Incomplete review, needs proofreading and stuff, but I lost it while assessing front office, so deal...
Denver Nuggets mid-season report
Today the 2014 NBA All-Star will be played in New Orleans, and no representatives from the 2013-14 Denver Nuggets team will be participating. As a matter of fact, no Nuggets player will be participating in any All-Star event throughout the weekend, i.e. dunk contest, skills, 3-point shooting.
Lets break down the team, starting with the roster, and see why.
Everything about this franchise starts with Ty Lawson. Ty’s four game absence from the line-up due to a fractured rib speaks volumes about his value to this team. During that stretch, the team has lost all four road games (at NYK, Detroit, Indiana and Minnesota) by a combined 110 points. Even worse, they’re not even competitive. It’s not just that Ty can bring the ball up the court and initiate the offense, but he is involved in the offense, taking high percentage mid-range shots and breaking the ankles of any defender on a whim. When the offense goes a few minutes without a bucket, he takes matters into his own hands to create scoring opportunities. Before his injury, Ty was also becoming more vocal on the court, getting into player’s ears when they make mental mistakes. He has become that coach on the floor that every coach wants from their point guard. Now if he could start making his free throws at a higher clip.
The other “point” guard was Nate Robinson aka “Lights” in the Pepsi Max commercial before tearing his ACL on January 29th vs Charlotte and missing the remainder of the season. As a point guard, Nate is playing out of position. “Well what position should he play? Is he a shooting guard?” Perhaps. When he gets the ball, his mindset is to score score score. Nothing more. His strengths are not running an offense or getting other teammates involved. His offensive game is about beating his defender and anyone else in the way. That being said, he’s a terrific bench player, and arguably one of the most exciting players in the game to watch. But as a point guard, he limits his teammates to spectators and that is not what this team needs.
With less than 5 days left on this roster, it’s inevitable that Andre Miller is traded. His pride spurred his outburst from the bench mid-game and will keep him from ever rejoining this team during its desperate need of a point guard. Oddly, if he had shut up and been mature about the situation, he’d be starting right, leading this team. People can blame Brian Shaw for cutting his minutes, but in this situation, it is Dre’s pride that keeps him off the roster. Not to mention his matador-style defense. More on Miller later.
Denver’s best offseason acquisition has been Randy Foye. Period. While he is currently playing out of position as point guard due to injuries to Ty and Nate, he brings a maturity that this team is desperately lacking. His defense is average, but he brings good floor spacing and a terrific outside shot. Earlier in the season, his shot was not falling for a couple weeks, and he rightfully deserved to be a bench player. But when it’s on, he fits this offense very well. Foye will not replace Iguodala (the player he was traded for), but he’s a different type of player and carries a cheaper salary cap figure.
There is one word to describe Evan Fournier’s game so far this season: inconsistent. Some nights, he’s got it going on: hitting 3s, eurostepping to the hoop, and solid on-ball defense. Then he’s gone for the next three games and back in Shaw’s doghouse. Most people would say it’s a matter of confidence, but Shaw has given him plenty of minutes even when he’s played poorly. It’s a matter of maturity and developing into a consistent player. He’s not there yet.
With immense talent, Wilson Chandler can take over games if, and it’s a big “IF”, he has his head in the game. Too often though, he just stands on the perimeter, waiting for his defender to sag to the interior so he can get a pass and hit an open 3 pointer. When he approaches the game in that capacity, his entire game sulks. A perfect illustration of this point would be the February 2nd, 2014 game at Madison Square Garden. Wilson had a chip on his shoulder since he was traded from NYK to the DEN, and started out the game aggressive, scoring 10 points in the 1st quarter. But then he disappeared, scoring 7 points the rest of the game. Similar to Fournier, Chandler must grow up and learn to bring it every night, every quarter. If he does that, he has the ability to be an All-Star as well as contribute to a team that goes deep in the playoffs annually.
With Danilo Gallinari out for the season, Quincy Miller has had an excellent opportunity to play extended minutes. At times, he will appear aggressive and unstoppable. But like almost every player on this team, he drifts and becomes just another player on the court. Like Chandler, he has a nice perimeter shot and a terrific dribble-drive to the basket. His body is long and thin, and he has the tools to develop into a great NBA player. He looks like a more confident and aware player compared to last year, but has much more room to grow.
In November 2013, Denver’s front office chose not to pick up Jordan Hamilton’s $1+M option for next year, making him an unrestricted free agent after this season. That decision buried J-Ham deep on the bench. After all, what’s the point of giving valuable minutes to him instead of developing Fournier and Quincy? When J-Ham has checked into the game, he’s taken an offensive mindset, showcasing what he does best= score buckets. As one of the better 3 point shooters on this team, he also has a fairly decent drive to set up mid-range shots. Of course, that’s about all his game has, and that’s why the front office chose not to pick up his option. He can be a black hole with the ball and is a defensive liability.
The team’s deepest position is at power forward, and unfortunately no player has made a case to be the starting power forward of the team’s future. The four players at this position are values with their combined salary costing the team $11.3M this year. People contend that Kenneth Faried will be difficult to sign after his rookie deal expires, and forget he still signed through next season at only $2.2M. The more alarming numbers of Faried’s career would be his numbers on the court. Last year, he made his mark by rebounding and running the court in transition. This year, his rebounding numbers are down 1.7 rebounds/game from last year due to fewer minutes, but his field goal percentage is the lowest of his career at .544. While numbers can indicate there is a problem, the bigger problem is his defense. Too often, he is a step late rotating on help defense, or he’s outmuscled in the post by bigger power forwards. And he may be the worst pick and roll defender on the team, if not the league. Yet he is still the most exciting, most likeable player on the team. He brings good effort almost every game, and on the wings in transition, he flies. His plus qualities are the reason why he will always be involved trade talk rumors.
If Darrell Arthur and Kenneth Faried could be morphed into one player, the team would have their power forward conundrum solved. Unlike Faried, Arthur is an exceptional pick and roll defender with a great 15 foot shot. His game around the rim is very weak, rarely scoring in the paint and almost nonexistent on the boards.
And if Arthur, Faried and JJ Hickson could be transformed into one player, the team would have a Hall of Fame player. Hickson’s greatest attribute is his low post scoring, recently developing a nice roll to the basket off the high post pick and roll. While the statistics show he is averaging 10+ rebounds per game, he is fundamentally not a good rebounder, never boxing out and giving up a half dozen offensive rebounds per game. Even worse, his defense is frighteningly bad. Yes, he is playing out of position due to injuries and matched up against opponents’ centers, but his defensive rotations are clueless. Yet because he is averaging a double-double this season, fans think he’s great! Surprisingly, he is only 25 years old, so he still has time to round out some of the mental parts of the game.
The fourth power forward on the roster is Anthony Randolph who is earning the moniker King of Garbage Time. To be fair, Randolph plays more of a small forward’s game than power forward, but at 6’ 11” with long arms, he should develop a low post game that will keep him in the league for many years.
The center position on this season’s team has been nothing short of a trainwreck. Early in the season, Javale McGee was lost on the court, throwing ridiculous shots at the basket and not establishing himself in the post. The best thing that could have happened to him was this leg injury which will give him a pass this season when the team does year end evaluations. But it’s pretty apparent that he did not come to camp in shape, nor with any marked improvement from previous seasons. Javale’s strengths need to be shot blocking and rebounding. But he gets in foul trouble early due to slow recognition leading to late rotations to the ball, and spends most of the game on the bench. He also needs to add some weight in his butt area for rebounding/boxing out purposes, so he doesn’t look like a new-born giraffe when the shot goes up. Masai Ujiri took a really longshot gamble in signing McGee to a $10-12M/ year and it’s most likely not going to pay off.
On the other side of the payscale discussion, Timofey Mozgov is a quality bargain at ~$4.5M/year. While he’s not developed into a quality starting center yet, he gives the team a shotblocking presence on the interior of the defense. This presence allows players to direct their driving opponent to Mozgov who can redirect the shot or just contest it, and is a big deal when playing help-defense. Offensively, he is developing some nice low-post moves and a short hookshot. Also he is not getting moved around in the low post. Two years ago, he looked like he was playing on the balls of his feet and was getting muscled by players smaller than him. He needs to work on avoiding foul trouble and continue to develop on this same course.
For the first two months, Brian Shaw deserved a pass. He was coming into Denver with a makeshift roster of unfamiliar players. Many of these players are from the young talent pool harvested from the Carmelo Anthony trade. The situation becomes a rookie head coach leading a team of young players. Like any rookie, mistakes were made and will continue to be made. The Andre Miller tirade should have been diffused before it erupted. Bench rotations leave fans and critics of the game scratching their heads. Even starting lineups are suspect. The players need to know their coach has their back, so when Shaw was ejected from a game for the first time in his coaching career, the team responded and blew out the Celtics, then OKC and Orlando in the next few games. A calm demeanor and nice suit looks good when answering the media, but when your team feels alienated from the coach, it’s a recipe for disaster. Because the team is riddled with roster deficiencies, Brian Shaw will get a free pass this year and that’s just not enough. He has to be held accountable for the player’s development and growth. Teach them to mature properly, become experts at their craft and build a winning mindset. Much of that responsibility falls on the assistant coaches too. We hear the verbiage from Shaw during post-game interviews, but we are not seeing it on the court. Is 50 games too soon to judge?
Who is Tim Connelly? Looking at his track record, he has a penchant for being involved with losing organizations in Washington and New Orleans. With no general manager experience and 36 years old, he was hired in June of 2013 right before the NBA draft, and as his All Star shooting guard was departing. Since then he had to hire a new coach for the team, while frantically scrambling to fill the holes on a roster with the starting small forward and center out with injury for the majority of the year.
Here is where the dysfunction begins and where I lose it:
First, hiring a rookie coach to lead young players is a recipe for disaster. No matter how enamoring Brian Shaw’s peers praise him, this team was not the right job for him.
Second, trading away Kosta Koufos (a center) for a power forward, Darrell Arthur, was a dumb move because it forced Javale McGee in the starting lineup. That decision may have come from the owner, but if a GM is not allowed to make their own decisions, don’t take the GM job. Javale has never shown any significant growth or the ability to be a starting center in the league. Yes, that $10-12M/year albatross falls on Masai’s head, but Ujiri found a way to work out trades to dump dud contracts like McGee’s (see Nene and Afflalo). Now we have three power forwards on the roster, so bringing in another power forward, J.J. Hickson, to a 3 year deal makes no sense, unless you want him to play center. But it’s a well-noted fact around the NBA that Hickson struggles defending centers. The decision of ditching Koufos really bites the Nuggets in the butt when Javale is out for the year with a fractured leg that will not heal.
Thirdly, after a visit to the Summer League in Las Vegas, Nate Robinson campaigns to have himself added to the team. Since Randy Foye and Evan Fournier are already shooting guards on the roster, NateRob can be the back up point guard. What about Dre Miller? Why not bring in Chauncey Billups, local legend, at a cheaper price who can play point and shooting guard who can mentor some of the younger players instead of teaching them how to Instagram themselves like 12 year olds?
And now that the season is underway, the front office has done NOTHING to correct or build this team. Now that Andre Miller has blown up and made himself unwelcome on the team, his roster spot is left to stagnate, putting more minutes on Ty Lawson as the team’s only legitimate point guard. When Nate Rob goes down with an ACL injury, the team STILL sits on their hands instead of making a move to get something of value for Miller. Nope. “We’re trying to create leverage for compensation from a team that needs PG depth during their playoff run.” Now Lawson has a fractured rib from playing 40+ minutes per game and should be out for ~6 weeks. Foye is the team’s point guard which means Foye is overmatched vs other point guards and unable to run the offense, and Fournier or Quincy is starting at shooting guard and being outplayed.
Yes, after Iguodala and Ujiri left, GK was fired because ownership wanted to build a team that could go deep in the playoffs. The current roster has ONE player that would fit that bill, Ty Lawson. Maybe Foye sticks too. Gallo has become a liability due to his frequent injuries. WC doesn’t have the heart. Fournier will take 10 years to develop. Quincy is a budding star but will also need many seasons to groom. The team chemistry is a joke, becoming a mixture of Playdough, M&Ms and Capri Sun juice boxes. The only two franchises that are more laughable are in Cleveland and Charlotte. Marquee free agents will ignore the team’s offers in upcoming years.