Film Room: JaVale McGee’s improving defense

During his days on the Washington Wizards, JaVale McGee became tragi-comically famous among NBA fans, known much better for his gaffe-packed blooper reels on YouTube than for the actual quality of basketball player he was. With frequent assists from Shaquille O’Neal’s “Shaqtin’ a Fool” segment on TNT, and the spread of the “That’s so JaVale!” meme, McGee’s many bizarre, head scratching blunders went viral, and the “knucklehead” label stuck so hard that he’s still trying to shake it off.

But he is in fact making progress, and many around the league – including Shaq – are starting to take notice that there’s more to JaVale than just being the NBA’s court jester.

Which is not to say he’s all the way there yet. He continues to be (more…)

Rapid Reaction: Denver Nuggets 119 Los Angeles Lakers 108

Los Angeles Lakers 108 Final
Recap | Box Score
119 Denver Nuggets
Kenneth Faried, SF 32 MIN | 6-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 10 REB | 0 AST | 3 STL | 2 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTS | -6

Faried obliterated the Laker bigs on the boards. Earl Clark and Metta World Peace played a combined 54 minutes while grabbing only one defensive rebound. His defensive awareness on the perimeter and in pick and rolls needs a lot of work, but rebounding is what Kenneth does best and when he plays with this kind of energy he can’t be stopped.

Kosta Koufos, C 14 MIN | 3-4 FG | 2-4 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | +3

He was bothered by foul trouble and couldn’t really handle Howard’s sheer girth, but Koufos bottled him up about as well as you can in the first half. Koufos is not bruiser and is a great example of how big men can be effective on defense without having to be the most physical guy around. Koufos was constantly moving his feet and fouled when he needed to — he’s been a near-perfect role player which is exactly what the Nuggets have asked him to do.

Ty Lawson, PG 41 MIN | 8-19 FG | 5-7 FT | 4 REB | 8 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 22 PTS | +11

Seven straight games of 20+ point performances speaks for itself. Lawson is playing at a very high level right now which will make this critique difficult for some fans to take. Lawson was tentative and didn’t get to the paint outside of transition. He was also very hesitant to take open shots and didn’t create at the same outstanding level we’ve grown accustomed to. Solid game, but Lawson is capable of much more and should play better against the likes of Nash and Blake.

Wilson Chandler, SG 25 MIN | 10-18 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 23 PTS | +6

Chandler was extremely solid in his first start of the season, shining in a brand new role Nuggets fans haven’t seen him in much since Chandler joined the team. He was asked to space the floor and create on the perimeter a little bit, both of which he did admirably despite having played almost the whole season from a big spot off the bench. Chandler can regularly produce these kinds of numbers in a starting role, which is a fantastic luxury to have behind Gallo.

Andre Iguodala, SG 37 MIN | 6-9 FG | 2-5 FT | 4 REB | 12 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 14 PTS | +6

Iguodala dominated the game, but not like you would expect. He took only 9 shots, going a perfect 5/5 in the paint and 1/4 on jumpers. He also tallied an outstanding 12 assists to just two turnovers filling in for Gallo as a secondary creator. But Iguodala’s stifling defense seemed to thwart every substantial Lakers push and made even modest leads appear insurmountable for the visiting Lakers. He is a special defensive talent.

Anthony Randolph, PF 6 MIN | 3-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | +10

Really solid minutes. Randolph ran the court hard and pretty much stayed out of the way on offense. The less he touches the ball and the more he runs the better. Randolph is very active and amazingly quick up the floor for a 7-footer. His energy played a big part, along with Brewer, in terms of getting the pace going.

Jordan Hamilton, SF 4 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | +3

Another very solid performance all things considered. He took one questionable heave from three but otherwise looked good in the Nuggets up-and-down offense. Four minutes isn’t enough to tell too much but it’s safe to say Hamilton is more than capable of contributing when the Nuggets need him to fill in.

Corey Brewer, SF 26 MIN | 6-15 FG | 3-5 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 16 PTS | +17

Brew doesn’t do anything halfway. When he misses, he shoots BRICKS. Two of them were extremely ugly airballs from three, yet Brewer ended up being perhaps the Nuggets’ most valuable offensive contributor on the night. I would love to give Brew a better grade, but 15 shots is kind of a lot for Brewer to take unless he makes more of them.

Timofey Mozgov, C 4 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -6

Incomplete.

JaVale McGee, C 23 MIN | 3-4 FG | 1-2 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 4 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | +8

The numbers don’t pop out at you but his defense was game-changing. He continues to produce with monster efficiency on the offensive end while steadily improving his poise and consistency on defense. McGee has earned more minutes and it’s only a matter of time till he starts seeing them. Despite not playing a lot of minutes his production has been eerily consistent this season. Can he continue to do it in bigger role? That’s the million dollar question.

Andre Miller, PG 28 MIN | 3-4 FG | 3-4 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 9 PTS | +3

Andre’s attitude and demeanor on the floor are markedly improved since the All-Star break. He is a problem match up for LA and exploited it from the opening tip. The Lakers had to adjust, putting Kobe on him for a while and later Metta World Peace in the second half. The Nuggets don’t win this game without Andre and don’t take LA to seven games last year without him either. It’s in these kind of matchups Andre really proves his worth. I would just love to see some consistency.

George Karl

The Nuggets did exactly what they needed to do: dictate the pace and control the boards. Even without Gallo, the Nuggets came out prepared to play to their strengths and execute an offense that would lull the Lakers into a track meet. They did a particularly good job containing penetration and fouling on every layup opportunity. The Lakers just had to work too hard for everything they got and didn’t have the defensive chops to keep up. The Nuggets also played with a swagger and an expectation to win, something that I just haven’t seen much of in big games this season.

Game preview: Nuggets at Lakers Q&A

The Nuggets have started their 3-game road trip with frustrating losses to Utah and Golden State in which they failed to close out games they had led by 15 or more points. The final leg of the trip doesn’t get any easier as they wind it up in Los Angeles to meet the Lakers for the first time since being eliminated in game seven of the first round of the playoffs last May. While much of the recent news regarding the Lakers has revolved around their struggles with injuries, chemistry and coaching, they remain a dangerous team loaded with All-Star talent.

To get a better informed insight about what to expect from the Lakers, Roundball Mining Company has exchanged questions and answers with Andy Kamenetzky (follow the Kamenetzky Brothers here on twitter) of the ESPN Los Angeles Lakers Index. If you’d like to see my replies to Andy’s questions, you can read them here. And without further ado, the following are his answers to our questions about the Lakers.

 

1. Nobody would have predicted, even taking Steve Nash’s injury into acount, that after acquiring Dwight Howard the Lakers would have a losing record 15 games into the season. Is this slow start something that will shake itself out after they adjust to Mike D’Antoni’s system, or do the problems run deeper than that?

Andy Kamenetzky: A little of both, I think. There’s no question the Lakers have flaws. The starting five is out of a video game, but is collectively old and in the case of Nash and Howard, dealing with the effects of recent injuries. The bench hasn’t rounded into reliable form. It wouldn’t kill them to add another shooter. But there’s also no question these struggles are also due in rather sizable part to the early season chaos (training camp injuries, the coaching carousel), a myriad of new faces, and Nash’s absence. It’s been extremely difficult for the Lakers to consistently form a cohesive unit on either side of the ball. Obviously, they’re not the first team in NBA history to deal with injuries and/or drama. There’s an onus on the Lakers to figure it out as best they can with the cards they’ve been dealt. Still, I figured it would take this process would take a couple of months under the best possible circumstances, and these have flirted with “worst possible” status.

2. Pau Gasol took a lot of heat after his performance in the Lakers’ loss to the Pacers, but D’Antoni came to his defense saying ” he’s a big part of what [the Lakers are] going to do.” How realistic is the prospect that he’ll be able to run in D’Antoni’s system and establish good chemistry with Dwight?

Andy Kamenetzky: I think it’s possible. Gasol isn’t a Utopian fit for D’Antoni — the coach has admitted as much — but we’re talking about one of the most creative offensive minds in basketball joining forces with one of the most multi-skilled players of his generation. I’d like to think the two can develop a positive, productive working relationship. I’ve often wondered if the template might be Boris Diaw’s role in Phoenix: A play-making big man who can create for others, work mismatches off the dribble, run the break off a rebound, etc. It’s not a true apples-to-apples comparison, as Diaw is a better outside shooter and was younger, but I do think there are legitimate commonalities. Plus, Howard is mobile enough to begin sequences in the high post, which will allow Gasol to at least begin some possessions in the mid or low post.

Then again, it’s not a perfect setup, which means Pau bears the responsibility to aggressively seek out a comfort zone, rather than wait for his coach to create it for him. Unfortunately, that kind of assertiveness isn’t Gasol’s strong suit. There’s also always a chance that with Kobe, Howard and eventually Nash alongside him, Pau simply won’t be given enough to do to truly flourish. But for the time being, I’m remaining positive that time, plus Nash’s presence, will eventually create a niche for Pau.

3. After landing  three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard, the Lakers are surprisingly just 18th in defensive efficiency. What do they need to do to improve defensively in general, and what approach should we expect to see them taking in defending the Nuggets in this game?

Andy Kamenetzky: Mostly, cohesion. It’s been a nutty two months, which has impeded the team’s ability to get on the same page defensively. This problem is only heightened by Dwight remaining a step or two slow. By his own admission, Howard’s not fully recovered from the back surgery, which prevents him from being the ultimate last line of defense we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. In the latest loss to Indiana, George Hill floated a game-winner off the backboard over Howard, who’d arrived a hair late to either successfully alter the shot or block it. Before the back injury, I’d have bet the house on Howard in that situation. He’s slowly rounding into form, but not yet “Dwight Howard” as we’ve come to know him.

As for the strategy against Denver, I think the first key is containing Ty Lawson as much as possible, which begins with the defense on ball (Darius Morris or Chris Duhon, unless D’Antoni opts for a defensive cross-match involving Kobe or Metta World Peace over stretches) and ends with Gasol and Howard protecting the rim against inevitable penetration from the speedster. The Lakers will also need to be diligent about getting back in transition, especially as a team that now looks to increase tempo. From there, I think it’s all about keeping Denver, and in particular, Kenneth Faried off the glass to prevent garbage buckets and second chance opportunities. JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufos are no slouches on the offensive glass, but Faried is just plain ridiculous (and very entertaining to watch play.) Gasol has struggled at times to keep a body on the Manimal, but needs to find a way to prevent the kid from running roughshod in the paint.

4. Steve Nash’s injury has obviously been a major disappointment and setback for the Lakers after assembling their four future Hall of Famers lineup. How big of an impact will he have in improving the team once he returns from injury?

Andy Kamenetzky: Assuming there aren’t any noticeable effects from the injury, I think Nash will have a pretty big impact. He knows D’Antoni’s system as well as the coach, and no player has ever run it more successfully. With Nash in the fold, the Lakers gain a true floor general, an outside shooting threat, and a player with an unbelievable ability to find teammates in the right spot in the right time. That can only help matters. He’s obviously not a magic bullet, and work will remain at hand after his return. Everyone, Nash included, will have to adjust for the umpeenth time this season. But I do think Nash can make a serious difference. Remember, he was imported from Phoenix well before D’Antoni was in the picture. There were holes to fix, regardless of the coach, and Nash theoretically addresses a lot of those gaps.

5. It seems that many in Lakers Nation are calling for a Gasol trade. But even if — contrary to D’Antoni’s statement — the Lakers did decide to put him on the block, could they get enough talent back in return that on the balance it would improve the team’s chances for a championship?

Andy Kamenetzky: Maybe. Even if Gasol’s trade value has plummeted to the point where he won’t fetch a player close to his caliber of talent — and unless Pau picks up his play, I suspect that will be the case — it’s debatable whether the Lakers even need another A-Lister. One could reasonably argue “Star Player X” swapped for Pau would in turn find himself similarly lacking opportunities, and therefore would be an equally uncomfortable fit. Thus, two or three role players (at least one of which can shoot) to bolster the bench and add depth might actually benefit the Lakers in a more tangible way. And that may be a realistic haul for Pau, even during a down season. The guy’s still a very good player, and we’re not far removed from the London games where he flourished as “el hombre” for Spain.

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Update:  Check out the 5-on-5 previewing the game on ESPN.com.

5-on-5: Season preview

With the 2012-13 Nuggets season right around the corner it’s time for Roundball Mining Company to introduce the first of several season previews. This one comes in the form of our ongoing 5-on-5 series. Joining Charlie, Joel, Jeremy and I to make predictions and dish out opinions on the upcoming season is loyal reader, Joe Beebe. If you’d like to participate in a future 5-on-5 article remember to follow us on Twitter.

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#NuggetsRank No. 15: Quincy Miller

Kicking off Roundball Mining Company’s 15-part #NuggetsRank series is Quincy Miller. At No. 15, he was a unanimous selection by our writers for this spot. Though young and still wildly in need of improvement, Miller is also teeming with the type of raw potential that very few Nuggets possess.

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Five initial reactions to the Andre Iguodala trade

As it stands, I’m at my computer early Friday morning. Yesterday the Nuggets were involved in trade talks that included four teams, with Dwight Howard — most notably — going to the Lakers and Andre Iguodala being shipped to Denver. I hesitated to make anything of it, because let’s face it, we’ve been down this road before. If I had a nickel for every time I heard a Dwight Howard trade rumor this summer I’d have a lot of nickels. However, this time it appears to be for real. According to ESPN.com the Nuggets will receive Andre Iguodala in return for Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington and a future first-round selection in the NBA Draft. If this is true — which it looks to be — here are five initial observations from the Nuggets point of view…

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Andre Roberson Video Interview

One of my favorite moments of the 2012 adidas Nations took place just as the camp was wrapping up, as the college counselors completed their final scrimmages and prepared to move on towards their NBA goals. Arron Afflalo showed up and actually played in the final game, pitting himself against collegiate stars like Andre Roberson, Steven Adams, Ray McCallum and Isaiah Austin. Afflalo played with a cool, distinguished demeanor most of the game before taking over in the fourth quarter and overtime of what became an intensely competitive, high-level game. Andre Roberson showed tremendous growth throughout the camp and went out with a bang, scoring 14 points on 6-7 shooting along with 11 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. He had a chance at a last second tip-in on the final play of regulation, but wasn’t able to put it down and Arron Afflalo’s heroics sealed the 86-81 overtime win.

Dwight Howard showed up to the gym unannounced and right after the game concluded, he gathered Roberson and the rest of the college counselors to share his wisdom before they parted ways with each other and the adidas Nations team. It was amazing to see how hungry and appreciative Roberson became throughout the course of the camp,  and especially how eager he was to soak up every little bit of knowledge he could even as the on-court work was over with. Roberson played with much more confidence in his final game and sustained a high level of effort throughout. Although I already interviewed Roberson on the first day of the event, I caught up with him one last time to see just what he was taking away from the experience.

It was great getting to know Andre throughout the adidas Nations, who you can follow on Twitter @FlyDre21. The 2012 adidas Nations wraps up tomorrow night for the championship round of games in Long Beach, CA. It will be broadcast live on the CBS Sports network, so check the local TV listings and be sure to tune in and watch if you can. As always, stick with RMC for more coverage when the event concludes on Monday night.

Nene on brink of making decision? [UPDATED]

According to CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger, the Nuggets are awaiting word from Nene on whether he’ll accept New Jersey’s contract offer or re-sign with Denver. Additionally, Berger is reporting that Marreese Speights continues to be of interest to the Nuggets regardless of where Nene ends up. Philadelphia 76ers beat writer, Kate Fagan, insists that the Nuggets are “definitely in the mix” for Speights.

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Nuggets News: Post-lockout edition

Early Saturday morning news broke that the NBA lockout has finally concluded after 149 days of fierce negotiations. Though the deal has yet to be finalized, a “handshake” agreement is said to have been reached between the owners and players. All signs are pointing towards a season starting Christmas Day, with training camps and free agency beginning as soon as Dec. 9. Between now and the Nuggets first game of the 2011-12 season, which will likely be at Utah on Dec. 26, we’ll be covering a lot of material, but before we begin our analysis, here are some links to help get you acclimated with the new CBA and how it affects your favorite basketball team. (more…)

2010-11 Game 69: Denver Nuggets 82, Orlando Magic 85

Tonight’s game against the Magic was just that: magical. There was magic happening in all corners at Amway Center this evening. The act of disappearing was in full effect as balls that looked to be in people’s hands suddenly were found in the laps of those in the front row. Also illusion was extremely prevalent, where feet that appeared to be in-bounds were called out. But my favorite had to the failed attempts between numerous players to try and teleport the basketball through their opponent to another teammate. Yes magic was everywhere the day after St. Patrick was honored around the world by noble citizens who paid homage to the patron saint by downing as many Jagerbombs as possible. Unfortunately for the Nuggets, “hangovers + magic” isn’t the best equation when it comes to winning basketball games. (more…)