In the second half of our two season preview pieces we’re opening up the format for our writers to be more liberal with their content. This is an opportunity for them to say whatever they want in regards to the upcoming Nuggets season. As always, please chime in with your own “Roundtable Rant” in the comments section below, as we’d love to hear what’s on your mind on the eve of the 2012-13 season.
|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.
|Nene, C 38 MIN | 8-15 FG | 4-4 FT | 14 REB | 3 AST | 20 PTS | +9
It wasn’t the prettiest game, but Nene stuck with it and finished. Yes, he still shoots way too many underhand line drives at the rim, but Nene was the lone reliable big in this game. He secured the rebound that led to the game-winner and played the best defense he has all year.
|Danilo Gallinari, SF 33 MIN | 1-3 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 3 PTS | +14
It’s hard to give Gallo anything other an ‘F’. He was benched for the final play of regulation and the entire overtime. He did nothing but tentatively stand around and hoist threes on offense. Gallo couldn’t even hold his own defensively against the wiry Thad Young and he was absolutely torched on every switch. He folded and turned in a truly spineless performance. Let’s hope it was a one time thing.
|Kosta Koufos, C 7 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 4 PTS | -6
The slow-footed Koufos had a rough start against the rookie Vucevic who simply overpowered him. He shoots too many soft hooks and floaters and simply wasn’t physical enough for his presence to be useful in this game. He didn’t see any action after the first quarter as the small lineups delivered the win. I’ll give Koufos a break as he hasn’t played in a long time, but he needs to be tougher.
|Arron Afflalo, SG 44 MIN | 5-11 FG | 3-4 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 14 PTS | -1
Another frustrating performance by Arron, who was on track for his best game yet with a solid first half. He disappeared in the second half and reverted to forcing shots and generally being un-clutch and clumsy with the ball in his hands. Afflalo did make a big pull-up jumper late and hit two free throws to seal the win. Like Nene, he kept his cool and finished strong despite some poor stretches of play. That kind of guts and character goes a long way to winning games like these.
|Ty Lawson, PG 45 MIN | 6-16 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 7 AST | 13 PTS | +13
Lawson was frustratingly inconsistent all night long and was thoroughly outplayed by Andre Miller. He is unable to get in a any sort of rhythm and is struggling mightily to finish layups. His turnovers are up and his scoring is down, but Lawson continued to play with confidence and kept attacking when the team looked ready to pack in it.
|Al Harrington, PF 26 MIN | 5-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 12 PTS | -9
Harrington continues to do his job – stretch the floor and defend the post as best he can. Unfortunately he had to team with Birdman in the second half and with the Nuggets switching every screen after the first quarter he had trouble staying in front of the Sixers. I can’t fault Harrington’s performance and ultimately he stepped in for Gallo in overtime and played a huge part in gutting out the win.
|Andre Miller, PG 39 MIN | 12-20 FG | 1-2 FT | 8 REB | 10 AST | 28 PTS | +18
He was clearly motivated against his old team and flat out dominated. Make no mistake, the Nuggets were dead in the water after a second half defensive meltdown fueled by turnovers – and Andre decided to go out and win the game. This was the best performance of any Nugget this season and I’m still fairly shocked at what I saw the 35-year old Miller just do to his old team on a back-to-back.
|Chris Andersen, C 15 MIN | 2-4 FG | 4-6 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 8 PTS | -5
Andersen turned in another sub-par effort and the Nuggets won in spite of him. He played an acceptable first half and followed it up with his worst effort yet, which is saying a lot considering how up and down he has been. He mercifully fouled out early but otherwise played cowardly defense and contributed very little offensively after a first half in which he at least got to the line and scored some.
|Corey Brewer, SF 18 MIN | 2-4 FG | 1-2 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 6 PTS | -13
Brewer knows how to play only one way and it’s all out chaos when he’s in the game. Things are either going great or god-awful terrible when he’s in and there’s no in between. Overall I liked Brewer’s energy a lot although the team defense was wildly inconsistent with him on the floor
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.
The Oklahoma City Thunder strike first and seize the series momentum in a hard fought battle on their home floor. As is the case with any tough loss there is no shortage of frustration over a game that at times Denver seemed to control. While both teams struggled to get into a comfortable flow tonight’s game was an exciting reminder that this is playoff basketball at it’s finest. It may not have been pretty, but after tonight any doubts about the intense physical nature of the series can be put to rest.
Unfortunately many of the concerns we had before the series came to fruition. Free-throw shooting and injury woes continue to be the fatal flaws this team cannot overcome without improvement. Overall my initial reaction is there is still so much that is equally encouraging. Unfortunately winning is all that matters and the Thunder greatly improve their chances of moving on having gained a head start. The onus is now on Denver to adjust with an already thin margin of error that just got a whole lot thinner.
On November 9th, the Nuggets gave up 144 points in a loss to the Pacers after fumbling away a tough game in Chicago the night before. Regardless of fatigue, it was an embarrassing performance in which Indiana dominated throughout and made their first 20 shots in a 54 point third quarter. Tonight the Nuggets got their opportunity for revenge, with the Pacers on the second game of a back to back this time as their road trip comes to a close in Denver. After a slow start, the Nuggets pass the ball and shoot lights out behind Melo’s 36 points to pay back Indiana with a blowout of their own.
I am done pulling my punches with this team. All year long I have proclaimed them the second best team in the west. Defended their softer defense and looked the other way with their bad habits. Now that they are shorthanded on the court and on the bench all of the little things they have failed to do all season long are catching up to them. The result is a three game losing streak and what appears to be the beginning of a downward spiral that is threatening their season.
What I really wanted to do with this post is list all the lazy defensive plays the Nuggets made in the fourth quarter alone, but I rarely trust my instincts. Then I remembered that the opposite of my instincts are usually wrong too so here we go.
11:30 – Carmelo jogs back on defense and thus was not in position to defend the pass to Tony Allen after Ty Lawson stopped the ball.
10:49 – J.R. Smith allows Allen to step inside of him on a shot giving up his position for the defensive rebound. The ball came off to the other side and because Smith was not in the lane Rondo was able to collect the ball and then score on the other side of the rim because J.R. was not where he should have been.
9:19 – Rajon Rondo begins a left handed drive from five feet beyond the three point line. He gets Chauncey, who was playing several feet off of Rondo to defend against the drive, on his hip at the free throw line. Carmelo Anthony who is actually under the basket at the time has no idea Rondo is coming because he is walking along side Pierce as he moves from the right side of the lane to the left with his back to the ball. Melo was under no physical or mental duress to prevent him from seeing the ball and staying with Pierce at the same time. It was a simply unconscionable non play.
8:53 – Paul Pierce brings the ball up the floor at a trot. Carmelo for some reason has decided to go over to Rondo even though Chauncey is close by and Pierce is Melo’s man. After an attempt to communicate and get back to covering their assigned man neither one covers Pierce who drives from half court to the rim for a layup. Nene did slide over to help, but instead of being ready to make a play on the shot simply stood still allowing Pierce to easily glide past him for the layup.
8:15 – A solid defensive possession where Nene hedged on the screen, Chauncey recovered and Lawson sunk into the lane to cover Garnett on the roll until Nene could recover leads to a travel. It really is not that difficult to defend a screen and roll.
6:48 – Pierce drives away from a screen and gets past Joey Graham. J.R. Smith makes a half hearted swipe at the ball, but honestly with the assignment of covering Ray Allen it is best that he stays home. Carmelo, covering the much less dangerous Tony Allen who is in the offside corner, barely budges and never comes over to help on the penetration by Pierce. Result a three point play
6:06 – Despite the fact he has about eight feet between he and Rondo Chauncey lays back and runs into a screen instead of moving one foot closer to his man and stepping over the pick. After Chauncey gets taken out, Melo shoves Rondo for a foul despite the fact he had done a half way decent job of keeping Rondo from turning the corner coming off the screen.
5:55 – Later that same possession after J.R. and Nene do a decent job trapping Ray Allen on a pick and roll no one steps over to help cover KG on the roll. Garnett catches a pass from Allen just above the block with no Nugget within five feet of him. Graham rotates over late and flies in front of Garnett who blows the easy layup. Once again Carmelo paid tribute to ancient Greece by impersonating an ancient ruin as he stood motionless on the weak side block.
4:59 – On a shot by Pierce Carmelo stood watching the ball as Tony Allen moved past him into the middle of the lane and Rondo cut past him along the baseline both in position to nab an offensive rebound. The ball caromed off the back iron flying well over all of their heads and Melo’s laziness goes unpunished.
4:35 – After a make by Graham Rondo is walking the ball up the floor. J.R. is walking near Tony Allen. The problem is he is supposed to be guarding Ray Allen who is wide open in the corner. The pathetic thing is Smith realizes his mental error, but instead of hustling to where Ray Allen is and possibly drawing attention to his mistake he shuffles slowly as if he has nowhere in particular to be. Rondo finally notices Ray and passes the ball. Smith is completely out of position and has no chance to cut off the baseline drive. Nene saves a basket by blocking the layup attempt. On the weak side Melo looks on. Joey Graham, who was coming over to do what he could kept Tony Allen, Melo’s man from getting the loose ball and getting a layup. Still the ball goes off of Graham and Boston retains possession.
4:26 – After having success with hedge and recover and trapping schemes on the pick and roll Denver is back to switching. Carmelo is brushed off of Pierce about 30 feet from the rim and decides to sling back into the lane covering no one in particular. Meanwhile Nene and Afflalo double KG on the block after Arron switched over to Garnett on a screen. Kevin passes to Ray Allen in the corner and Chauncey leaves Rondo to run at Allen. Melo had three choices. One, he could look for Chauncey’s man, Rondo who was the leading rebounder in the entire game, and get in front of him as he crashes the offensive boards. Two, he could go box out Tony Allen who is alone in the middle of the lane. Three, he could stand still. Melo chose to stand still and Rondo swept in for the rebound.
3:56 – Carmelo is playing Tony Allen to drive as he is a good seven feet off of him. Allen still chooses to drive and blows by Carmelo who was practically standing straight up instead of crouched and ready to defend. Afflalo rotates late and fouls Allen at the rim.
3:15 – Nene and Afflalo trap Ray Allen on the left wing after a screen by KG. Chauncey is at the top of the circle and when KG gets the pass back from Allen Chauncey plays him to swing the ball instead of getting in front of him and closing a wide open lane to the rim. This time Melo does come over to help, but only to take a weak swipe over his head at the ball. Nene recovers to challenge KG at the rim and forces a miss. J.R. Smith plays the role of statue on this play as he allows Tony Allen to run from the corner all the way along the baseline to tip the rebound to Rondo who passes to KG for an open layup.
2:37 – Chauncey and Nene trap Rondo after a screen by Garnett. The Big Ticket rolls into the lane while Carmelo inexplicably waits too long to react to the play. Melo must not realize that you can be in the lane, just not for three consecutive seconds. There is no reason he was not planted and ready to prevent KG from being wide open. Melo does foul Garnett which I guess counts as a moral victory.
1:57 – Rondo drives the left side of the lane and dumps the ball to Garnett. Tony Allen dives into the lane completely unnoticed by Melo. By the time Garnett shoots Allen is back outside the lane, but he runs right around Melo who is this time impersonating an individual viewing a solar eclipse with the ball filling the role of the sun. Allen gets the rebound in front of Carmelo and extends the possession. Ray Allen hits a three to put the Celtics up 15.
I think you get the idea. The really sad thing is that was probably the best quarter the Nuggets played defensively. It did not include the offensive rebounds off of free throws or instances where Denver was leaving the entire lane wide open.
It goes to show how one player can ruin a defensive possession. All too often that player is Carmelo. He showed some real moxie early in the season on defense and I praised him for his willingness to cover LeBron during their win in Cleveland. Right now he is playing some of the worst defense of his career and it is inexcusable.
The one thing that stood out to me in going over the film again was how hard Nene played. He did a great job of making it difficult for the Celtics bigs to set their screens and he prevented the ball handler from turning the corner and getting in the lane. Arron Afflao worked very hard too and kept the mental mistakes to a minimum.
The bottom line is Denver is in danger of falling into fifth in the West by the end of this road trip. If the coaching staff does not alter their tactics and get away from switching screens and the players do not begin to play with focus and attention to detail they are going to dig themselves a very dangerous hole.
Additional Game 72 Nuggets
Ty Lawson finally saw some game action and his presence provided a visible, albeit short lived, boost of energy and confidence. The players know who should be playing and who should not. From the day he stepped foot in Denver Lawson’s teammates talked about how good he was and how he should be on the court. It had to have been a little demoralizing to see Anthony Carter constantly enter the game when Lawson was physically able to play. Now the bad news, Lawson was not very good. Following a very good initial possession on defense where he fought over the screen and along with a strong hedge by Birdman forced Nate Robinson to turn the ball over resulting in a dunk for J.R. Smith Ty looked very rusty and turned the ball over three times, all of which were absolutely horrid passes. Still, Lawson got in the game and the derustification has begun.
J.R. played a very good game on offense. He only took three three pointers which is much better than seven or nine and two of those three came at the end of quarters. His lone make came at the end of the third as he caught a perfect pass from Chris Andersen as he ran a streak pattern up the left sideline, a play that showed great presence of mind by Birdman. J.R. took a rhythm dribble to gather himself and hit a big shot that narrowed the lead down to seven.
The Celtics crushed the Nuggets on the offensive boards. According to ESPN Stats and Information Boston entered the game 28th in the league in offensive rebound rate, but that did not stop them from posting an offensive rebound rate near 38%. Their 90 shot attempts was a season high.
Advanced Game Stats
Pace Factor: 91.5
Defensive Efficiency: 123.3 – embarrassing
Offensive Efficiency: 108.2 – below average, but short of embarrassing
I have no idea where to start after that monstrosity.
The combination of horrific defense, staggeringly gruesome offense, conspiracy theory inducing end of game officiating and Anthony Carter was mind numbingly stupefying.
Let’s get the officiating issue out of the way so we can focus on how dismal the Nuggets were. With Denver down three and 3:30 remaining in the game J.R. Smith drew a charge on David Lee. It was not a difficult call to make. As soon as you heard the PA announcer say it was Lee’s sixth foul the refs pulled entered into a caucus and somehow the call was overruled because J.R. was supposedly inside the circle. During live action he seemed to be well away from the circle and replays confirmed it. If the side official was so sure J.R. was inside the circle why didn’t he call it right away? Why was there even any discussion? Not only did Lee not foul out, but he made both free throws and the Nuggets were down five.
That blown call was not the reason Denver lost. They had plenty of time to get over it and failed. Still, I firmly believe that entire episode would not have happened if it was not Lee’s sixth foul and as we all know perception is reality.
We do not need to spend much time on the lackluster offense. It was the typical lack of movement overkill on the jumpers. J.R. Smith was horrible as not only did he take far too many threes, although a couple came in the closing seconds of the game, but he badly forced his two point attempts as well. Also, for the second time in three games he had a possession where he missed three shots that were not repeated tip in attempts either. He then followed it up with a missed shot on the next possession.
Chauncey did a good job of attacking the rim, but conversely he launched five threes and at least three of them were terrible. Melo shot the ball well and had a good scoring night so I guess he gets a pass although most of his points came on jumpers and he only totaled two assists.
Even with all of those issues what was the most disappointing aspect of the game was Adrian Dantley’s insistence on sticking with Anthony Carter. In a game where the Nuggets were too perimeter oriented and struggled to score for stretches Carter did nothing to help. Lawson would have infused better energy and provided a spark. The Nuggets are saying Carter has played well while Lawson was out and that was true for about four or five games. He has not been helpful the past four or five games and Lawson must be on the floor. If Ty does not play tomorrow in Boston it will be inexcusable.
(Another big negative on Dantley’s record is that during the discussion about Lee’s sixth foul he was right there next to the referees. Instead of making sure they knew there was no way they should have been even considering changing the call he was talking to Chauncey. Chauncey had come over to get involved in the conversation between the refs that included David Lee by the way telling them J.R. was definitely inside the circle. Not only did Dantley not get involved, he prevented Chauncey from counterbalancing Lee’s lobbying. Not that it would have mattered, but the Nuggets needed a voice in that conversation.)
All of those things were incredibly frustrating the most infuriating aspect of the Nuggets play is their insistence on switching screens. I spent much of last season railing on utilizing switching screens as your primary defensive strategy on playing the pick and roll. I even have a switching screens tag for my posts. I guess I grew tired blogging about it, but whatever the reason I have not been as aggressive in my assessment of the Denver defense despite the fact they are doing nothing but switching screens. The Denver Nuggets are a very mediocre defensive team. No matter what stat you look at (Defensive Efficiency, Opponent FG%, Defensive Rebounds, Opponent Points per Shot) Denver is not good and the primary reason is they constantly switch screens. The only stat they crack the top ten in is steals per game and that has to be partly discounted due to the pace at which they play.
The Nuggets were a very solid defensive team last season and they were able to win games with their defense. That is not the case this season. They are an offensive team and that is that. I have been patiently waiting the Nuggets return to being at least a decent defensive team. The fact that they continue to rely on switching screens has torpedoed any hopes I had of that happening.
I could write 10,000 words on the problems that switching screens create. My two biggest issues with switching screens are you are voluntarily entering into mismatches and it fosters an environment of passivity and a complete lack of accountability.
There is a reason coaches do not assign a power forward to cover a point guard and a point guard to cover the opposing power forward. It leads to your opponent scoring. There are byproducts of this tactic. If you want to prevent the power forward from posting up the point guard or the guard from blowing by your big man, you have to help. That opens up holes all over for other offensive players to exploit.
There were plenty of examples of this happening in the loss to the Knicks, but here are two from the second quarter. Just past the halfway point in the quarter After Chris Andersen and Afflalo switched Afflalo was stuck on David Lee. Chauncey left his man Giddens, who was in the weakside corner to double. Giddens was just waiting for him to leave and cut to the rim. Carmelo was just a microsecond too late dropping down to replace Chauncey and the pass got through to Giddens for the layup.
A second example came with just over two minutes remaining in the second. Carmelo and Nene switched for absolutely no reason in the right corner leaving Melo on David Lee. Arron Afflalo, who had switched onto Al Harrington, was laying off of Harrington on the left wing. Afflalo turned his head anticipating having to help Carmelo should Lee back him into the post. Because Afflalo was so focused on the possibility of helping Melo who voluntarily switched into a mismatch, he lost track of Harrington who dove to the rim and drew a foul to prevent a layup.
The lack of accountability was evidenced late in the second quarter as well. The next possession after Harrington cut into the lane Chauncey was stuck on Gallinari, although honestly after looking at it again it was not because of a screen, Carmelo doubled and the ball was swung to the weakside. Chauncey rotated to the offside corner and Melo left Gallinari to kind of return to Duhon. The result was no one was guarding Gallinari and he cut to the basket and Nene had to foul to prevent the layup.
There are two secondary problems with switching that I cannot keep myself form touching on. First, the way the Nuggets cheat on the switches it actually opens up perimeter jumpers. The guards, instead of fighting over the screen, know they have to get behind the big to prevent the roll as a result the ball handler has all the space they want to shoot. Look at how much room the Nuggets give the ball handler on a high screen and roll. It would be so easy to step over the screen because there is frequently five feet between the ball handler and the screener. There is no pressure to force the defender into the screen and no pressure to keep the ball handler from turning the corner and blazing into the lane.
Secondly, the bigs who switch out on guards are not in the lane to box out the opposing team’s bigs. For a team who is missing their best rebounder I would think your scheme would seek to keep your rebounders in the paint. The Nuggets struggle on the defensive glass and switching screens is only compounding the problem.
And oh by the way, Toney Douglas hit a easy 15 foot jumper to put the Kincks up three with 27.8 seconds left in the game thanks in large part to a switch. Nene found himself on Douglas who drove towards the rim, stopped and dribbled between his legs to get his rhythm and drilled the jumper.
This was a bad loss and it was made even worse by the way the Nuggets played. It was on March 8 of last season where the Nuggets lost a game in Sacramento and I proclaimed they would be nothing other than a first round patsy again. From that point on they finished the season on a 14-4 tear and you all remember what happened in the playoffs. This loss feels a lot like that loss did so I reserve the right to overact.
I continue to question the contention that Kenyon Martin will be able to play again this season despite the fact he is riding a stationary bike “slowly.” News broke today that it was entirely possible that George Karl would miss the rest of the regular season due to his physically and emotionally draining cancer treatments.
Now add in the fact the Nuggets are bottoming out on defense, the offense has become increasingly reliant on the three point shot and acting coach Adrian Dantley would rather play Anthony Carter than Ty Lawson and they just lost the most winnable game in a five game in seven night road trip.
When Kenyon went down I commented that we had to entertain the possibility that Denver could fall out of the top four in the West and open up the playoffs on the road against a team like Phoenix or Utah. After what we saw tonight that outcome is absolutely on the table.
What is most frightening is for the second straight game Denver was out worked by a team playing on the second night of a back to back. Tomorrow they are going to be the team playing for the second night in a row against a surging Celtics team. Redemption is waiting around the corner, but I am not sure the Nuggets can capture it.
The Denver Nuggets played tremendous half court defense against the Phoenix Suns in their 105-99 victory at the Pepsi Center. Below is what was originally supposed to be a few clips that turned into a mass quantity of clips documenting the Nuggets’ successful implementation of their switching scheme.
A couple of things I forgot to mention in the video was that switching defenses are usually employed to prevent a team from getting open perimeter shots. Give the coaching staff and players credit for having the guts to implement the switching scheme and stick with it. Secondly, I forgot to mention that Nene and Kenyon did a very good job of not reaching. It is easier to reach than move your feet and they both expended the additional energy to play defense with their legs and not their arms.
The one comment I will make is I was disappointed that George Karl fell off the wagon and chose to play Anthony Carter over Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo. The Nuggets won and Carter obviously did not make any crippling plays, but I thought Lawson was doing a good job of defending Nash and Afflalo was playing exceptionally well defensively. I would have greatly preferred to see Afflalo in the game down the stretch, but as the Nuggets did pull out the victory it does not make for a very convincing case.
Even so, as was pointed out during the Altitude broadcast, give Carter credit for answering the bell and playing solid basketball.
I also thought the Suns desire to push the pace probably contributed to their downfall. Coming off a tough home game the night before against the Magic, their breakneck pace probably contributed to the outcome in the Nuggets’ favor. The Suns ran Denver out of the gym in the second quarter, but in the second half the Nuggets were much quicker to loose balls and seemed to have a little more spunk to their movements. Plus we have seen the Nuggets settle for jumpers when they become fatigued and I think the Suns played into the Nuggets hands a little bit as they settled for jumpers for much of the second half.
Congratulations to Denver on a good win, but as I pointed out after the loss to the Pistons, the Nuggets do not prove their worth winning home games, but winning road games. Still, a loss to the Suns in that situation would have been devastating and Denver deserves credit for pulling out a hard fought win.
I thought it was interesting Michael at Valley of the Suns mentioned the game last January where Grant Hill lost his balance at the end of a game in Denver. I expected the no call against Nene at the end against Nash would bring back old memories of that finish for Suns fans and I guess it did.
If you are looking for a reason why the Denver Nuggets struggled to duplicate their relatively easy wins from the first two games of the series against the Dallas Mavericks I will give you three. First Dallas played with more fire and intensity because they were at home. They are a very good home team.
Secondly Dallas finally started running and scoring in transition. In game three the Mavericks were credited with 21 fast break points while the Nuggets only compiled nine. Dallas had only scored 13 fast break points in the first two games while Denver rung up 54. Transition defense has been a weakness for the Nuggets all season and neither New Orleans nor Dallas have tried to take advantage of that aspect of the game.
Thirdly, the game was officiated in a way that was beneficial to the Mavericks. That is not a complaint. I thought the referees were consistent from start to finish, or at least from start through the first 11:57 of the fourth quarter. Dallas needs the referees to penalize Denver from playing physical defense and they did. In my opinion they called the game too tightly. The third quarter seemed like it lasted an hour. Dallas shot 21 free throws in the third quarter alone (all in the final 9:20) and the Nuggets shot 12. Thirty-three free throws in a single quarter is just brutal to watch.
However, it is difficult to be upset with the referees (and not because of the way the game ended). After watching the third quarter again the way the game was being officiated, it is hard to argue with the calls. Many of them were on plays where the Nuggets were reaching. Chauncey picked up two fouls trying to make a steal. At one point Melo had switched onto Dirk, he fought for position in the post and forced Nowitzki out to the three point line to receive the pass. Then he banged with Dirk continuing to fight for every inch he could. Then after working that hard, he bails Dirk out by slapping his arms when he pivoted to shoot. The Nuggets committed fouls due to either lazy defense or getting caught out of position.
Foul trouble became an issue in the third quarter as Chauncey, Chris Andersen and Nene all were called for their fourth foul by the midpoint of the third quarter. Andersen committed two bad frustration fouls which gave him five fouls with over three minutes left in the third. He would foul out after playing less than 11 minutes.
As a result the Nuggets were forced to play with a smaller lineup and with the Mavericks forcing their way into the paint more frequently it forced the Nuggets to foul even more to prevent easy shots at the rim.
As the game progressed it was apparent to me that Dallas was playing with just a tad bit more intensity and intelligence at both ends of the floor. As I have written before it is impossible to manufacture desperation and Dallas was playing with desperation. Add in the poor shooting by the Nuggets in the first half, the lackadaisical defense resulting in the free throw parade in the third quarter, the foul trouble born out of sloppy defense and the Nuggets not being able to put together that decisive run we have become accustom to and it was a very frustrating game to watch. The Nuggets did not play their best and everything I was watching convinced me the Nuggets would not pull this game out. They lost a close game three in New Orleans and they were about to lose a close game three in Dallas.
With 34 seconds left Anthony Carter made the horrible decision, as he frequently does, to run at Dirk from behind Dirk in an attempt to steal the ball. Carter left Jason Terry all alone in the corner and in a play you could see happening before everything actually happened Dirk passed over to Terry who hit the open three to put Dallas up 105-101. Game over, or at least so I thought.
From that point on the Mavericks made four big mistakes. First of all needing to run some clock they allowed Carmelo to score on a dunk in only 2.6 seconds. I realize you do not want to foul, but at least make Melo change directions. If they manage to force just two more seconds off the clock, I think Denver has to foul on ensuing possession instead of playing to get one more stop with time on the clock.
The second mistake was made by Dirk. Not only did Dirk take some terrible shots down the stretch, but he probably lost the game for Dallas by shooting far too early on their second to last possession. There was a differential of roughly four seconds between the shot clock and game clock. Dirk shot with six seconds left on the shot clock. By the time Denver corralled the rebound and called timeout there were 6.5 seconds left. If Dirk shoots that shot with just one or two seconds on the shot clock, Denver is looking at only a second or two to tie or win the game instead of 6.5.
The final two mistakes were the inability to foul convincingly, which I have already written about, and the unimaginative inbounds play the Mavericks ran at the end of the game. I thought the final inbounds play by the Mavericks was pretty weak. The Mavs only needed two points to win and running a play for Dirk or Terry to catch running away from the basket, forcing them to turn and shoot from long range was silly. I think Dallas could have had Josh Howard cutting to the rim. They should have known Denver would be focusing on Dirk and Terry which would have allowed Howard, who set a screen for Dirk, but when Howard curled around the backside he ran towards the opposite sideline instead of at the rim plus Brandon Bass was just sitting on the offside block anyway.
If Dallas makes better decisions or better plays in any of those four situations, apart from the final play with only a second left, that is a tough situation to bounce back from, perhaps the game ends up differently.
If you are looking for one thing that turned the game in the Nuggets’ favor look no further than a defensive adjustment George Karl made midway through the fourth quarter. With Dirk scoring almost at will off of all the defensive switches the Nuggets were employing Karl changed things up during a timeout with 6:22 remaining in the fourth. From that point on Denver started defending screens straight up with the big man hedging to slow down the ball handler and then recovering back to his man. From that point on I believe Denver only switched one more screen the rest of the game. However, Dallas probably did not realize the Nuggets had changed tactics for a couple of minutes because they posted Jason Kidd up on Chauncey for four or five straight possessions.
Dallas ran their last set with Kidd posting up Billups at the 3:17 mark when Chauncey finally kept Kidd out of the lane and forced a bad turnaround jumper. From that point on Dallas ran their regular down screens and pick and pop sets against the Nuggets more stout non-switching pick defense. The result was out of Dallas’ final six shots not one of them came from in the lane. Four of those six shots were badly forced jumpers by Dirk over Kenyon (of course one of them was the final shot of the game where Dirk had no choice, but to shoot a contested jumper).
When the Nuggets switch and Dirk is covered by a guard or Melo, he will back the smaller defender down and get an easy two. If he has a big man on him, he almost always settles for the jumper. By making sure Kenyon stayed on Dirk it ensured Nowitzki will take much more difficult shots.
Denver did hold the Mavericks to 40.0% shooting so from that standpoint it is difficult to say Denver did a poor defensive job, but I will. The Nuggets hardnosed defense we saw against the Hornets has been softened because of all the switching. Denver was forced to foul because the Mavs had the ball in the lane all night long. The Nuggets defensive efficiency in games two and three against Dallas has been their two worst of the postseason.
The Nuggets now have a chance at sweeping the Mavericks tonight in Dallas. How amazing has this run been?
Additional Round 2 Game 3 Nuggets
Mindboggling Game Stats
Pace Factor: 90.7 – Exactly the same as game two.
Defensive Efficiency: 115.8 – Exactly the same as game two as the pace factor was the same and Dallas scored 105 points in both games.
Offensive Efficiency: 116.9 – Once again the offense was solid even with J.R. Smith struggling and Melo shooting a poor percentage.