoid the and-one. Harrington also missed all of his free throws including two that could have prevented overtime, but Denver probably doesn’t even get there without his help.
Andre Miller, PG 29 MIN | 0-8 FG | 5-6 FT | 6 REB | 12 AST | 5 PTS | +15
Miller had a perplexing game, carelessly turning the ball over early and getting himself ejected on a routine bad call after Lawson had already been lost with an ankle injury. He just was not there when the Nuggets needed him and didn’t have an excuse to get thrown out when he did (though it was a bad call and I understand why he was upset). Andre Miller is smarter than that and the Nuggets need better leadership out of him along with a bit more consistency.
Kosta Koufos, C 19 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | -2
I expected Koufos to log big minutes after Karl denied him well-deserved playing time in OKC. It didn’t happen thanks to breakout performances by Faried and Harrington, but Koufos still received a decent chunk of backup minutes and performed admirably. His production did take a serious hit and it’s hard to judge Koufos performance as I barely remember seeing him do anything in his limited time on the floor.
Julyan Stone, G 18 MIN | 1-2 FG | 3-4 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 5 PTS | -3
Stone saw some really unexpected minutes as it initially seemed like Hamilton would be the beneficiary of Ty Lawson going down at halftime. Stone ultimately had to step in after Miller was ejected and his defense changed the game. Julyan still struggled pushing the ball in transition and controlling his dribble, but he made perhaps the most important play of the game by bothering Ridnour’s layup attempt just enough to prevent disaster. Stone’s versatility was also on display as he did a great job chasing Rubio around and switching onto Beasley a couple of times.
Jordan Hamilton, G 9 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 3 PTS | -8
He saw insignificant minutes, but they were not all that encouraging. Hamilton routinely lost his man on defense and was caught ball watching more often that you’d like. It’s too early to judge where Jordan might fit in but his defense on small forwards isn’t yet up to par and his overall awareness needs to improve. One thing I do love about Hamilton through is that he gets his shot off in a hurry unlike Afflalo for instance, who’s shooting motion is just painfully slow and drawn out.

Nuggets Defensive Shortcomings Continue to Haunt Them

I have written about how the Denver Nuggets have a low defensive IQ.  There have too many breakdowns in communication and positioning that should not be happening at this point in the season.  In their hard fought 124-118 overtime loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder there was a perfect example of that.  On a key play in the game where Denver needed a stop, they had two players fail to think and communicate.  The result undermined very solid defense by their teammates.

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Rapid Reaction: Oklahoma City Thunder 124, Denver Nuggets 118 (OT)

Denver Nuggets 118 Final
Recap | Box Score
124 Oklahoma City Thunder
Corey Brewer, SF 30 MIN | 5-14 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 10 PTS | -10
Being so reliant on Brewer’s offense is not a good look for the Nuggets, I commend Brewer for doing his best, but he remains a limited player with negligible dribbling and passing skills. Brew didn’t have his shot going and while he played commendable defense, he was an offensive liability and couldn’t stay on the floor down the stretch. This is the wrong role for Brewer and he’ll be much more valuable when asked to do less. I do wish he’d pass up the occasional shot and focus more on working off the ball.
Kenneth Faried, F 11 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | -11
It’s baffling. After a career game, Faried can’t get the slightest bit of leeway with Karl. Nevertheless he again failed to make an impression out of the gate. His issues with defensive positioning and executing on offense are fixable. I honestly believe Faried would be better off were he not battling the incumbent Al Harrington for minutes. The only way he can get into games is to come out relentless on an absolute tear. It’s important not to overlook the fact Faried did have a very poor game and was overshadowed by Koufos and Birdman.
Timofey Mozgov, C 21 MIN | 2-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 6 PTS | -18
I don’t like how Karl managed his minutes, leaving him in almost the whole first quarter after it was clear he was too gassed to keep Ibaka under control. Mozgov makes a huge difference in the Nuggets being able to run an effective pick and roll offense. Unfortunately, he needs to be more consistent and at least prove himself capable of playing a more substantial amount of minutes. This is such an unenviable position for Karl to be in because there will be nights like tonight where Koufos is the much better option. How do you decide who to play?
Arron Afflalo, SG 43 MIN | 10-21 FG | 5-6 FT | 7 REB | 5 AST | 27 PTS | -16
At times, like everyone else on the team, Afflalo struggled with defense quite a bit. OKC is such a poor matchup because Durant is too tall for Denver to use their best defender on him consistently. What was most apparent about Arron’s effort was his tenacity and commitment to staying aggressive. The shorthanded Nuggets actually played like the more aggressive team despite losing and I believe the bulk of the credit can go to Afflalo’s leadership, a quality he hasn’t displayed nearly enough this season
Ty Lawson, PG 46 MIN | 8-17 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 7 AST | 17 PTS | -4
These are great numbers for any starting point guard, but without a win it just feels very forgettable. Lawson has no feel for where his teammates need the ball and he’s often reduced to getting everything off dribble penetration. Ty had the ball two crucial possessions down the stretch and failed to get off a quality look on either of them. We know Ty can create a quality shot whenever he wants and what’s so disappointing is that a signature game winning moment is still missing from his Nuggets career.
Al Harrington, PF 32 MIN | 3-9 FG | 3-4 FT | 11 REB | 1 AST | 11 PTS | +3
Harrington had a double double, and managed to make two three pointers after he’s been unable to deliver offense for the better part of the month. That’s where the praise ends for me. I just don’t like where the Nuggets are going with Harrington in this huge role where he plays nearly the whole second half and defends the oppositions best player night in and night out. Harrington needs a much smaller role for the Nuggets to have any success going forward.
Andre Miller, PG 36 MIN | 9-19 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 10 AST | 21 PTS | +3
It was refreshing to see Andre come alive off the bench and play with purpose. This was one of the fineest performances I’ve seen all season as long as we don’t include the overtime. Miller had 3 turnovers in the extra period and his frustration boiled over in the loss. I can’t praise Miller enough for giving the Nuggets an edge that should have won them the game in the second half. Andre seemed to know how poorly he played in the overtime period and was seen leaving the court in total disgust. We haven’t seen that kind of emotion out of Miller all season and hopefully it becomes a turning point for him. While he was abysmal in OT, Denver never gets there without him.
Chris Andersen, C 29 MIN | 5-6 FG | 1-2 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 11 PTS | +17
Another energetic performance from Birdman. He made countless hustle plays and defended the rim with the type of tenacity that made him the best backup Center in the league 2 seasons ago. Consistency is underlying issue surrounding everything Birdman does.
Kosta Koufos, C 13 MIN | 6-7 FG | 1-1 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 13 PTS | -3
Koufos was nothing short of a monster in his first half stint. He managed nearly a double double in less than a quarter. He was everywhere, from knocking balls loose and defending Durant at half court to throwing down jams in transition. It was a sight to behold considering Koufus might not have seen the floor had Al Harrington not racked up three quick fouls. Jeremy made a great point about how trusting the inexperienced Faried over Harrington may have cost Karl in Memphis and he seemed resolved not to reward Koufos tonight.
Jordan Hamilton, G 4 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-1 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | +9
Hamilton saw his first real minutes of the season and made a few nice plays as the Nuggets enjoyed a successful run. Then he was abruptly pulled from the game. There’s just not enough to judge here and I don’t know what to say other than Hamilton has decent size and solid offensive skills.

Nuggets Issues Exposed by Warriors

The closest thing to an easy win the Denver Nuggets have on the schedule in February are home games against the Golden State Warriors and the Phoenix Suns.

So much for any easy wins.

The Nuggets were demolished by the Warriors in a game that cast light on Denver’s biggest issues.

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Rapid Reaction: Denver Nuggets 101 Golden State Warriors 109

Golden State Warriors 109 Final
Recap | Box Score
101 Denver Nuggets
Rudy Fernandez, SG 37 MIN | 4-13 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 5 AST | 9 PTS | -17
Rudy’s up and down season continues as he got his first start of the year and failed to make an impression. He is too small to match up with small forwards and his defense so wildly erratic it’s hard to trust him with a significant role. While Rudy plays hard, he does nothing consistently well and it’s hard to depend on him for anything. The biggest problems for me is he can’t make open threes and he puts his teammates in poor positions on defense by gambling for steals and failing to rotate.
Kenneth Faried, F 23 MIN | 3-7 FG | 2-4 FT | 10 REB | 1 AST | 8 PTS | +1
Faried had a fantastic start, posting up David Lee for a score and forcing him into a turnover on the other end. Unfortunately he really tired out about 5 minutes into the game and it became clear Karl didn’t plan on playing him much anyway. I like the small steps he’s taken towards becoming a better offensive player and I think it’s becoming clear that whenever this kid starts getting minutes he’ll put up double doubles. He lost his minutes to Harrington in the second half which was Karl’s plan all along.
Nene, C 31 MIN | 6-7 FG | 3-6 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 15 PTS | -9
Nene moved over to Center and while he was clearly the Nuggets best option offensively, he played passive and couldn’t be counted on for consistent scoring. Nene just sort of went through the motions expecting his teammates to pick it up and start winning the game. The team has no flow or rhythm on the court and without that Nene doesn’t know how to get himself going. He just didn’t affect the game one way or the other and kind of blended in. Although he scored 15 total, 3 points is all he contributed in the second half.
Arron Afflalo, SG 36 MIN | 8-16 FG | 5-5 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 26 PTS | +3
Afflalo clearly had his best statistical performance of the season but he was a complete black hole on offense. No assists and another string of poor shot selection despite the fact he was hot most of the night. Afflalo getting his confidence and swagger back is good, but he continues to make bad mistakes in transition at the worst possible times. I would trade some of his scoring output for the defensive consistency we saw last season, but he just ended up fouling a lot and failing to get his teammates to work together. Now that Afflalo’s playing better, perhaps he can have a more positive impact as a leader.
Ty Lawson, PG 36 MIN | 4-12 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 10 AST | 11 PTS | -13
He was just destroyed by Stephen Curry. The fact Lawson can have his worst game of the season and end up with a double double says a lot, but you can’t give him credit for doing anything well tonight. He came out tentative and attempted nothing at the rim. Defensively, Lawson was abused by anyone he guarded and he just sort of lost his will in the second half.
Al Harrington, PF 24 MIN | 4-11 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 11 PTS | -7
Harrington has had a long career in the NBA. For more than a decade he’s been known as a guy who puts up numbers on bad teams and doesn’t play any defense. He’s falling back into that familiar role in Denver after a promising start to the year. One thing I just can’t help noticing in all these losses is how badly the defense falls off when Harrington and Miller come in off the bench. He needs to rededicate himself to defending and trying to raise the intensity level of the second unit.
Andre Miller, PG 22 MIN | 3-8 FG | 2-4 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 8 PTS | -11
Remember George Karl’s infamous speech about not holding the ball? There is no bigger offender than Andre Miller. He’s just kind of coasting through this season, a clear indication it’s just not the right long-term fit. When he comes into the game he just casts a dark shadow of indifference over the team’s collective spirit. The speed of the game comes to a total halt and the Nuggets can’t hang with anyone. I just don’t see how it makes sense to keep him here. He will certainly seek a better situation during free agency when his options open up. For now, he’s stuck and so are the Nuggets.
Kosta Koufos, C 17 MIN | 2-5 FG | 2-4 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 6 PTS | +1
Koufos had another extremely productive stint in limited minutes. Although he’s proven himself worthy of a significant role, Koufos is stuck in the same boat as the rookies as guys who will play limited minutes no matter what so that Karl can get the veterans in. 2K was assertive on the offensive end and while you’d like to see him get closer to the basket, he’s showing improvement and that’s all you can ask of the promising young Center.
Julyan Stone, G 10 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 2 PTS | +2
Stone was a victim of Karl’s rotations yet again. He saw some early action as one of the first guys off the bench, but was subsequently banished to the end of the bench until garbage time. It’s very difficult to assess where Julyan might fit in until he gets a fair shot at proving himself. During garbage time, Stone played point guard and got the Nuggets playing their most energetic ball of the night. The Nuggets seem to want him and Faried involved more despite Karl’s refusal to give either a real shot.
Jordan Hamilton, G 5 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 5 PTS | +10
This is more of an incomplete, but I couldn’t help but notice he was extremely active and a nice compliment to Afflalo in his garbage time stint. Hamilton is very aggressive with the ball in his hands and sometimes loses control, but he seemed like an unselfish player capable of making things happen off the dribble. Jordan has a quick release and good form on his jump shot so you wonder how he might do with some more confidence in a real game situation.

One Thing We Saw

  1. The Nuggets are starting to give up on themselves. It goes beyond struggling with injuries and a rough patch of schedule. Getting blown out at home for the fourth time this season under these circumstances is an eye opener. It’s a sign of a young, vulnerable team struggling with adversity. Beyond that, it’s reached a point where you just can’t keep selling the idea of holding on and keeping the faith. At this point you have to look at the organization from all sides and realize that the Denver Nuggets are a franchise moving in the wrong direction.

Wilson Chandler – Apply Pressure Here

Former Denver Nuggets beat writer Marc J. Spears has posted a story on Yahoo! Sports that Wilson Chandler wants to resign with Denver at the close of his service in China.  While on the face of it, a quick return appears imminent, I think some caution is in order.

The quote from Chandler’s agent, Chris Luchey, that caught my attention was this one:

“The ball is in their court. If Wilson is comfortable, he will be a part of their core group.”

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Rapid Reaction: Denver Nuggets 95 Dallas Mavericks 105

Dallas Mavericks 105 Final
Recap | Box Score
95 Denver Nuggets
Nene, C 36 MIN | 6-12 FG | 4-5 FT | 10 REB | 2 AST | 16 PTS | -10
Nene had a harmless double-double. I was surprised he produced this much because he continues to have trouble finishing at the rim. Nene had an incredibly difficult cover in Dirk Nowitzki but that is not an excuse to completely neglect defending the weak side. No blocks, no steals, and too many turnovers. The one thing Nene did well was keep his head in the game instead of expending all of his energy arguing calls.
Julyan Stone, G 7 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 PTS | -8
I don’t know why the Nuggets went away from Stone. Karl keeps putting him in a terrible situation where he’s not in a position to make plays or develop his point guard abilities. I like the way Stone defends, but it’s hard to ignore how he helped the Nuggets get off to a horrid start on both ends of the court. I’ll give Stone an incomplete. The starting lineup experiment couldn’t have gone much worse and Stone suffered the most for it. He was not given a chance to play after 8 uneventful minutes.
Chris Andersen, C 14 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-2 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | -13
Birdman is like that cheap, no-name vodka occupying the bottom shelf of your favorite liquor store. Are the cheap thrills of a good night once in a while worth the ensuing week-long headache? No, and consistently going there is a sign you may have a serious problem. Starting him was Karl’s strangest decision yet. He hasn’t started since 2008 against the Hawks, where he also struggled mightily and the Nuggets lost. I like Birdman in small, infrequent doses when the team is exceptionally flat. Starting him flat out didn’t work.
Arron Afflalo, SG 34 MIN | 4-12 FG | 2-2 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 12 PTS | -21
It’s tough to settle on a good grade for Afflalo, because he showed some fight coming off another horrendous start. There was a stretch in the third quarter where he looked to be asserting himself as a leader while imploring the Nuggets to work harder on the defensive end. Unfortunately, Afflalo was just way too up and down. He missed every big shot he took and just didn’t consistently play up to his talent. He finished with a game worst -21, a stat not indicative of his true play but a strong sign that he just doesn’t have it together. There are signs he is getting there.
Ty Lawson, PG 38 MIN | 5-16 FG | 4-5 FT | 1 REB | 10 AST | 16 PTS | -4
Lawson wasn’t aggressive enough, but it’s totally unreasonable to expect him to just start taking over games while trying to grow into his long term role as a starter. A double-double from your starting PG should be more than enough for any good team in the league to get a win, especially one with as much depth and scoring talent as Denver. It’s imperative that Lawson get way more aggressive going to the rim, but at least he is improving. The main problem is the defense and Lawson can’t fix that. Ty has the right idea in trying to make this haphazard offense work by not forcing too many shots, but he simply needs to get meaner and be relentless attacking the paint.
Al Harrington, PF 33 MIN | 6-10 FG | 3-5 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 17 PTS | -5
Great stats, but just one of those hollow efforts as you never got the sense he had much of an impact on the game. To be fair, the game was pretty out of hand by the time he came in. Al Buckets is at least making shots and not afraid to take them when needed. With the Nuggets suffering a crisis of confidence at the moment, you have to appreciate what Al brings to the table. Unfortunately Harrington is a big part of the Nuggets giving back way more points than they are able to put up. I had to dock Harrington’s solid production because he ultimately didn’t make plays when the Nuggets needed it most. Al’s effort does not go unnoticed though, I love how hard he’s playing and this team’s problems are much bigger than him.
Andre Miller, PG 29 MIN | 3-5 FG | 4-4 FT | 7 REB | 6 AST | 11 PTS | +4
His defense is so bad, you need a nightly double-double just to compensate. Miller can’t guard anyone and the team seems to know it. Karl seems okay with having him lay off his man while praying he can cut off drives to the rim. The problem is teams are finding the open shooter and Miller can’t be bothered to close out. Outside of the defense, Miller struggled again with turnovers but played about as well as he can offensively. This may be the best you can get out of Miller in a nightly bench role and I’m not sure giving a 36 year old this many minutes is the wisest idea.
Rudy Fernandez, SG 29 MIN | 6-9 FG | 3-4 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 17 PTS | +4
Fernandez had the hot hand early and helped close out the second half on a mini Denver run. The Nuggets then curiously went away from him while the starters lost all momentum. His shot selection was much better and his gambling defense continues to be frustratingly hit or miss. Still, Rudy played with a lot of passion and showed resolve on a night the rest of the Nuggets looked scared.
Kosta Koufos, C 20 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 0 AST | 4 PTS | +3
Koufos is impressing me more with each game. He still makes a lot of mistakes getting caught on switches and trying to guard the perimeter, but the guy is only 22 years old and still learning the most difficult position in the NBA. He usually produces whenever he gets minutes, so I don’t understand why he was removed from the starting lineup. Koufos may have been the only positive in terms of the defense tonight and he barely played. I was wrong about the guy — he’s a surefire rotation player and the Nuggets need to live with some rookie mistakes while developing him.

Wilson Chandler to the Rescue? [Updated]

Upon hearing the news that Danilo Gallinari experienced more than just an ankle sprain against the Houston Rockets and might miss one month every Nuggets’ fan response was, “When can Wilson Chandler get here?”

As everyone who cares about the Nuggets knows, Wilson Chandler chose to sign a contract to play in China despite the lack of an opt-out clause which would allow him to return to the N.B.A. should the lockout end prior to the cancelation of the 2011-12 season.

Projections for Chandler’s availability have ranged from March to April.  The way I understand it, Chandler will be freed from his service to the Zhejiang Guangsha Lions as soon as their season ends.  While the truth is that could be anywhere between February 15 and sometime in April, there is an ever so slight chance that the Lions season could end on the fifteenth.

(more…)

Rapid Reaction: Denver Nuggets 90, Houston Rockets 99

Houston Rockets 99 FinalRecap | Box Score 90 Denver Nuggets
Kenneth Faried, F 18 MIN | 2-4 FG | 2-4 FT | 8 REB | 0 AST | 6 PTS | +1
Time to temper the high expectations surrounding the Manimal. All things considered, he had a very solid debut in his first real NBA game. Despite some foul trouble, he showed a lot of promise defending Scola and Dalembert. Faried even skied high for a spectacular block and his high energy play energized the crowd in a painfully ugly game. It was not the most productive jaw-dropping debut, but Faried simply needs to take baby steps towards becoming a better player and he did so tonight.
Danilo Gallinari, SF 20 MIN | 4-9 FG | 6-7 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 14 PTS | -5
I thought Gallo still showed signs of fatigue but battled hard in the 20 minutes he was able to play. He rolled his ankle badly in the third quarter and it was later revealed he suffered a possible chip fracture. It’s just a terrible injury at the worst possible time. Gallo hasn’t always played like the Nuggets best player but he’s clearly been one of the toughest. Assuming he’s out for a few weeks this is an incredibly costly loss.
Kosta Koufos, C 23 MIN | 3-3 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 7 PTS | +1
Koufos couldn’t keep up his solid production as a spot-starter. Despite having a size and quickness advantage over the Rockets front court, he clearly doesn’t know how to assert himself on the block. What’s worse is he fouled out in 23 minutes. Despite notching some impressive blocks, 2K showed he’s a work in progress on the defensive end. Although Koufos is in his fourth year it’s hard to forget just how raw he still is.
Ty Lawson, PG 39 MIN | 5-14 FG | 2-3 FT | 1 REB | 7 AST | 13 PTS | -2
Lawson had a tough time matching Lowry, one of the most overlooked guards in the league. It was tough for him to create with Houston packing the paint and doing a solid job getting back in transition. There was no post up threat on the floor and no consistent pick and roll options to work with. Ty tried his hardest to get others involved without forcing shots, but he could have been a lot more assertive with his own offense. Considering how talented he is, it’s tough to see him go passive even for small stretches of game.
Julyan Stone, G 21 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 2 PTS | -4
Stone has trouble hitting an open jump shot and I thought it was a curious decision to start him. Although I’m a big Stone fan, Andre Miller seems more motivated as a starter and has played poorly off the bench. Stone’s length and quickness contributed to a solid defensive performance, but he had trouble fitting in on the offensive end where Miller and Lawson assumed most of the point guard duties, relegating him to becoming a spot up shooter.
Al Harrington, PF 33 MIN | 5-16 FG | 2-6 FT | 15 REB | 0 AST | 12 PTS | -8
Harrington was asked to step way outside of a reasonable role yet again. He played close to 40 minutes twice in the past week and tonight he pulled the majority of the duty at power forward. 15 rebounds is pretty fantastic, but it cost him on the offensive end where Al couldn’t hit a shot or make free throws down the stretch. I give All all the credit in the world for his effort, but he just didn’t look good in the defense and rebounding glue guy role. Buckets is at his best when he’s living up to his namesake as a reliable bench scorer.
Andre Miller, PG 31 MIN | 5-10 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 12 PTS | -13
I get a lot of criticism for being hard on on Miller, but I expect a lot of out of him. He’s clearly capable of orchestrating the offense and yet consistently puts up duds every couple of games. He’s supposed to be the steady veteran hand guiding this young squad and showing them how to win. Miller opened the game with four first quarter turnovers, three of which were credited to him but all due to errant Andre passes. Miller just didn’t look like he was into it tonight and he just can’t set that kind of example for this team.
Chris Andersen, C 19 MIN | 4-4 FG | 2-3 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 10 PTS | -7
Birdman clearly took exception to being benched and responded with one of his most productive outings of the season. As the game wore on Birdman’s defense faded a bit, but for a guy who hasn’t been playing his energy was a valuable shot in the arm to a lethargic defensive team. All in all Bird made the most of his minutes and you can’t say that for anyone else who received significant playing time
Rudy Fernandez, SG 35 MIN | 5-13 FG | 3-6 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 14 PTS | -8
Fernandez used up a ton of crucial possessions this game and just didn’t deliver enough. It was a huge opportunity for him to assume a larger role and play big minutes with no Brewer and Gallo out with an injury. Rudy doesn’t offer spacing and hasn’t developed into a potent playmaking threat. The worst part of his game is the defense where he inexcusably jumps the passing lanes without regard for his teammates. Rudy was abused by every Rocket he attempted to guard tonight.

Nuggets vs Lakers Q & A

In preparation for today’s slug fest between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets I had the chance to do a Q & A with Andy Kamenetzky from ESPN’s Land O’ Lakers blog and ESPN Los Angeles.  You can read my responses to Andy’s intriguing questions over on Land O’ Lakers.  You can also look for a 5-on-5 coming later today on ESPN.com where I weigh in on tonight’s doubleheader with the Celtics and Knicks playing before the Nuggets and Lakers.

1. The Lakers have vastly different home and road records. Experienced veteran teams are not typically so deficient away from home so why are the Lakers having such a difficult time winning on the road?

Well, it’s worth noting the Lakers’ early season road schedule has been very difficult. They’ve had games in Sacramento (always a tough venue), Utah (where they won), Denver (the second end of a back-to-back against the Nuggets), Portland, the Clippers, Miami and Orlando back-to-back, Milwaukee, and Minnesota (a win). The Bucks were an inexcusable loss with Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson out, but the rest of those games aren’t automatic gimmes. Factor in how the Lakers played a boatload of games in the first 3-4 weeks and the lack of practice time to learn a new system, and it’s not perhaps shocking they haven’t been good on the road.

Of course, the obvious response is that elite teams with championship aspirations will find ways to overcome these issues. Of course, the Lakers aren’t playing anywhere close to an elite level at the moment, and it’s debatable whether they’ll ever be capable of that on a regular basis. And therein lies the rub.

2. Pau Gasol, while still playing well overall, has slipped a bit from the stellar level we have come to expect from him. Is it a matter of the difficult schedule or is it possible the trade rumors are bothering him more than he has let on?

I don’t think rumors are a factor. Pau certainly wasn’t thrilled with being part of the scuttled CP3 deal, but he showed up to practice the next day, and rode out an awkward situation. I’ll give his ability to block out lingering whispers the benefit of the doubt. The schedule, however, has probably been an issue. Gasol hasn’t just played a lot of games, but a lot of minutes as well. Mike Brown’s defensive schemes demand bigs show hard and recover on pick-and-rolls, and nobody’s been pushed harder than Pau. Doing this for 37-ish minutes a night will take a toll.

There’s also a matter of Pau’s role, which hasn’t been fleshed out to his liking. There was a long stretch where he was basically parked at the elbow and used primarily as a facilitator and jump shooter, and he expressed displeasure about it. Since then, there’s an effort to get him more low post touches or just call his number, but the results have remained erratic. At times, the blame falls on teammates not looking enough for him. Others, the blame falls on Gasol’s indecisiveness and lack of unwillingness to occasionally force the issue himself.

This hasn’t been an easy season for Pau, who entered the year determined to rebound from an awful playoffs. If anything, fans are only more down on him.

3. Derek Fisher continues to wallow in his own mire on the court.  Even with his horrific percentages, it still seems like he has hit a few big shots for them this season.  Is he more important to the team than his numbers would indicate or does L.A. need to ditch him ASAP?

A little of both. Fisher’s importance as a leader can’t be overstated. He has everybody’s ear, including Kobe’s. Bryant’s said, without any hint of facetiousness, Fish is the only teammate he’ll always listen to. He also trusts Fisher unconditionally. Beyond success draining critical shots, Derek’s completely unafraid to step into those situations where someone other than Kobe needs to be clutch.

Of course, the Lakers might encounter fewer tight fourth quarters if their starting point guard produced more during the first three. Fisher’s dwindling percentages plays a role in the scoring issues this season. (To be fair, he’s also averaging about 4 assists a night, and has done a nice job initiating the early offense.) This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to put Fisher out to pasture, but limited minutes would be helpful. And that had been the approach before Steve Blake went out with a rib injury. Until Blake returns, the PT will naturally increase, and the Lakers will have to make the best of it.

Either way, Fisher doesn’t kill the team quite as much as advertised, but less is typically more.

4. Ty Lawson has done quite well against L.A. in his career. Is he the player the Lakers must focus on, or is there someone else who poses a bigger threat?

The short answer is, “anybody who can operate in transition” is who the Lakers need to key on. And since that includes virtually every significant player on Denver’s roster, nobody can go unaccounted for. Plus, at the end of the day, the Nugs are a very deep, balanced team with plenty of legit threats. Lawson, as you mentioned, is certainly a potential issue for the Lakers, given how quick guards can provide fits. But Andre Miller can be just as tough backing down opponents in the post. Danillo Gallinari can be deadly from outside or on run-outs. Al Harrington was a dizzying cover for Gasol in space during the first meeting. Nene’s spin moves around the basket are ridiculous. Arron Afflalo, if playing like himself, is among the best “3 and D” players in the game, which means he can hurt the Lakers on both ends.

Bottom line, Lawson makes me nervous, but he’s hardly alone.

5. I will spare you the Dwight Howard question, but stick with a hypothetical trade scenario for my final question.  If Mitch Kupchak could have a mulligan on the Lamar Odom trade, would he take it?  At the time it seemed sending Odom to Dallas was part of a larger plan, but as of yet no such plan has come to fruition.

I’d certainly like to think so. On the court and in the locker room, LO’s absence has left gaping holes still unfilled. Even recognizing his struggles in Dallas (caused in part by an admitted lack of offseason conditioning) and emotional nature (exacerbated by legitimate offseason tragedies), the guy would help the Lakers a lot. Were a time machine — hot tub or otherwise — made available to Mitch Kupchak, I’d be stunned if he didn’t set it to “Dec 11, 2011,” then told Lamar to take a few extra days to cool off because he’s staying put.

Thanks to Andy for the time and I hope everyone enjoys tonight’s game!

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