What’s happening to Denver?

It may be a few seasons before the full repercussions of what happened in Denver at the end of last year are fully realized. George Karl (2012-3 Coach of theYear) and Masai Ujiri (2012-3 Executive of the Year) worked together to assemble a roster built specifically to play Karl’s uptempo, slash-and-kick style. Tactically, coaching in the NBA is generally about two things: 1) knowing what wins (eg– FTs, corner 3′s, layups) 2) figuring out how your players can get your team as many of those as possible.

Karl and most of his players believed in his style, which routinely resulted in more layups and free throws than just about anyone else in the league. Ujiri made sure Karl had speed demons like Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala and Kenneth Faried to fulfill his strategy.

The 2013-14 Nuggets have started the season 0-3 and failed to score 100 points in any of their games. They are in the back of the pack in FT rate and average 10 fewer shots at the rim per game than last season. It’s all early, obviously, and last season’s Nuggets also started 0-3. But things feel different this year, as new coach Brian Shaw tries to impose his more half court oriented system on a team never designed to play that way.

If the Nuggets 57-25 record flips in terms of wins and losses, come back to these quotes in Mark Kiszla’s October 30th article in the Denver Post:

“Coach told me he wanted me to be aggressive. And I told him, ‘Well, where do you want me to go?’ How am I going to be aggressive if I beat my man, and then I have to beat the defender of our big in the lane, if he’s standing in the way?” Lawson said.

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HoopSpeak Network

Why don’t more teams play fast?

The Nuggets system extracts maximum value from players like Corey Brewer.

On TrueHoop today I posted some thoughts on an interview George Karl gave with the Dan Patrick Show.

The gist there was that the Nuggets are playing fast, which is fun, and also smart. As teams become smarter in their preparation, it’s wise to force as many open court situations that these smart teams can’t prepare for. That those scenarios are the most entertaining is a happy side effect for the league and it’s fans.

So an effective style that is also entertaining — shouldn’t that be the goal of every NBA team? Then why don’t most teams play that way?

Some thoughts on this:

It’s hard. Running the floor like the Nuggets, Rockets and Spurs do takes great conditioning and a mental commitment to running. In reporting on the Nuggets and Rockets, I’ve heard the same thing a few different ways: every player says they want to run until they have to run, and then they want to walk. For this style to really work, you can’t run selectively. You have to do it off makes, misses, turnovers — everything. A lot of guys just aren’t about that life. Veterans and stars don’t want to run. This isn’t to say that players who would rather play in the half court are selfish and lazy. Look at Chris Paul, he purposely depresses the pace of the game to exert maximum control in the half court. Another example: Rajon Rondo. That hit-ahead pass the Celtics are throwing up the right sideline can’t happen if Rondo is to control the possession. Only good teams should be trying to run because maximizing the number of possessions favors the most talented teams. This is Dean Oliver’s argument. It makes the coaches

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When JaVale McGee helps

Point: JaVale McGee has great size and length coupled with explosive athleticism, which goes hand in hand with having, in the words of the immortal Hubie Brown, “tremendous upside potential.”

Counterpoint: McGee isn’t a very graceful athlete – he’s out of control a lot of the time and can’t seem to harness that athleticism, which leads to plays like, well, this.

Point: Despite that, he’s still able to be an extremely productive player. He averages 19.2 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 3.9 blocks per 36 minutes while shooting 56% from the floor, all contributing to a PER of 21.6, 16th in the league among qualifying players.

Counterpoint: Even though he’s productive, he doesn’t seem to be fitting in with the team very well. So far this season, Denver is a better team when McGee is on the bench.

Hold on. That last point is the one that I’d like to explore.

McGee has been on the floor for 924 minutes so far this season, and in those minutes, the Nuggets have a net efficiency of -0.6. When McGee has sat, the Nuggets have a net efficiency of +6.6.

Meanwhile, Denver’s starting center, Kosta Koufos, is less productive individually (PER of 16.7), but the Nuggets are +10.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, and -1.3 per 48 minutes with him on the bench.

So the question becomes, how is it that McGee can be the more productive player according to most individual stats, but Denver is better when Koufos is on the floor?

The first assumption might be that Denver’s bench simply isn’t any good, but that doesn’t hold up to further scrutiny. First of all, the team can’t seem to tell the difference between their starting point guard (Ty Lawson) and his backup (Andre Miller). The

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Why the Nuggets will be a big deal

Don't look so glum, Brett believes in you!

There’s been a lot of excitement in Denver since the Nuggets netted standout swingman Andre Iguodala. There’s excitement, but many are somewhat patronizing in their praise. We know the Nuggets will be a must-watch on League Pass, but few see them as true contenders if they remain committed to their current core.

Perhaps that’s because the Nuggets are just as revolutionary a team as the Boston Celtics of 2008 that paired three superstars together on one roster. Not only is Denver brushed aside because their makeup is the antithesis of both that Boston team and today’s reigning NBA champs, they are dismissed by principles that have been taken as the absolute truths of the NBA (more on that below). But in many ways this team is the logical result of changes that have been going on in the league since the 1970’s.

Since the introduction of the three-point shot in 1979, the NBA, like a living organism, has continually mutated. Over the past three-and-a-half decades, changes big and small have altered the genetic makeup of the way the game is played. Traits that once allowed players to survive and thrive are slowly becoming obsolete.

Because of that, games even from the early 2000s are nearly unrecognizable when compared to the ones witnessed during recent seasons. The only thing that seems consistent is that they both were played with ten players, two hoops and one ball.

No franchise has adapted to this new environment quite like the Nuggets.

A team built for today … and tomorrow

True, franchise-altering superstars are scarce and because the current CBA depresses their market value, they have more agency to choose where and with whom to play. And where they choose to play is not Denver,

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Kanterbury Tales: The story of Andre Iguodala


The Canterbury Tales were beautifully woven short stories written by Geoffrey Chaucer at the end of the 1300s. They are narratives designed to discuss religion, philosophy and various topics. The Kanterbury Tales are whatever I can come up with off the top of my head when someone asks me in the Daily Dime Live chat to tell them a tale about a specific player. There is no rhyme or reason to them.

Some may be completely factual and some may be folklore designed to teach lessons of morality to the youth over centuries of time. There is no way to distinguish what is correct and what is fiction. It is irrational and boastful to assume one could ever truly figure out what is made up by one’s mind and what is made up by real events that have been passed on over generations.

With that said, I give you the tale of Andre Iguodala, face-eater of the skies.

Why do we look up to the sky so much?

For centuries, the answer to this question has been about man’s fascination with flying. Our envy of birds and contraptions that can make a human being soar has always grown, especially as our world and technology has evolved.

But that’s not the reason we look up to the sky. We’re looking for another gift – one like we were once given.  Continue reading “Kanterbury Tales: The story of Andre Iguodala” »

Go Go Gadget Length!

I don’t know what the Lakers are doing out there.

It’s very possible that this is all an overreaction. It’s possible the Lakers have tanked games to get the Ron Artest (I’m still not calling him that) suspension off the books before the showdown with Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Maybe the Lakers are THAT overconfident and smug to believe they can just fold games to the Nuggets and still come out on top when they need to. We’ve seen teams turn on the switch before, but rarely do you see teams intentionally flip the switch to “off” during the playoffs.

Or maybe the Lakers are just completely mismanaging their offensive sets against Denver. I have no problem with calling Kobe Bryant the best player on the Lakers right now. I think he is. I know the new shocking revelation to drop on basketball fans is that maybe Andrew Bynum is the top guy or possibly Pau Gasol is actually the best player on the team. It’s also entirely possible these two big men might be so good because Kobe gets the majority of the attention.

The problem I have with what Mike Brown is doing with his team’s offensive attack right now is they have an extreme length advantage with the Pau-Bynum combination and they’re ignoring the Pau Gasol part of that equation far too often. The Lakers had the length advantage very early on in the series and George Karl was able to neutralize the Bynum aspect by harnessing the physical attributes of JaVale McGee.  Continue reading “Go Go Gadget Length!” »

How Kobe hurts himself

Andrew Bynum is the most dominant offensive big man in basketball. He scores, almost literally, at will against the Nuggets. In this matchup and most others, the Lakers, including Kobe Bryant, should be force-feeding him the ball.

That’s, more or less, what Henry Abbott wrote in a long, well-researched post over at TrueHoop (read it for all the gory details regarding the following few sentences). Abbott notes that as the game wears on, the Lakers use Bynum less and less and Bryant more and more. Not surprisingly, this has the effect of dragging Bryant’s shooting down in terms of efficiency, while Bynum scores at an ultra high rate because he’s basically only scoring on lobs, putbacks and the occasional super-deep seal.

The disparity gets worse as the game goes on. No player hogs the ball like Bryant does in crunch time, and that’s precisely the time in the game when it’s toughest for the Lakers center to get a touch. In the first half, Bynum’s usage rate is 24, in the second half it falls 19.3 — that’s Nikola Pekovic territory. In overtime it falls further, to a Kris Humphries-like 17.

In his prime, Shaquille O’Neal’s usage rate was consistently over 30. Even though he now shoots far less, Tim Duncan still sports a career average usage rate of 27.7.

In the second half, Bynum shoots less than once for every three minutes he plays. Bryant shoots twice as often. NBA.com’s advanced stats tool tells us that in the last minute of games within five points, Bryant’s usage rate this season was 65.3, compared to Bynum’s 19.4. In other words, for every late possession that Bynum uses, Bryant uses three and then some.

The most ready counter argument to Abbott’s position (that Bynum should get as much of the

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It’s time for some bedlam

The Denver Nuggets can’t hang with the Los Angeles Lakers.

I know everybody wants to believe in the team and depth and overcoming the evil that is having stars on an NBA team. However, there are some matchups in conventional basketball that will just never be fair. When you have two giants like Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol on the same team and you’re guarding each one with a smaller/weaker guy, your ability to root them out of position and get a physical advantage is nearly impossible.

Maybe you can get this done for a couple of minutes at a time, but overall you’re going to have issues doing this for 48 minutes throughout the game. Kosta Koufos has been completely useless in this respect. He’s played 12 minutes in each game and the Nuggets have been terrible (-8 in game 1, -12 in game 2) when he’s trying to size up Bynum. The Nuggets have had Koufos in the starting unit for both games so far and his unit has been at a disadvantage both times.

It usually starts off worse for the Nuggets in the third quarter than it does in the first. The Lakers have come out of halftime and made adjustments right away to extend their lead. The Nuggets don’t gain momentum back until they bring in their change of pace bench players to cause a little pandemonium in the tempo and attack. So why not get that pandemonium going right away?

During The Association (the series on NBATV that is following the Nuggets this season), George Karl had a great line about those who question his methods with this team and his unconventional style of creating controlled chaos within the parameters of an NBA court.

“I don’t care if they think I’m an idiot. I don’t care if they think I’m a bad defensive coach. All I want to do is win.”  Continue reading “It’s time for some bedlam” »

NBA Playoffs: Adjustments for ATL-BOS, LAL-DEN

Notes on Tuesday night’s games. For my thoughts on how Chicago should play without Derrick Rose, click here.

Atlanta Hawks (1-0) vs. Boston Celtics (0-1)

The Celtics find themselves perilously close to facing a 2-0 deficit thanks to the suspension of Rajon Rondo and uncertain health of Ray Allen. The big question facing Boston is where they will find offense in the absence of two of their best creators. The answer honest to that question is simple; they won’t. Going into Game 2 the C’s main focus should be on slowing the pace, limiting possessions and doing their best to keep the game in the 70s.

Larry Drew, meanwhile, should be making any minor tweak he can to his scheme and lineups to do the exact opposite. To ensure a two game lead before heading to Boston, Drew must implore his troops to continue playing up-tempo and forcing a short-handed Celtics team to score with them. Jason Collins justified his minutes (and his mixtape) with his traditionally sublime post defense on Kevin Garnett, but Atlanta may want to go smaller with Josh Smith at the 5 in an attempt to make this game as much of a track meet as possible.

When Atlanta is in the halfcourt, they should use far more pick-and-rolls and much less isolation. Boston had quite a bit of difficultly keeping Jeff Teague out of the paint and Smith has been a terror as a dive man on the pick-and-roll. The Hawks should really only seek isolations when Smith has the chance to attack Brandon Bass or Greg Stiemsma in the mid-post.

The offensive explosion the Hawks had in the first half was mostly a mirage produced by Smith and a host of others making long, 2-point jumpers. To compound matters, Drew also seemed content to

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Meet the new Blake Griffin?

I hate nicknames.

I mean I really dislike them. For the most part, I find nicknames to be contrived and forced. When they’re used in the hopes of just making it more efficient to type about a player’s name, I tend to be more understanding. I’m a pretty lazy person in many respects, so I definitely don’t mind something being streamlined for me by any means. But often times it seems as soon as a player gains some traction in the NBA, people are instantly trying to come up with a nickname for a guy, even if his name is fairly unique.

What should Kyrie Irving’s nickname be?

Is Kevin Love worthy of having a nickname?

What should we call Danilo Gallinari?

When a person already has a unique name, why wouldn’t you just call them by their unique name? It’s not like if you say “Love” or “Kyrie” or “Danilo” that anybody is going to confuse them with Joe Smith, Charles Shackleford or Jerry Stackhouse (I have no idea why I’m only naming former 76ers right now).

There is one nickname though that I’m having a hard time hating right now and it belongs to Kenneth Faried.

Manimal.  Continue reading “Meet the new Blake Griffin?” »

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