The Denver Nuggets are 6-4, they have a projected Pythagorean record, expected wins based on point differential, of 46-20 which is equivalent to a 57 win season. They have been atop the league in defensive efficiency and feature possibly the deepest roster in the NBA.
That all sounds great, but if you have spent any time on this site you probably expect I am about to rain on the parade. The truth is, buckle your seatbelts, I believe there are reasons to be concerned.
|Nene, C 30 MIN | 3-8 FG | 3-6 FT | 11 REB | 4 AST | 9 PTS | -16
The one knock on Nene has always been his soft demeanor and his uncanny ability to disappear in big moments. That’s been the one caveat to his well-rounded game and tonight we saw all that all his athletic ability and efficiency comes at a price. Nene was a defensive sieve and after looking decent against Kaman and Okafor last Friday, he was dominated inside and couldn’t be bothered to put up much a fight.
|Danilo Gallinari, SF 38 MIN | 6-12 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 15 PTS | -18
Gallinari didn’t play the fourth quarter till the game was well out of hand. Unfortunately that wasn’t the only factor that made his stat-sheet contributions an empty effort. Defensively Gallinari was awful against his fellow countryman Marco Bellinelli and any other Hornet lucky enough to find themselves guarded by him.
|Timofey Mozgov, C 11 MIN | 1-3 FG | 2-2 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 4 PTS | +2
Not enough minutes to be a factor either way, but the Nuggets had some success guarding the rim and played better defense with him in the game. Nene and Mozgov continue to look like an odd pairing in the starting lineup. Karl’s quest to go small no matter how poor the matchup ultimately erased whatever small chance Mozgov had at making a difference against the Hornets dominant front line.
|Arron Afflalo, SG 34 MIN | 2-8 FG | 8-10 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 13 PTS | 0
Not a good game. He was one of only two Nuggets putting up some kind of resistance on defense and it salvages his passing grade. Afflalo continues to set a poor example with questionable shot selection. Don’t be fooled by the 10 free throw attempts – Afflalo is a poor ballhandler and not a great finisher. The Nuggets need him playing his game and instead he forced offense all night – with poor results.
|Ty Lawson, PG 35 MIN | 6-11 FG | 1-1 FT | 3 REB | 3 AST | 15 PTS | -9
Lawson was awful on Jarrett Jack. He made poor decisions with the ball and just couldn’t sustain what little momentum the Nuggets were able to get. There’s a caveat to Lawson’s grade – he injured his ankle towards the end of the first half and looked hobbled the rest of the way. I would’ve liked to see him rest and he probably should have, but Lawson was a warrior and battled through.
|Al Harrington, PF 18 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 2 PTS | -11
Is Al Harrington as good as his torrid start to the season suggests? Absolutely not, and it would have been totally unreasonable to believe so. Harrington won’t be able to defend consistently and that limits the impact of his offensive talents. When he can’t hit shots, it’s just pure disaster as we saw tonight. Really awful defense and if Al Harrington’s 13-year career is any indication, there’s more to come.
|Andre Miller, PG 22 MIN | 0-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 0 PTS | -13
To get an ‘F’ it goes beyond having a bad game. That happens to everyone. You have to be actively hurting the team every minute to be this bad. Miller did just that, making selfish decisions with the ball and doing the same thing he’s been doing all year – shooting too much. Miller’s contributions to this team have been overstated and I don’t like the way he’s played all year. He is an odd fit on this team to be honest.
|Chris Andersen, C 5 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | -1
Incomplete. For whatever reason, he received a few charity minutes from George Karl and didn’t do enough to affect anything. Considering how poorly he’s played as of late, I’m not sure why Koufos didn’t get the call earlier.
|Corey Brewer, SF 8 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 5 PTS | 0
Incomplete. Despite earning minutes, Brewer was another charity case given a few scraps for no apparent reason. Unlike Birdman he probably deserved his shot but just didn’t do enough to make any fair judgement concerning his play.
|DeMarre Carroll, F 1 MIN | 2-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 4 PTS | +6
He saw a minute in garbage time, perhaps confirming suspicions that Faried won’t see a single meaningful minute of court time no matter what. Incomplete.
|Rudy Fernandez, SG 27 MIN | 6-12 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 14 PTS | -9
Fernandez made shots, but they were awful ones. I really would have liked to see Brewer eat into his minutes. Rudy plays with energy and reckless abandon, but he is not an explosive scorer and I fear that this coaching staff somehow believes he is. Energy and effort were there, but he just took terrible shots and he doesn’t take enough pride on the defensive end. Another empty statline.
|Kosta Koufos, C 10 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | +4
Incomplete. He was called in during the second half, but unfortunately the Nuggets were already getting blown out and had no shot. Like Mozgov, the coaching staff has zero trust in him and refused to give him a chance in a game dominated by size.
|Nene, C 24 MIN | 2-7 FG | 2-4 FT | 8 REB | 2 AST | 6 PTS | -4
Nene played a few possessions where he looked dominant, but once again was passive during any key stretch where it looked like Denver could seize momentum. He played Birdman-like defense meaning one out of 3 or so possessions was fantastic and the rest was cringe-worthy.
|Danilo Gallinari, SF 39 MIN | 9-17 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 6 AST | 23 PTS | +12
Gallo did more off-ball work than we’ve seen all season. Despite still missing a ton of shots from distance, he was aggressive and confident throughout the game. Gallo also recorded six assists on a night where the guards had a tough time creating shots for the team. Gallo played a very well rounded game tonight.
|Timofey Mozgov, C 13 MIN | 0-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | -3
Look, Mozgov just wasn’t in the game much. I was baffled as to why he or Koufos weren’t allowed to play in the first half despite New Orleans’ size causing so many problems. Timo missed a dunk and he misses a ton of tip-ins which is likely keeping him off the court. Although he wasn’t the worst defender on the floor, he was part of a dysfunctional unit that didn’t communicate on defense and couldn’t get out in transition.
|Arron Afflalo, SG 34 MIN | 6-11 FG | 1-1 FT | 3 REB | 2 AST | 13 PTS | +8
He still isn’t taking the greatest shots and for whatever reason, missing open threes causes him to keep shooting contested ones. There’s nothing to do but wait out Afflalo’s long range slump, and at least on defense its business as usual. His third quarter defense was fantastic and played a major part in the Nuggets’ second half surge.
|Ty Lawson, PG 35 MIN | 3-13 FG | 6-6 FT | 0 REB | 8 AST | 12 PTS | -7
For once, Lawson had to rely on his teammates to push the pace in Denver’s favor. He should have gotten a few more calls at the rim, but Lawson didn’t show a lot of patience running the offense instead opting to wildly drive the ball into traffic where the size and length of New Orleans bothered him.
|Al Harrington, PF 23 MIN | 6-10 FG | 0-2 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 14 PTS | +9
Al Harrington has somehow made himself a solid defensive player. He played perhaps the most efficient minutes out of any Nugget and once again stepped up big when no one else was willing. He is the only one shooting with any confidence and he’s been a major factor in gutting out every tough win of the season.
|Andre Miller, PG 31 MIN | 4-10 FG | 5-5 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 13 PTS | +13
Miller gets his first ‘A’ of the season as he seemed to really settle the Nuggets down at the moment they were able to seize the game. I still don’t like his shot selection and some of the passes he’ll attempt in a half-court set, but Miller’s steady floor presence was great on a night Lawson struggled a lot.
|Chris Andersen, C 5 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | -7
Birdman’s act is tired. I’m shocked the numbers make him look like a competent player. He looks great one game and then is consistently the worst guy on the court in the next. He’s completely awful on the road and the Nuggets won this game because Koufos finally cut into his playing time in the second half. Birdman’s energy just isn’t something to rely on – it’s a gimmick more than anything else.
|Rudy Fernandez, SG 18 MIN | 2-4 FG | 1-2 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 5 PTS | 0
Fernandez did exactly what he needed to do when called on. With Afflalo having one of his better games of the year, the minutes weren’t there but he gave maximum effort on both ends during his time. Fernandez isn’t taking unnecessary threes anymore and his play is steadily improving after an up and down start in Denver.
|Kosta Koufos, C 17 MIN | 4-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 8 PTS | +19
Koufos wasn’t really allowed in the game till the second half when the Nuggets looked morbidly bad on both ends. He proceeded to play like the best big on the floor and almost singlehandedly sparked Denver to the pivotal run that sealed it. His pick and roll defense was awesome and the Nuggets rotated much better with him anchoring the middle. I’m not sure why the coaches are so hesitant to trust him but he clearly deserves more time on the floor. Give Koufos credit for MVP in this difficult road win.
After three straight solid home wins, the Nuggets are carrying nice momentum into their second road trip of the season. It’s a quick back-to-back in New Orleans and San Antonio against two teams which provide unique challenges for this new Nuggets team. While the Hornets and Spurs appear to be reeling from injuries, let’s not forget these are still road games against well-rested opponents.
4-7 FG | 5-6 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 13 PTS | -1
It was a little funny seeing him stare down his teammates and almost scream out for help whenever Bynum or Pau made a move on him. Nene was solid but not much of a factor in the win to be honest. The Lakers bigs easily pushed him around down low while he continues to put up poor rebounding performances. As I said before, the move to power forward is not paying off for Nene and I am confused why he had to throw such a fit about playing center – where he is better.
|Danilo Gallinari, F
7-16 FG | 5-7 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 20 PTS | +11
The Rooster still can’t find his touch from distance, but he did shoot 6-9 on non 3-point attempts. Gallo also recorded five steals and was a key factor in the fourth quarter run that sealed the victory. It wasn’t a perfect game from Gallinari, but he played his best when it mattered.
|Timofey Mozgov, C
0-0 FG | 3-4 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 3 PTS | -14
Mozgov racked up five fouls in 13 minutes and clearly let the officiating get into his head. He spent most of the night trying to get a call and once again struggled denying Bynum position. Timo showed a few flashes defensively but he needs to learn to fight for position and contribute on the glass like a starting center should.
|Arron Afflalo, SG
2-7 FG | 2-3 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 6 PTS | -10
He’s contributing defensively like you’d expect, but it’s been a rough road getting Afflalo involved on the offensive end. He looks tentative, dribbles too much and jumps away from contact rather than finishing through it. The Nuggets need to get him some shots and work him into the offense more.
|Ty Lawson, PG
5-11 FG | 7-8 FT | 3 REB | 10 AST | 17 PTS | +18
Everything was there for Lawson tonight. The Nuggets came alive with him on the floor and were consistently able to speed up the game and run on the tired Lakers. He scored, he got 10 assists despite poor shooting from teammates and his defense was the key to the fourth quarter run that sealed the win. His presence makes Andre Miller extraneous late in games and the Nuggets need the ball in their best player’s hands every big possession.
|Al Harrington, PF
3-7 FG | 6-6 FT | 11 REB | 2 AST | 12 PTS | +15
Once again, Harrington was all the Nuggets had going the first half of this game. As I tweeted earlier things could be looking grim if Al were to cool off before the offense got itself sorted. Luckily, Ty Lawson stepped up in the second half and Al Buckets wasn’t asked to carry the Nuggets again. Harrington continues to contribute in all areas of the game and grabbed a team-high 11 boards. I would have liked to see more Afflalo in the fourth quarter but you can’t deny Harrington is playing well right now.
|Chris Andersen, C
5-6 FG | 2-2 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 12 PTS | +17
After playing a combined 12 minutes in the past two contests, Birdman bounced back with his best game of the season. His conditioning and leaping ability still aren’t there, but he continues to give a better effort on the floor and finally saw some results. His defense remains wildly inconsistent, but Bird was solid tonight. He scored with efficiency, rebounded well and recorded his first blocked shot of the season.
|Ty Lawson 3-8 FG | 2-4 FT | 3 REB | 8 AST | 9 PTS | -13
After a torrid start to the season, Lawson cooled off and struggled to find his rhythm offensively. He made a concerted effort to get others involved finishing with a season high 8 assists. Unfortunately Lawson had four turnovers, missed 2 big free-throws and failed to get anything going in the half-court. It behooves him to be a little more selfish and stay aggressive as that often creates better openings for his teammates than simply passing to them.
|Arron Afflalo 26 MIN | 4-10 FG | 2-5 3PT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 13 PTS | -9
Afflalo has not been a key factor in any of Denver’s games and continues to struggle finding a role. Despite that, this is the best he has played all season and we finally saw his familiar defensive presence show up in a meaningful way. The Nuggets defended much better than they have in their first 3 games and Afflalo’s solid effort on Kobe helped set the tone. Offensively, Arron still looks hesitant and isn’t shooting the ball with confidence.
|Danilo Gallinari 3-12 FG | 1-2 FT | 7 REB | 3 AST | 7 PTS | -5
Is this guy having a bad week or what? Considered by many to be Denver’s best offensive talent primed for a breakout season, Gallinari has flopped. He continues to shoot horrible jumpers and refuses to get to the free throw line. The Nuggets need Gallinari to play better to have any hope of contending, and there is no choice but to let him keep shooting. The shooting slump is not what bothers me though – it’s his timid attitude and awful decision making down the stretch. Gallo only avoids a grade of ‘F’ for some solid pick and roll defense on Kobe Bryant. There simply was no excuse to miss that layup.
|Nene Hilario 5-10 FG | 3-5 FT | 8 REB | 0 BLK | 13 PTS | -11
Is playing at Power Forward finally unleashing the full power of Nene’s game? In a word – no. From what I’ve seen in four games, the Nuggets are worse with Nene at Power Forward. Mainly because he hasn’t had success scoring outside of a small lineup where he plays Center. Nene finished with his career averages, about 13 and 8. He also missed a dunk that would have extended the Nuggets lead late and wasn’t a factor down the stretch.
|Timofey Mozgov 26 MIN | 4-7 FG | 10 REB | 4 BLK | 8 PTS | +3
Mozgov is agile for a big man, moves his feet well has decent enough hands to handle precision passes under the rim. Him and Al Harrington were the most reliable Nuggets bigs in terms of hedging on pick and rolls and keeping L.A. out of the middle. Mozgov also grabbed a team high 10 boards and was the only starter to finish with a positive plus/minus. Although he couldn’t keep Bynum from getting good position down low, Timo is developing just fine in the starting lineup.
|Al Harrington 8-17 FG | 3-8 3PT | 3 REB | 21 PTS | +5
Can we just admit it now – Al Harrington is the second best player on the Nuggets roster through 4 games. He made big shots when Denver needed it and is consistently giving all-out effort on defense. Harrington has a lot of shortcomings as a defender and rebounder, and grabbing only 3 boards while playing at Power Forward all game is a little disappointing. That’s not really what Harrington does though, and there’s no denying his offense carried the Nuggets in a game they were in a fantastic position to win
The Nuggets played the first of what will undoubtedly be many ugly games in Portland tonight. It was a messy affair from the start, dominated by fouls, turnovers and questionable shot selection. Ultimately the game came down to a 2-minute stretch in which the tougher, more composed Blazers held it together and came out on top.
The Nuggets crushed the Mavs in Dallas for their third straight blowout victory in a season opener. Just like the last few years they showcased a high powered offense with plenty of depth and cruised to a big lead they never surrendered. Ty Lawson was the star in this one, scoring 27 points with incredible efficiency and generally picking apart the slow, flat-footed Mavericks defense.
Benjamin Hochman’s Christmas special is up at the Denver Post, and it’s an absolute must read for Nuggets Nation. Hochman breaks down the opening day roster and George Karl shares some candid thoughts on his offensive philosophy and the challenges of winning without superstars. The most interesting bit comes at the end when Karl admits the Nuggets are likely to move away from the most maddening aspect of Denver’s pick and roll defense – switching screens.
Having Kenyon with Nene was huge, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do it with team concepts and philosophies and giving guys pride and responsibility to do it on their own. … He was a veteran, defensive-minded guy who was a big part of our toughness. Filling Kenyon’s minutes is probably the most difficult to do, but in the same sense, I think it can be done. Nene was basically always the B defender. Now he has to be the A defender. Nene can be in a similar category. The only problem is when you had two of them, you didn’t worry about foul trouble. Now can we get a team concept to camouflage that (by rotating in other big men for short snippets)? We also might jump in the pick-and-roll rather than switching all the time
Karl says a lot of interesting things with this statement and makes it well known that replacing Kenyon’s presence on defense is no easy task. Kenyon was a quick, physical defender whom the Nuggets could trust to guard one through five and either force a tough shot or funnel the ball into help. There is no player on the roster who can replace what he brings to the table defensively and it’s a very good sign the coaching staff realizes that.
Instead of switching, Karl suggests the Nuggets are going to use more traps and hedges against pick-and-rolls. Jeremy Wagner and I have been clamoring for the Nuggets to stop switching and adopt such a scheme since before this blog even existed.
This strategy itself won’t be a cure-all for Denver’s defense without Kenyon. The Nuggets bigs have the added responsibility of jumping out to stop the ball while being able to quickly recover to their man. Nene will have to do a better job as he’ll often show a very soft hedge and sag back allowing the ballhandler plenty of room to drive towards the basket and make a play.
When defending the pick and roll in any situation, the team has to make the right reads and rotations together as a cohesive unit. Instead of relying on Kenyon’s versatility to dictate the scheme, I feel that hedging more will encourage a more aggressive team defense and create accountability for everyone on the floor to be active on the defensive end.
By using these team concepts and a “camouflage” approach, Karl also suggests he’ll use a deep frontcourt rotation and Kenyon’s minutes could be divided among three or four players given the situation. This is good news for those hoping to see the Manimal crack the rotation sooner rather than later. The Nuggets need to evaluate not only Faried but the rest of the young big men on the roster. Which one of these athletic young guys can hedge and recover on picks, while also being able to get back and compete for the rebound? That’s the one who deserves minutes and the Nuggets won’t know without letting all of them compete for the job.
The problem isn’t the concept of switching itself, but the extent to which the Nuggets used it as a primary method of defending pick and rolls. After playing great team defense and reaching the conference finals in 2009, the Nuggets kept reverting to switches like a bad habit. They would do it impulsively on every screen regardless of who was being switched onto who. Anytime you voluntarily enter into any mismatch on the floor, a good offense is going to be patient and find the weakness. That happened far too often in past years and I think we are finally seeing the coaches realize the time for change is long overdue.
It sounds small, but it’s tiny fundamental changes like these that are going to dictate whether or not the Nuggets can build a contender this season.
Nuggets fans the world over are rejoicing in the new 5 year, $43 million contract Arron Afflalo has agreed to with the Nuggets. Now that Afflalo has been retained the Nuggets have fulfilled their vision of re-siging Nene and Afflalo and once again have a tremendously deep team to put on the floor. With the team now in place and Afflalo’s contract ready to go let’s do a little 3-on-3 to see if Denver has spent wisely, or if they will end up back in the financial doghouse.