Monday, April 29, 2013

Nuggets Off the Rails

I was a season-long fan of the Denver Nuggets this year. No team was more fun for me to watch than this "All-Starless" group that constantly ran fast breaks and attacked the basket. They struggled to shoot and the defense was perhaps no more than average, but they could score in an exciting fashion.

Perhaps this sneaking fandom colored my hopes for them in the playoffs too much. Even with the injury to Danilo Gallinari, I thought that they could survive the first round and potentially make some waves against the Spurs in the second round. Instead, they find themselves down 3-1 in their series with Golden State while being completely flummoxed by the sweet-shooting ways of the Warriors. So what has been the problem?

Well, first of all, defense. Denver has allowed Golden State to post an offensive rating of 112.3, the best mark in the playoffs, while shooting 44 percent from three as a team. Ty Lawson and Andre Miller are ill-equipped to deal with Steph Curry through the myriad of screens that he utilizes and using Corey Brewer and Andre Iguodala means a size mismatch elsewhere. It doesn't help that other players have stepped us for the Warriors such as Jarrett Jack, Klay Thompson, Carl Landry, and Harrison Barnes.

While giving up points may not come as a surprise, it turns out that Denver has not scored the ball like usual either. Their playoff offensive efficiency mark of 103.1 is well behind their regular season rating of 107.6. Their turnover rate has increased a little bit (up to 16.3 in the postseason as compared to 15.5 in the regular season) and this was evident in game 4. What really seems troubling is that they are attacking the basket less. During the regular season, Denver's relentless assault of the rim led to them taking 45.8 percent of their shots in the restricted area and 14.6 percent in the paint around that zone. The playoffs have seen that shift to 33.5 percent in the restricted area and 21.4 percent in the paint.

Analytically this is bad news as Denver is settling for less valuable shots and ones they weren't particularly good at to begin with. In my opinion, the injury to Kenneth Faried seems most alarming. He hasn't been able to bring the same manic style of play to the table that was representative of Denver's overall strategy. Faried is using far less possessions in the playoffs and his rebounding has dipped a little. The Nuggets will need his constant motion in order to inject some energy back into their play.

It's certainly not out of the question for Denver to come back and win this series. They will need to commit to a strategy on Curry (which they seem to be getting better at) and catch a few breaks (mainly Jack ceasing to hit every single shot). After all, this was a team that reeled off a 15-game win streak during the regular season, so a 3-gamer shouldn't seem that daunting. But the playoffs loom heavy in the lore of Denver and it might not be so easy to rewrite what seems like a finished story.

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